On-again-off-again relationships may be more common than you think, and rosy retrospection may be to blame.
As time elapses, we have the tendency to recall and judge the past more favorably than we assess the present. This distortion not only negatively affects your experience of the present and expectations for the future, but may also leave you pining for the comfort and idealized notion of your ex.
When you inaccurately recall your ex’s behavior as overwhelmingly positive, it can result in distorted recollections of the relationship. These biased memories can become more positive over time, as you likely don’t recall the end of the relationship and are more likely to focus on the neutral and positive elements.
Couple this with existing digital ties to a partner (perhaps you’re still texting or following one another on social media) and it’s no surprise that you may find yourself yearning to get back together — if only for one night.
In fact, going back to an ex for sex is a common desire, as it offers the perfect balance of thrill and comfort: they’re predictable, they know what you like and you know exactly what to expect, but there’s usually some tension or residual conflict, which can lead to a bit of excitement.
But should you go back to your ex? Is it healthy to fall into old habits?
Ultimately, it’s up to you. There is no universal should in a relationship beyond the fact that you should (or better yet, deserve) to feel loved, honored, and fulfilled.
Some people happily break up and makeup time and time again, while others struggle with the costs of cycling.
Cycling refers to breaking up and getting back together. These on-again-off-again relationships are associated with higher levels of distress, depression, and anxiety and lower levels of relationship satisfaction.
Despite the potentially adverse outcomes, which are felt by both the couple and their inner circle, 23% and 37% of married and cohabitating couples have ended and then restarted the relationship at some point. Over time, this cycle can take a toll on your well-being, and as a band-aid solution to a failing relationship, it can also prevent you from moving on.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, as some people highlight an upside: those who happily break up and get back together report that things are better when you reconnect because you’ve learned from your mistakes and know what you want to work on. You may also have a better understanding of expectations and boundaries based on the previous relationship dissolution.
Time and space can allow you to reflect on your own shortcomings and reassess your level of effort and expectations. For example, perhaps you adjust your expectations to meet what a partner can give rather than expecting a partner to meet every need. Or perhaps you step up your efforts to tune into your partner’s needs, which you may have previously ignored or taken for granted.
So how do you know if it’s a good idea to get back together with your ex? There are no hard and fast rules and a quiz that scores your compatibility isn’t going to cut it. Instead, consider reflecting upon the following questions to assess your unique situation:
1. Why do you want to get back together with them? List out all the reasons that come to mind.
2. What do you admire and appreciate about them? What do they admire and appreciate about you? Have you expressed these appreciations to one another?
3. Why did you break up the first/last time? Have any of the core issues that contributed to the breakup changed?
4. What will you do differently this time around? How have you committed to these changes? Are they realistic?
5. What do you expect them to do differently? Have they expressed a commitment to these changes?
6. Do you see yourselves together long-term or is this just a quick fix to address the current situation? Not every relationship needs to be long-term, but are you willing to be honest about your desires and expectations?
7. Do you really want to be in a specific type of relationship with your ex (e.g. monogamous, committed relationship) or are there alternative arrangements to consider (e.g. casual sex, friends with benefits, friends without sexual benefits, consensual non-monogamy)? Don’t allow narrow social prescriptions to dictate the terms of your relationships; you can custom design yours to suit your needs and lifestyle.
However, you slice it, getting back with an ex requires reflection and honesty. If you’re just in it for the sex or you’re looking for a temporary companion until the Delta variant subsides, be upfront from the onset. On the other hand, if you agree to something casual, but are secretly hoping they’ll open up to a committed relationship in the long term, speak up. Life is too short to cycle through on-again-off-again relationships that are unfulfilling (and distressful), so take some time to consider your own desires and be honest with your ex regardless of how uncomfortable the conversation is.