In the podcast this week we talked around a topic that a listener had emailed in about: the wisdom of getting back together with somebody you’ve broken up with.
They rightly pointed out that a lot of relationship advice says this is never a good idea, but that there are plenty of circumstances where it could work pretty well, for example if your needs and desires have become more compatible or if you’ve done some work on yourself in the meantime to bring you to a different place.
To address this issue we feel it’s important to unpack what we mean by relationships, break-ups, and getting back together. Always with the unpacking at MJ&J!
So we spent some time talking about why romantic relationships have scripts around ‘getting together’ and ‘breaking up’ in a way that friendships don’t, and how it might actually be helpful to have clearer scripts for these things in friendships, and also question the scripts in romantic relationships.
We explored the idea that – throughout relationships of all kinds – we’re always having endings and beginnings, and it can be useful to notice and respond to these, rather than putting emphasis only on one big beginning and one big ending. We can be more present to each other if we recognise that the person in front of us is always a new person in some sense.
We considered that break-up is often an unhelpful idea because relationships always continue in some ways even as they end in others. For example we might remain co-parents but not romantic partners, or cohabiting close people but not lovers, or friends-with-benefits who no longer cohabit. However, we also acknowledge that sometimes a big step away is important, and that we don’t want to downplay the intense feelings of loss, grief, anger, etc. that can accompany stopping being sexual, romantic, or cohabiting – for example. It’s important that people get to feel those feelings and do what they need to do around them.
We also explored the idea that relationships will all end at some point. Knowing that we can walk away makes staying an intentional act. It’s important that we acknowledge this is a choice, and being aware of our ability to break-up can do this.
We also touched on times when break-up of any kind of relationship can be vital: if a dynamic has become abusive for example, or if the relationship really isn’t working for one or more people in it. We like the line ‘if it’s not working for everyone it isn’t working for anyone.’
Then we realised that all of these important considerations weren’t really addressing the issue of getting back together with your ex! So we explored the things that getting back with an ex could open up, and what it could close down. We suggest that this might be a great conversation to have with each other if such a thing is on the cards for you.
Things that it might open up
- You might be able to open up to who each of you are now – different from who you were when you were together – and see each other anew.
- You might enjoy building on your shared history to create this new relationship together.
- You might love finding ways back into some of the dynamics between you and shared things that worked well.
Things that it might close down
- Be careful if you find it very easy to drop right back into dynamics that weren’t great between you – it’s worth talking about what these were and how you might avoid that.
- Be careful if you are getting back together because you’re desperate for ‘The One’ or because there are needs/desires that you couldn’t meet yourself or in other relationships that you feel can only ever be met here.
- Be careful if irreconcilable tensions between you haven’t shifted, e.g. if one of you wants a very different life or relationship style to the other.