Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are rumoured to be back together, suggesting drunk dialling your ex is sometimes a good idea.
The pair dated in the early noughties and broke up after a two-year engagement. But now they’ve been snapped together again, with the actor appearing to wear a watch JLo gave him almost 19 years ago.
The return of ‘Bennifer’ might make you nostalgic for loves lost, but rekindling an old flame is not always easy, says Jo Coker, a counselling psychologist who works with the College of Sex and Relationship Therapy.
“It takes courage to go back and say: ‘This could have been good and we can make this good,’” she says. “It’s much harder, in some ways, to go back than it is to go forward.”
If you’re thinking about giving a past relationship another try, it has to be for the right reasons. So before you send that text, here are the biggest red (and green) flags.
Signs you should get back with your ex
1. You’ve both grown as individuals
This is the big one, says Coker. If you still find the person attractive and the old compatibilities are still there, that’s great – but you need to have grown, too, if it’s going to work.
“If you have matured and suddenly realised the things you thought were problematic before aren’t such a problem – maybe you were being picky, maybe you’ve matured and you think ‘I know how to work with those difficulties now’ – those are reasons to positively reconsider a relationship,” she says.
A relationship may be better second time round, because both of you have had time to grow. “You may have learned a bit more about life in the intervening time,” she says.
2. You’ve identified your triggers
It’s really important that couples have conversations about how things will be different, says Coker. This includes discussing your trigger points – the things that caused you to break up in the first place – and ensuring they’re resolved.
“If someone has a particularly frustrating trait for you, you need to think: ‘how has that changed, how is it going to stay changed and what are you going to do if it resurfaces again?’” she says. “Say someone is really careless with money, how are you going to cope with that, the two of you together? How will you communicate about it? Communication is key.”
3. You’ve really processed infidelity
If a breakup was trigged by infidelity or another form of betrayal, you need to get real about why it happened before getting back together. “People often see an affair as one person was good and the other was bad, but the reality is it normally comes out of difficulty in a relationship, which may be unspoken,” says Coker. “You need to consider whether that has been resolved.”
For a relationship to work after infidelity, a person must be willing to apologise for the affair and really mean it, she adds. The other person must be able to find forgiveness. If not, resentment will bubble under the surface of your second try.
4. You’re excited about the relationship
Yes, getting back with an ex might require a bit of work, but you’ll know in your gut if it’s worth it. Are you excited to spend time with them again? Do you feel good about yourself? These are both obvious but crucial questions to ask yourself.
Signs you shouldn’t get back with your ex
1. You’ve got a sense of déjà vu
Does your ex make you feel 21 again? Have you slipped straight back into your old dynamic? That’s not necessarily a good thing.
“If nothing has actually changed, if no thought or work or development or maturity has happened and you go back to it, it’s going to crash again,” says Coker. “It really is about how the couple has individually worked on their lives, on their development as humans and what they’ve learned in that time.”
If you’re largely the same people, the old problems will resurface and your ability to deal with them won’t have changed. “You’re kind of flogging a dead horse if the problems that were there are still there and you’re trying to work with them and nothing is moving,” says Coker.
2. It was an abusive relationship
Coker emphases how important it is not to be sucked in by promises of “it’ll be different this time” if a past relationship was abusive in any way. “If it was abusive, that’s a relationship never to go back in, because it is very unlikely to change,” she says. “That will always be there underlining it.”
For further support on abusive relationships, call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
3. You’re going back for other people
“Sometimes people will go back because the family love the partner – ‘they thought she was great, so there must be something wrong with me if I don’t feel she’s great’ – those sort of things shouldn’t be factored in, it has to be your decision and not your family’s,” says Coker.
This can also happen with friendship groups. Ask yourself if you’re returning for the individual, or because you like their social scene. The latter will end in tears.
4. You’re settling
Has the relationship has actually changed? And are you excited to rekindle the romance? Or are you going back because you can’t be bothered to keep dating, or you’re scared you won’t meet someone else?
“I think that is a real dilemma for people, particularly biologically for women as they get older, and it is something to consider,” says Coker.
It can be difficult to recognise your own motivations for returning to a relationship, particularly if they’re wrapped up with loneliness or fear. Coker recommends speaking to a therapist to unpack your emotions and make the right decision for you.