The popular belief is that your ex is an ex for a reason and that you’ll have the same problems that tore you apart if you ever attempt to get back together.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. A breakup can be a catalyst for learning where you excelled in your relationship as well as where you came up short.
When breakups are used as a learning tool like this, they can help you determine whether the relationship can be re-established into a healthier, happier union. As you reflect on your relationship, certain key questions can give you clarity on how to move forward:
Key Questions To Ask Yourself
“Why did we break up?”
- You probably broke up for a good reason, so it’s important to remember what that reason was.
- Especially if the breakup isn’t fresh, it’s easy to forget or gloss over that reason.
- Time may heal wounds and allow scars to fade, but it also scrambles memory – you don’t want to meet up with your ex and have an “Oh yeah… THIS is why we broke up” moment.
What would other people say about our relationship?
- Talk to people who knew you when you were with your ex. Ask them: “Was I able to be myself?”, “Was I happy?”, “What made me unhappy?”, “Do you think this person is good for me?”.
- As time goes by, and scars fade, it’s easy for our selective memory to recall only the positive ones.
- Polling people from the outside helps you to reflect on your relationship more objectively.
What needs to change?
- Relationships are a dance that takes two. How were you or your ex responsible for the patterns in the relationship?
- What do you or your ex need to change that might prevent the missteps in your dance? For example, have you learned to set boundaries and communicate your needs better? Are you and your ex still going through opposing life stages?
- Look for evidence that you or your ex are working towards positive changes. You or your ex’s actions after the breakup will be much more revealing than your conjectures.
How do I want to feel in a relationship?
- Consider which feelings you prioritize over others.
- How much do you care about feeling excited? Challenged? Respected? Protected?
- Get a clear idea of your needs and desires and ask yourself if a relationship with your ex has the potential to fulfill them.
If you haven’t reflected on these questions, then you can’t be sure whether you’re advancing, or simply getting on the exact same ride.
Understand Why The Breakup Happened
Once you’ve determined you want to try and get them back, you need to reflect on your relationship and understand the specific cause of your breakup.
They have certain goals or desires that just can’t be fulfilled while in a relationship with you. They may not have any complaints about you or the relationship itself. This is a simple one, without many layers. But I think that’s what also makes it one of the trickiest issues to deal with – there’s usually not much you can directly influence.
They want to be single.
Welp, there we go. We’re starting with the big one. You want to be in a relationship, and they want to be single. Their exact reasons for wanting to be single can vary – maybe they want to focus on career/education, maybe they think it’s too soon to be in a committed relationship, maybe they just haven’t been single in a long time, etc. – but at face value, it doesn’t matter, since your desires are completely incompatible.
It’s not that grim of a situation if we look closer, though. Unless your ex has no interest in ever pursuing a relationship in the future, their desire to be single almost certainly has a deadline. They want to be single right now, not forever. In other words, if they have no actual complaints about you or the relationship, there’s nothing to say that you can’t just continue your relationship after they have fulfilled their desire to be single.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, of course. You still just got broken up with. You’re still going to be hurting. And then there’s the actual waiting – you don’t know how long you have to wait for them, either. They’re unlikely to know either. Unless they were completely mistaken, they’re not going to suddenly miss you so much that they change their mind about being single. It’s going to take a while. Maybe a couple of months, maybe even a year.
And trying to influence their decision will probably just make things worse for both of you. Instead, you must use this time apart to your advantage. While things may feel helpless and bleak, life hasn’t actually stopped. You’re going to focus on the other parts of your life so that when they’re ready to stop being single, you will be ready and there for them.
They want to see other people.
This is a hard one. And if this is the reason, it’s understandable why they may not reveal it to you. There are a few different things they might be looking for – maybe they’re unwilling to be in a commitment right now, maybe they want to “check their options”, maybe they’re looking for an open relationship and you’re not – but the most important thing to figure out is if they have any actual complaints with you or the relationship.
If not, your next steps are not that different from if they wanted to be single (above). Give them time, do not pressure them, and work on yourself. Worst case scenario, they meet someone they prefer to you. But that goes the other way too – they might meet someone that just makes them realize they want you back.
They want to take things further than you’re ready or willing to.
If they’re looking to take your relationship to the next step and you’re against it (or they feel you’re against it), they may believe they have no choice but to cut their losses. This can be about marriage, proposal, moving in together, or even going steady.
The most important thing here is to consider what you really want. It’s not advisable to jump into a deeper commitment than you might be ready for, but a lot of us have never actually given it as much thought as we should. It’s also important to be completely honest with yourself and them. You might be tempted to agree to something now because you don’t want to lose them, but if you’re not actually on the same page; you’re just delaying the inevitable. And making sure everyone gets a lot more hurt later.
2. They Have Lost Attraction Towards You
This is one of the most common reasons why I see clients getting broken up with. And it’s not just about someone’s balding head, there’s a lot of factors that are involved.
Loss in physical attraction.
If your physical appearance has suffered since you both started dating, it’s likely to have contributed towards your breakup in some way. It’s time to take a look in the mirror.
- Weight Issues – Have you gained a lot of weight since you guys have been dating? You may not even have realized it, but it’s not uncommon to suddenly gain a couple of dozen pounds over a few months. Or maybe it was the other direction and you lost a bit too much weight.
- This is a reasonably easy thing to fix, especially since you’re not trying to become a supermodel, but just getting back to how you were when you guys first met (maybe a little better than that).
- If they are very health or fitness conscious, this is likely going to be an even bigger issue for them, since it will hint towards major incompatibilities between the two of you.
- Grooming and Fashion – If you’ve not been taking very good care of yourself, especially compared to when both of you first started dating, it’s probably playing a part.
- Let’s be honest, it’s quite natural for people to become complacent about their appearance, clothes, even hygiene when they start getting more serious with each other. As we get more comfortable with our partner, we feel more secure about ourselves, and that’s a good thing.
- A healthy balance is always crucial, though. There’s a difference between being yourself and letting yourself go.
- Aging – This is a tough one as it’s pretty much entirely out of your hand if they strictly mean your age. But it’s likely to not be about the actual number.
- If they suddenly feel you’re too old, that’s more likely to be about themselves than your age. Unless you guys have a really big age gap and have been together for a while, you’ve probably not aged that much since you both started dating.
- Your age is just one part of the “attraction” puzzle, and if you’re aces in all the other sections, this one will not weigh you down that much.
- Rather than your actual age, this probably has more to do with how you act. Specifically about how you act towards them and around them. The biggest red flags are if your behavior has significantly changed since the time you both met.
- Have you recently become more protective or possessive of them?
- Have you stopped flirting with them like you used to?
- Maybe you prefer to hang out with your own friends, who just happen to be older than their circle?
- Or maybe you’re always telling them to act a certain way.
- Either of the above can remind them of their parents instead of the person they want to be with.
- Even if you make the necessary changes ASAP, they’re not going to suddenly think you’ve lost a few years. They have an image of you built in their mind and it will take a while to replace it with the new one you want to present. Taking some time apart and practicing no contact is a great solution, especially as it gives you the time to make the changes.
Loss in your status.
I’m going to have to explain this one a little bit. When you first think of the word “status,” it can have a slightly negative connotation. It’s a bit deeper than that though.
When I say “status,” I’m not specifically referring to the relative status between the both of you, eg: you were better than them, now they’re better than you. That’s absolutely not the implication. It refers to their impression of your status when compared to your past self (and other people).
- Career/Education/etc troubles – Life has ups and downs. And a lot of it can be out of our direct control.
- If you’re not doing as well at school/work as you were when you guys met, you have to admit that you’re not the same person they fell for.
- Even if they don’t particularly care about your pursuits, these things generally have a domino effect. Trouble at work can mean stress, which can lead to overworking, which can lead to neglecting your partner. And that’s just one example.
- Or maybe things haven’t changed at all. And that can be just as bad. We always want to keep doing better, not stay at the same level. If you’ve stagnated in your pursuits while they have continued to better themselves, they have basically outgrown you.
- Take an inventory of your life. What are your goals outside your relationship? And how are you actively working towards achieving them? That’s your priority now. Use this time away from them wisely.
- Putting them on a pedestal – Some people dig it, but unless that’s the dynamic you guys established in your relationship from the beginning; it’s unlikely to win you any favors. And even then, I’d advise against it. It’s natural to elevate the ones we care about and love, but if we do it at the expense of ourselves, it will usually come back to bite us.
- Were you always asking for their approval, even for the smallest things? It probably made them feel like you can’t make your own decisions and that you have to rely on them for everything.
- Were you being clingy? Maybe you displayed some jealous behavior. Put yourself in their shoes and you’ll agree how annoying this can be.
- Did you always make time for them and/or do whatever they wanted you to do, regardless of your plans and needs? Some people call that a doormat. It’s good to make time for your partner and to be able to prioritize their needs over your own, but if you’re only ever making concessions and never stand your ground, they’re going to realize that you’re not the one for them.
- It does not mean you have to be a jerk. It’s about being assertive and sincere. If someone asks you to do something, and you’re genuinely happy to do it, that’s good. But if someone asks you to do something that you’re not really interested in, you shouldn’t be insincere and play along just to be “nice”.
3. They Haven’t Been Getting Their Emotional Needs Met
When two people are in a relationship with each other, a lot of things are taken for granted and left unsaid. Arguably the most important component of a successful relationship is making sure both your emotional needs are met. Even if the attraction between you both is great and you share similar goals and interests, it will all be for nothing if both of you aren’t emotionally fulfilled.
- Lacking attention – You may have unconsciously stopped paying attention to their needs and desires. In a long-term relationship, over months and years, our lives shift, move, and we are constantly taking up new responsibilities and tasks.
- You may have started spending more time and attention on other people or pursuits. Maybe you’ve been really busy with work lately or made a new group of friends. Either way, they haven’t been getting to spend as much time with you as they’d like.
- Maybe there hasn’t been any change in how much time you spent with each other, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have been neglecting them in some ways.
- Were you guys not talking as much when you spent time together?
- Were you calling or texting fewer times than before?
- There could also have been a drop in the quality of your communication.
- Were you prone to giving vague responses? A lot of people resort to being vague when they don’t want to express their actual emotions (like resentment) or they’re trying to keep some secret.
- Not only does this slowly build up a wall between you and your partner, but it can also come off as deceptive since it’ll feel like you’re trying to hide things.
- Lacking intimacy – Intimacy is a foundation of relationships. It represents that two people care about and trust each other enough to make themselves vulnerable in each other’s company. Without intimacy, no romantic relationship will ever go far.
- Had things stopped being romantic? Or at least not nearly as romantic as when you began dating. A “romantic” relationship is the result of a lot of things – attraction, interest, comfort, sexual tension.
- Did arguments/fight happen more often as the relationship went on? Negative interactions put us on the defensive, and that is just not conducive to letting oneself be vulnerable and intimate with another.
- Did you guys rarely have conversations about each others’ feelings? Validating your partner’s feelings and providing a safe space for their feelings is crucial to maintaining intimacy.
- Do you have a short temper? It would be hard for someone to be intimate with you if they have issues dealing with your short fuse.
- Lacking support – Having each other’s back and supporting your partner is an important part of a fulfilling relationship. If they felt like they couldn’t rely on you for emotional support, it’s not surprising that they decided to end things.
- You have to be supportive of their goals and passions. If they felt like you didn’t respect or support them in their pursuits, they would feel like you don’t care about what they want.
- People aren’t mindreaders. If you never complimented them or acknowledged their accomplishments, they probably felt like you didn’t care about their success.
- Did you hold yourself back from speaking your mind when you felt vulnerable? That probably made them feel like you didn’t trust them enough. It’s not uncommon to feel nervous about sharing our insecurities with others. But it’s an important step towards building a successful relationship. You have to work on your insecurities, and let your partner help you with them – trust them to be there for you.
- Lacking security – If someone isn’t feeling secure in their relationship, it’s not going to go very far.
- Is there any reason they might doubt that you’ll still be around in a year? Or two? If you couldn’t get them to a position where they felt comfortable that you’ll be around, that’s your answer.
- Were you facing financial instability? The world is a shaky place, and this past year has been quite remarkable. If your financial position deteriorated, that probably had a part to play in your breakup.
- This isn’t something you can just fix, of course. No one wants there financial position to worsen, and you probably did your best to prevent it.
- Set reasonable goals and start working on building a stable foundation for yourself. Use this time apart from them to focus your 100% on this.
- Are you bad at keeping promises? It’s going to be very hard for you to find any person to date you if you’re not halfway decent at keeping promises. If you follow only one advice I listed out today, please make it this one – set achievable goals and keep yourself accountable.
- Lacking autonomy – If they lacked autonomy and agency in the relationship, it would have made them feel trapped. When any of us feel trapped, our minds automatically start telling us to “get out”. Here are some signs that you were too controlling in the relationship.
- You stopped (or tried to stop) them from going out with friends to clubs/bars.
- You demanded that they share their phone or social networking app passwords.
- You constantly asked for their whereabouts.
- You nagged constantly about what they should be doing.
- You often made decisions for them.
4. They Lacked Compatibility With You
We’re all going through our lives at different speeds and in different directions, all of us have wants and desires that are largely independent of each other, we may not all share the same values in life.
Compatibility is key to a long-lasting relationship. Even the strongest chemistry, attraction, and all the understanding in the world can’t substitute for compatibility. This doesn’t mean that two people have to be 100% compatible, and in fact, a little difference is appreciated. But if two people are truly incompatible, it can be really hard to get around it.
- Incompatible Values – We can’t all have similar values in life (though that’d be great). There are a lot of things that are very important to some people and incompatibility in any one of these things can be enough to end the relationship, eg: health and fitness, the involvement of extended family, traveling, religion, integrity, privacy, etc.
- If you’re willing to compromise on some of your values and prioritize your ex’s more, then that’s the obvious first step. But honesty is crucial here. Honesty to yourself. You don’t want to convince yourself you can do something just to later regret your decision.
- Don’t ask them to compromise their own values.
- Different points in life – Maybe you both just lack enough commonalities. Life experiences, personality, cultural background, maturity level, financial situation, general life experiences, etc all factor into where we believe we are in life, eg: When to get an education, start a career, living the simple life, moving in together, get married, have kids, etc.
- If they believe you both are at different points in life, it could be the sole reason behind the breakup.
- Unlike values, this is far easier to compromise on, for either of you. But just like values, you have to be completely honest with yourself.
- Unhealthy Lifestyle – If you have any habits that they disliked, especially ones that are negatively affecting your health in some way, they may have decided not to put up with it.
- Smoking, drinking, drugs are the obvious problems. But even somewhat harmless habits can become dangerous if we become psychologically dependent – like video games.
- If your drinking or drug habit is to the point of addiction, I think we both have to agree you have more crucial things to work on before you can think about winning them back.
- If you used to waste weekends just sitting on the couch smoking weed and being unproductive, use this time apart from them to your advantage.
- Sexual Incompatibility – This is actually a lot more common breakup reason than most expect.
- If they weren’t having as much sex as you wanted, it may have been because they were losing attraction towards you (check #2 above). Or it may have been because their prerequisite emotional needs weren’t being fulfilled (check #3 above).
- If you were not fulfilling their sexual needs, it may have been due to several reasons.
- If you weren’t having as much sex as they wanted, you have to think about where it began. Did your sex drive decrease compared to when you both first started dating? Were you just not getting enough time? Maybe your attraction towards them had been dropping. In this case, sexual incompatibility is a symptom of a bigger root cause – like you not paying enough attention to them.
- Did you not feel comfortable performing certain sexual acts? Besides just slowly building up to it, an alternative is to suggest a similar sexual act you’d be more comfortable performing.
- If you have any medical issues or medicines that affect your sexual performance, that is very understandable. Generally, this isn’t a deal-breaker unless there are other issues in the relationship as well.
- Maybe they felt like they couldn’t sexually fulfill you.
- You may be more adventurous in bed than they’re comfortable with.
- They may just not be as sexually active as you prefer.
- You may not have communicated your preferences to them openly.
5. They Can’t Trust You As Much As They’d Like To
Trust is an integral part of relationships. It is the foundation for intimacy, comfort, even attraction to an extent. If they felt like they couldn’t trust you, they would not be able to continue the relationship. There may be many reasons why they’d come to this conclusion.
- Lying – If you’ve lied to them in the past, it’s easy to see why they may not trust you completely.
- If you had a pattern of lots of white lies, you won’t be able to suddenly convince them you’re not going to lie anymore. It will take constant effort and time, you will have to establish low-level goals and keep yourself accountable.
- If you don’t have a history of lying, but lied about something important, you may be able to make them forgive you. You would have to apologize to them, making sure you explain exactly why you lied (like if it was out of fear or jealousy, etc). It’ll also require some time for them to slowly let go of any anger.
- Breaking promises – If you’ve made promises to them and failed to carry through, you’ve basically set yourself up for failure. Depending on the severity and frequency, it’s going to be really hard for you to fix this.
- You have to be genuinely apologetic and show it to them.
- You can’t just promise to never break another promise – if only things worked like that.
- You will have to slowly build up trust even if they forgive you.
- Unforgivable Incident – Did you say something hurtful to them? Maybe you picked a fight with their best friend? Or maybe you humiliated them in front of a group?
- Whatever the reason, the only way you dig your way out of this by apologizing.
- They probably don’t want to talk to you right now, so you should write them a message. That way even if they decide to not read it immediately, it will be there for when they’re in a better mood.
- After that, you can give them some time and space, and then re-engage later with another message.
6. They Found Someone Else
The one thing none of us want to hear. Yet, it is always a possibility. If they found someone else, that’s just one part of it. For them to decide to leave you for this other person, it also means that this other person provides more value than you. In their eyes and for their current needs, they believe the other person is a better fit.
Let’s take a look at some scenarios:
- The new person provides value to them in ways that you weren’t. Maybe it wasn’t always like this and you changed over time. Take a look at all the 5 points above this and try to figure out where you might have lacked.
- You’ve not changed since you met them, but they may have climbed higher on the “dating pool”.
- If they feel like they’re much better than when you both first met, it’s not hard to see why they would want to “upgrade”.
- Focus on raising your own “market value”. Fitness, develop attractive communication skills (like teasing, witty banter, charismatic speaking, etc), advance your career, etc.
- No matter what, do not confront them about the new relationship. Instead, take yourself out of the equation. Give them space and use this time to better yourself.