How to Win Back Your Ex

If you are still in love with your ex, you are not alone. According to a survey in the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper, around 21% of British people hope to reunite with their first love, while one in four men hope to reconnect with an ex. No doubt some would caution against this, arguing that people have highly selective memories and tend to forget the bad times. If you are determined, however, it would be wise to first consider how you will go about it.

Trying Too Hard

When a relationship falters and the couple separate, both tend to do so with the thought, “what will I do if he/she meets someone new?” Obviously, this is much harder for those who did not wish to separate in the first place. If you hope to win back your ex, rule one is simple – don’t panic. Remember, if your ex really is over you and there is no hope of repairing the relationship, then that’s just the way things are and you will have to accept this. If, however, your ex still has deep feelings for you and the relationship can be repaired (or rekindled), the worst thing you can do is rush it.

Few traits are so unattractive as neediness. Unfortunately, some people panic – especially those unused to being alone. This is particularly true when they learn that their ex has started dating again. As soon as they hear this, their nerve goes and they throw themselves at his or her feet, promising to change, agreeing to everything (including the more unreasonable demands), and showering them with affection. Others worry that their ex will somehow forget them or mistake their silence for indifference.

Do not lose your dignity. Reacting in such a way never produces good results. No one ever fell back in love with her ex because he dropped to his knees sobbing and blubbering that he couldn’t live without her, that she’d won, and that he’d cave in to all her demands. Put yourself in their position. How attractive would you find an ex-partner who hung on your every word, who lost all self-respect, and who tearfully begged you to take them back? Hardly an attractive image is it?

Remember, neediness usually results in a loss of respect, and a loss of respect means a loss of attraction. And who wants someone back when they are no longer attracted to them? Constantly texting and emailing should also be avoided. At first they may be flattered, but it will quickly become irritating. Again, irritating people are not attractive.

Too Cool to Care

Do not veer off to the other extreme, however. You don’t want your ex to think of you as desperate and needy, but neither do you want them to think you cold and indifferent. Remember, you can overplay your hand. They may be watching you and waiting for your next move, so don’t act uninterested or aloof. And do not start dating someone else. This cannot be over-emphasized. If you are deeply in love with someone, have broken up, and hope to eventually be reunited, do not think of this as a chance for some fun. If a friend urges you to “get out there, have some drinks and flirt,” knowing that you are still in love with your ex, then they are no friend.

Imagine that you and your partner break up for a few months and during that time you have a casual affair with a work colleague. Do you honestly believe that your ex will be fine with this? Forget what they may say. Imagine that a few months pass and there is a tearful reunion. Now you must break the news that you briefly saw someone else. Morally, you were perfectly within your rights: the relationship, for all you knew, was over. Your ex may agree to this. But romantic relationships are not based on cold reason, and they do not work like business contracts. Deep down there will be pain, resentment, and jealousy. They will never forget what you did. And such affairs can eat away at a relationship, no matter how hard you try. Think about it like this – how would you feel if it were the other way around?

While apart, you want them to see you as strong, dignified, and self-reliant – and yet still in love. In other words, the message should be “I still love you, but I can and will survive on my own – if I must.” Put simply, vulnerability is attractive, neediness isn’t.

Re-establishing Contact

Re-establishing contact can be tricky. In general, it is best to keep things casual and light – certainly at first. Again, you must walk the tightrope between neediness and indifference. Be warm and friendly and do not hide the fact that you are pleased to see them (say so in a sincere but calm and restrained way). Initially it would be best to stick to trivial subjects (how her mother is, for example, or how her job is going). And try to remember the personal concerns that were upsetting her last time you met, like her father’s cancer scare, or the incompetent new manager at work.

Once your ex has answered your polite questions, he or she will ask how you have been. Resist the urge to blurt out that you’ve felt dreadful and want them back. Saying that you cannot live without someone could be taken as an insult. It means you depend on them – like a puppy or an invalid! You can and would survive without them, but you don’t want to. That is different. You should want your ex back because you love them and want to be with them, not because they make you feel safe or cared for.

Before you say how you feel, however, it might be best to create the right sort of mood. You could do so by steering the conversation round to the good times you shared: to a vacation, maybe, or a neighbor the pair of you were fond of.

Making It Last This Time

Finally, there is the question of how to make it last this time. Obviously, the key is not to repeat the same mistakes. Do not assume that things will be different just because you are both a little older or because you now appreciate how much you love them. For a few months things may be great, but the same old tensions and fault lines will soon reappear. Above all, do not just sigh with relief and slip back into the same life you had before, like someone sinking into a nice, comfy armchair. Your relationship ended. And relationships end for a reason. You must put in the time and effort to understand why it failed.

Begin by asking your partner to be honest. Insist that they hold nothing back but explain in detail all the things that drove them mad. Once they have finished, consider everything they have told you. If possible, write them down somewhere secret. Now, do all you can to correct these faults. For example, your ex-girlfriend may complain that she found life with you dull, that you never wanted to go anywhere or do anything, and that she felt as though she was just treading water and waiting to die. Others will complain that the relationship lacked intimacy and love, that their partner was too focussed on career and money.

The nature of these tensions and faults is unimportant. What matters is that you put in the time and effort to change. But try not to make these attempts too clumsy or obvious. And, above all, keep them up!

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Mark Goddard, Ph.D.

Mark Goddard, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and a consultant specializing in the social-personality psychology. His publications include magazine chapters, articles and self-improvement books on CBT for anxiety, stress and depression. In his spare time, he enjoys reading about political and social history.

*The views expressed by Mr. Goddard in this column are his own, are not made in any official capacity, and do not represent the opinions of his employers.

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