They say Never Say Never, and Tay Tay says Never Ever Ever Ever Ever, but should you get back with an ex?

I recently was away for a weekend with a bunch of mates at an Air BnB type thing (where you rent a holiday house for a few days) up the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. It was a pretty legit weekend. The house had an older style iPod dock, and I still have an old skool iPod Classic, meaning my music ended up in the rotation over the weekend. If you know anything about the iPod Classic, it’s massive, and it had literally every song I’d ever come across on my devices over the years. Over the weekend, an old song by Guy Sebastian came on called Elevator Love. Guy Sebastian was the winner of the first winner of Australian Idol here in the land down under, and for a while most of his music was absolutely everywhere.

Including the aforementioned song. Some people stopped to ask, “Is that love in an elevator?”. For those who haven’t heard the expression before, it refers to people’s love relationships that are those on again, off again type deals. It’s like an elevator – it’s up one minute, then it’s down the next, then it goes back up again. This phenomenon is quite common in our world of relationships – we’ll be locked in an embrace one minute, then locked in a heated bout of the silent treatment or breaking up the next.

All of us have exes in our lives. Exes of various kinds. Whether they be in romantic relationships, with friends or even in the world of business, there’s one big question that may float across our minds – should I get back with an ex?

Defining an ex

What constitutes an ex here? All of us have different things come to mind when we think of the term “ex”. For some, an ex instantly brings back memories of a former committed relationship, whether it be married, boyfriend girlfriend, a business partnership signed on the dotted line. For others, an ex could be someone who had pursued you for a while but you didn’t bite, or vice versa – you pursued them to no avail. For a lot of people, the feelings and efforts involved in moving towards the direction of commitment are just as involved as anything that would’ve received an official, publicly available status.

So I guess what we’re referring to here is an “ex opportunity” of any kind. Whether it was squandered by the opposite party, broken up mutually, or something you decided against yourself, if you’re reading this right now, it will be whatever is first and foremost in your mind when you consider this thought.

If your spot is taken by a committed relationship, no

I think the situation is very simple if the person or party involved is already in a committed, locked in, filled out relationship. I guess this is more the case with romantic relationships, as there can be alternatives with friends and career. If your ex partner is now married to someone else, or has someone in their life who they have dead set committed to with everything they have, your moment has probably passed.

If there’s any reason I could think of that this should be the case, consider this – you may be “the other woman” or that man who may still be around now, but if that’s an acceptable status for you both to entertain now, then you make it acceptable for that person to do it with someone else at a later course in your relationship. You’ve set a precedent whereby it’s acceptable for the relationship to be interrupted by someone with stronger feelings at any point in your relationship.

Where’s the line? Probably a wedding ring. Anything before that you’ll have to use your discretion, as there are certainly many cases where people make decisions based on what options they believe they do or do not have before a life-long commitment is set in stone, and maybe they don’t know you’re still an option.

The reason it was broken off in the first place

One of my friends on this topic shared a Chinese proverb with me today, roughly translating that “A good horse will never turn around to graze on an old pasture”. I guess the point of this expression is that there was a reason you kept moving passed the person or relationship you did end up moving passed. There was probably a reason you broke it off originally, or dismissed it the first, second, 37th time. What was it? Do you remember?

And this, my dear friends, is where the decision gets much more involved. Because you’re faced with the reconsideration of your earlier decisions. Perhaps it’s regret, maybe it’s just a wondering mind, other times it’s a discontent with the place you find yourself in today.

Maybe there was a good reason you broke it off earlier that you’ve forgotten. Your lives clearly were not heading in any sort of similar direction, and neither of you was willing to make a compromise, and that’s still the way you’re heading today. Maybe there was a destructive set of habits or behaviours that severely damaged your life, that you were not able to remain under. Maybe it’s because of a lack of reciprocation on the other end, and an unwillingness to do anything about that – beyond your control. “Good” can be a very subjective term here.

But how about if the reason you broke it off wasn’t actually right? Or your decision was motivated by other factors? Perhaps you were afraid. Hey, I know heaps and heaps of people in this boat – where the only thing that stopped them from something potentially great was a sense of overwhelming, unaddressed fear. Maybe you felt at the time you had certain other obligations to fulfill that you have come to realize shouldn’t stop you from being with someone. Maybe you made a false assumption or didn’t find out all the facts.

Or what if the timing seemed wrong? Tim Fargo said that “Opportunity doesn’t make appointments, you have to be ready when it arrives”. What if, for whatever reason, right or wrong, you missed a moment? Are you able to go after it again and get it back?

Food for thought.

How many second chances do you give someone?

Is J Bieb going to have to come back again and ask you if it’s too late now to say sorry? We have a whole plethora of songs written about the phenomenon of second chances. When mistakes have been made, when opportunity has been stunted, when our uncertainty has paved way for that sense of rising panic that you may have just let the best thing in your life go by, what do you do?

Do people really change? This is a rather challenging question for us. It may have been the person’s behaviour that caused us to break the opportunity the first time around. Maybe the trust has been broken repeatedly. But those puppy dog eyes, that genuine tone of voice, that desperation and persistence – should you take them back? TD Jakes says of marriage that a lifelong commitment cannot be sustained without forgiveness. It’s true that any relationship must incorporate forgiveness in order to survive, because all of us suck at some point, and all of us hurt each other. But are forgiveness and trust the same thing? I explore that issue a bit more in the post 5 Reasons Forgiveness is So Hard.

And what about if you’re the one needing the second chance? What if you were the one to make the blunder? I think if it was you who broke it off initially, it’s unfair to be expecting the other person to reach out and try to give it another go. If I scratched your car in front of your eyes, then walked off hoping that you would go out of your way to find me to make it right, you would call me cruel. Well, let’s not destroy people’s hearts or be the ones cutting off the opportunity and then expect them to make all the effort to set things right. When the wrong is within our control, we need to own up to it, and do what we can to be reconciled to each other. Time to learn how to do a difficult conversation well.

But at what point has someone exhausted their chances? I still don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know if there is a set amount, but I do know that people have a limit within themselves where they will eventually give up. Our challenge is when our limits of persistence are different to each other.

The importance of our health

I think one thing it really does serve to do in us is to give us a wake up call that our emotional, physical, and spiritual health are maintained and looked after. If it was a stressful situation that “made you” make a bad decision, then it shows you that you’re not coping with stress well in your life. Or perhaps it was a distant relationship with others in your life, or maybe your physical state rendered you unable to give the other person enough to keep them going. All I’m saying here is that if there are other factors that can cause us to make decisions we aren’t always proud of, then we need to do all we can to address those factors, and our responses to them.

And if you are with someone, if you’ve made a decision to lock the exes out and focus on this one, then all the more reason to keep the health levels up and in check to ensure nothing can sneak in and bring that drift that slowly leads people to separation.

When feelings change

Ultimately, the real issue is this – how do you respond when your feelings change? If you’re well and truly removed from someone in your life, and then memories, feelings, impulses driving you back to make the opposite decision, what do you do? Do you instantly drop everything in your life and go pursue the soulmate you may have already found? Do you reject your current line of thought and go back to a place you originally thought was a mistake or a waste of time? Do you return to the person who hurt you so much without remorse and has really shown no sign of change?

And what happens if your feelings snap back the other way? Or, more accurately – what will you do when your feels snap back the other way? Because they will. Sy Rogers highlights the fact in his In The Hotseat series that the marriage vow already presupposes that there will be opportunity and desire to pursue alternatives.

Feelings can be so unreliable. The heart is deceitful above all else. Therefore we need a decision making strategy that goes beyond our feelings.

Did I provide a direct answer to the question? I dunno if anyone could, and I think most of my readers enjoy having additional questions to make decisions in their own life with (as many of you have told me, thanks team). It will be as unique an answer as your situation is. I think if you make a big decision by yourself, you’ll almost certainly make the wrong one. So get the right kinds of people around you, ask the right sort of questions, and work out whether this opportunity is the one you’ve been waiting on yourself to recognize, or if it’s an open door to another dead end in the future.

How about you? How would you answer this question? Should you get back with an ex?

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