Do Exes Come Back, Or Should I Move On?

Updated May 17, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free, privileged support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

After the end of a relationship, it may feel challenging to let go of previous goals, desires, or hopes that you had with your ex-partner. If you spent most of your days together, it might feel unfamiliar to wake up alone or experience life without them by your side. In some cases, you may wonder “do exes come back?” and if things will go back to the way they were. Bargaining, denial, and hope can each be a part of the grieving process when you lose someone. So, should you move on and look for a new relationship or keep waiting for your ex?

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Should I Move On From My Ex? 

Deciding whether to move on from an ex is a personal choice, most of the time you'll think "does my ex think about me?" out of nowhere. However, if you find that most of your relationship was fraught with pain, abuse, trauma, or unhealthy patterns, this can be a huge sign that it may not be the healthiest choice to get back together. 

Although people can change their attachment styles, personalities, and behaviors, doing so is often difficult, time-consuming, and takes willingness and introspection. Your ex may not change in a few months or even a few years. Change cannot be forced, and if you try to convince your ex of everything they did wrong, they might feel defensive or angry, which will not lead to a healthy relationship. 

Instead of focusing on when the breakup happened and whether your ex-girlfriend or boyfriend has changed for the better, focus on changing yourself for the better and seeing what life could have in store for you as the best version of yourself.  

Can Exes Come Back? 

Exes may return in some cases. Since couples break up for various reasons, the circumstances of a breakup may impact the potential for reconnection. A recent study showed that 44% of Americans have gotten back together with one of their exes after breaking up with them. However, of these couples, it’s less clear whether they were able to build and stay in healthy, loving relationships in the long run.  

If you and your partner have chosen to break up, mutually or not, there may have been a reason. For example, couples often break up for the following reasons:

  • Conflict
  • Falling out of love or growing apart
  • Infidelity/finding a new partner
  • Differing values 
  • Differing opinions on childcare or having children
  • Life stressors, such as moving 
  • Financial difficulties
  • Differing personalities
  • Differing desires for monogamy or polyamory
  • Lack of respect 
  • Family conflict 
  • Abuse*

*If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Exes might get back together if the reasoning for a breakup made sense or was based on uncontrollable life circumstances. In some cases, exes break up and get back together more than once due to unhealthy relationship patterns or beliefs. 

Trauma bonding is one of the biggest signs that may cause someone to feel that remaining in a breakup and makeup cycle with their ex is the most desirable option, even if it causes harm. 

Additionally, those who struggle to set relationship boundaries may feel that they would accept their ex back, even if their ex hurt them in some way. They might feel they deserved the hurt or cannot find a better dynamic. This feeling can stem from past trauma or self-esteem issues. If you feel this way, it may be beneficial to reach out for support from a professional. 

Why Do I Want My Ex To Come Back? 

Individuals may sometimes feel a longing for their ex after a breakup. You might miss happy memories after seeing social media posts or desire closeness from before. The longing might feel powerful or override your brain's logical centers that remind you why the relationship ended. 

Although it can be a regular part of grief to miss your ex, try to focus on healing the urges before deciding to reach out. Being able to decide using your head and heart simultaneously has been proven to be more effective than letting only emotion or only logic cloud your decisions. 

What Makes An Ex Come Back?

Your ex might return for various reasons. For example, they could miss you, still feel in love, or want to work on the conflicts that ended the relationship. In other cases, they might feel lonely, don't want to take responsibility for their actions or feel the breakup wasn't permanent. 

No matter why or when your ex returns, it is up to you to decide if you think getting back together with them is healthy for you. If you ended the relationship, your ex might reach out with hopes that you will forgive them, accept their apology, or have a change of heart. If you decided to break up with them, remember your reasoning when you were making that choice. Even if your ex is sorry, has made changes in their life, or has had a change of heart, it doesn't necessarily mean you must accept it and reconcile your connection with them.

Rather than wondering if an ex will come back, it can be constructive to take the time to work on yourself, become a better person and a better partner, and improve your own life. This is often the best way to get an ex to come back in a healthy manner. 

What Should I Do If My Ex Comes Back? 

If your ex returns after the relationship ends, you have a few options. It can start with a choice, setting clear boundaries, and remaining cautious as you communicate. Research shows that healthy relationships can improve mental and physical health. However, unhealthy ones can have the opposite effect. If your relationship with your ex was unhealthy or could be unhealthy in the future, it may not be the right choice to get back together and may be time to look to your next relationship. 

Make A Choice

If your ex returns to your life or attempts to communicate with you, you can make a choice. Your choice might include the following: 

  • Getting back together
  • Blocking your ex
  • Communicating your boundaries
  • Becoming friends
  • Asking them to give you space 
  • Discussing the circumstances around your breakup 
  • Asking for closure
  • Asking for more time to think

You don't have to make a significant decision if you're not sure just yet. Try to communicate to your ex where you're at and gauge their reaction. You can end the conversation if they are aggressive, defensive, or unkind. 

If you decide to get back together with your ex or give them another chance, you may try couples counseling. When couples break up, there is often a reason, and couples therapy can help you and your ex discuss these reasons in a safe and neutral therapeutic environment. 

If you decide to cut off contact with your ex, ask for space, or want to see a new potential partner, blocking their social media accounts or avoiding them as much as possible may be valuable. If your ex repeatedly contacts you or the other guy, follows you, or disregards your physical and emotional boundaries, it could qualify as harassment or stalking behavior. Speak with your local police department if you feel unsafe. 

Set Boundaries

If you have had a conversation with your ex, decide to get back together, or hope to stay friends at some point, setting boundaries can be an essential part of maintaining a healthy connection.

Your boundaries may include the amount of time you spend together, what you will and won't accept physically and emotionally, and the amount of contact you're comfortable having. 

Suppose you've decided to give your ex another chance. In that case, boundaries may be rules you set in your relationship to avoid future conflicts or situations like the ones you experienced when breaking up. 

Be Cautious 

Try to be cautious when speaking to your ex. If you feel unsafe, unheard, or disrespected, you might choose to end the conversation and set a boundary. If you've re-entered a relationship, take it slow. You might not be able to "return to normal" after your breakup. There could be new conflicts, jealousy, or concerns from you or your partner. During this time, speaking to a couples counselor could be beneficial. 

If you and your ex have decided to stay friends, try not to disregard your values in the process. For example, if you wish to stay platonic and avoid physical affection, say "no" to any advances from your ex that are romantic or sexual. If your ex wants to continue having a physical relationship without the label of a relationship, you do not have to do so if it makes you uncomfortable. 


Ways To Move Forward After A Breakup 

After your breakup, consider the following ways to move forward from your ex. Once you have a clear mind and a healthy body and feel that you have moved on, you may feel open to talking to your ex again on the other side of the healing process. 

Focus On Self-Care

The first stage of a breakup can be very hard, which makes self-care essential. Commit to self-care through activities that have been proven to support your mental and physical health, such as: 

  • Spending time in nature
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation 
  • Partaking in a hobby
  • Eating healthy meals
  • Committing to your mental health 
  • Journaling about your thoughts and feelings
  • Taking space from negative influences
  • Practicing optimism 
  • Opening your mind to new possibilities
  • Relaxing when you can 
  • Spending time with your pets
  • Exercising 
  • Talking to a relationship expert 

If you get stressed during the process of the relationship ending, practice a quick deep breathing exercise such as box breathing to control your nervous system. 

Feel Your Emotions 

Studies show that suppressing your emotions can be damaging to your overall health. If you feel sad, angry, anxious, shameful, or any other way about your breakup, consider letting yourself express those emotions in healthy ways. A few ways to express emotions could include: 

  • Journaling
  • Yelling into a pillow 
  • Talking to a therapist
  • Crying when you feel the urge
  • Labeling your emotions
  • Hugging your pets when you feel sad 
  • Reaching out for help when you need it 
  • Recording a video diary for yourself 
  • Going to an "anger room" where you can smash items in a safe and controlled environment
  • Punching a punching bag
  • Exercising or running 
  • Practicing self-soothing
  • Singing songs that you relate to

Take Time To Heal

Moving on can take time, but you won’t stay broken. Like grief, you could cycle through your emotions several times before you feel acceptance regarding the breakup. Give yourself as much time as you need and try not to judge how long it takes you to heal.

During this time, limit exposure to your ex. You might do so by ignoring their messages, removing them from social media, or avoiding locations they frequent. Ask friends and family to avoid speaking of your ex while you process what happened.

Seek Therapy

"Should I talk to my ex?" Finally, if you're struggling with urges to talk to your ex, want your ex to leave you alone, or feel conflicted about moving on, talking to a therapist could have benefits. Therapists are often trained in precise coping mechanisms that have been studied to support those going through similar thoughts, emotions, and urges. 

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

During a breakup, it can feel challenging to leave home or make time for appointments. If you relate, online counseling is an option available to you. Through online platforms such as BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples, you may be able to make a positive change in your breakup situation. Signing up can take a few minutes, and you can get matched with a counselor that meets your stated preferences, such as someone with experience with couples. Couples therapy can also be done online if you and your ex get back together and want to discuss your options. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

Online therapy can be helpful for individual concerns as well as relationship troubles. 

Studies show that teletherapy is as effective as other options. Those who participate in online therapy report results such as a decrease in depressive symptoms, higher self-efficacy, and lower symptoms of anxiety.

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After the end of a relationship, you or your ex may struggle to move on and there may be a desire to get your ex to come back. Although some couples get back together, moving on could be your healthiest choice. If you need support in making the decision, consider reaching out to a counselor for professional guidance. An online therapist can answer your questions as they arise and help you develop a healthier mindset as you move forward after a breakup.

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