Do Exes Come Back, Or Should I Move On?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 29, 2024by 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 be 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 could seem scary to wake up alone or experience life without them by your side. When these emotions and thoughts arise, you may be wondering if an ex can come back or if you're having wishful thinking.

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Should I move on from my ex? 

Deciding whether to move on from an ex is a personal choice. However, if your relationship was fraught with pain, abuse, trauma, or unhealthy patterns, it could be a sign that getting back together wouldn't be healthy. 

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 a few years. In addition, change cannot be forced. Trying to convince your ex of everything they did wrong could cause anger and conflict, which aren't often ingredients of a strong connection. 

Instead of focusing on when the breakup happened and whether your ex-partner has positively changed, 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, there are no statistics on whether these couples could 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
  • Disinterest or distance
  • Infidelity or 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*

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 may cause someone to believe 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 want to accept their ex back, even if their ex hurt them in some way. They might believe they deserved the hurt or cannot find a better dynamic. This belief can stem from past trauma or self-esteem issues. If you have thoughts like these, reaching out for support from a professional before acting may be beneficial. 

Why do I want my ex to come back? 

Individuals may sometimes experience 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 be powerful or override your brain's logical centers, reminding you why the relationship ended. 

Although it can be a regular part of grief to miss your ex, 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 be in love, or want to work on the conflicts that ended the relationship. In other cases, they might be lonely, don't want to take responsibility for their actions, or didn't intend the breakup to be 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 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. These steps may be the healthiest way to get an ex to come back in a healthy manner. 

What should I do if my ex comes back? 

You have a few options if your ex returns after the relationship ends. 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. Below are a few steps you can take if your ex returns. 

Make a decision 

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 unsure. Try to communicate to your ex about your current state of mind 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. There is often a reason when couples break up, 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, 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 are 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, you may set boundaries 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 believe you are 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 be unable 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.

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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 have moved on, you may be open to talking to your ex again. 

Focus on self-care

The first stage of a breakup can come with challenging emotions. During this stage, it can be crucial to practice self-care. 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 healthily. A few ways to express emotions could include: 

  • Journaling
  • 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
  • Exercising or running 
  • Practicing self-soothing
  • Singing songs that you relate to

Take time to heal

Moving on can take time, but you may not feel this way forever. Instead, you may cycle through your emotions several times before you experience 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.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
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Seek therapy

If you're struggling with urges to talk to your ex, want your ex to leave you alone, or are 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. 

During a breakup, leaving home or making time for appointments can be challenging. If you relate, online counseling may be valuable. Through online platforms like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples, you may be able to make a positive change. 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. 

Online therapy can be helpful for individual concerns as well as relationship troubles. Studies show that teletherapy is as effective as other options. Those participating in online therapy often report decreased depressive symptoms, higher self-efficacy, and reduced anxiety.

Counselor reviews

"I've tried other counselors that I liked but didn't seem right for me but Margaret has been amazing! I love her honesty, compassion, and realness! It was really easy to open up to her and she's helped me get through a very tough breakup that nobody else could seem to get me through. I would recommend her to anyone! She makes it so comfortable to talk to her as if you've known her forever!"

"I've never been to therapy and so was really hesitant about opening up at first. But Whitney has just been so great! I signed up for BetterHelp because I was going through a breakup with problems I knew stemmed from problems with myself. I knew I felt unhappy in my relationship but could not for certain say why. Therapy with Whitney has been so great in helping me become more self-aware and reflective. And, of course, the breakup was hard at first. But every day, with Whitney, I was able to feel a little bit better than the day before."

Takeaway

After the end of a relationship, you or your ex may struggle to move on, and you may have the desire to get your ex to return. Although some couples get back together, moving on could be your healthiest choice. If you seek support in making the decision, consider contacting a counselor for professional guidance.
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