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October 15, 2018

Should I Try to Get My Ex Back & How Can I Avoid Resentment?

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We love that you’re sending in questions for the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast and we’re doing our best to get to all of them.

Recently we answered questions related to how to get your partner to open up and how to prioritize sex.

And earlier today on The Morning Show, Jess tackled a few other relationship questions related to exes and healthy fighting. Check out the video and notes below.

Eileen from North Bay asks: I was dating a wonderful guy for about 4 months and he recently broke it off to suddenly go back to his ex of four years. While we were together, he was still in touch with her, but just as friends and he said that the relationship, while they were dating, was pretty toxic. It sounded to me like she treated him really badly and was even verbally abusive of him.

His friends say I’m better for him and want us to get back together. My question is should I wait for him or reach out to see if he wants to get back together?

It sounds as though he has a long history with his ex and I would caution against interfering in his new (formerly old) relationship. On-again-off-again relationships (referred to as relationship cycling) are fairly common:

23%  and 37% of married and cohabitation couples have broken up and then gotten back together at some point in the relationship. This often occurs while dating, but 22% of the cohabitating couples “cycled” after living together and 12% of the married couples did so after marriage.

The costs of cycling are felt not only by the two people involved but also by those who become entwined in the cycle – in this case, that’s you. Those in on-again-off-again relationships report lower satisfaction and higher levels of distress, depression, and anxiety (along with the stress and negative outcomes associated with breakups). By becoming involved in this cycling pattern, you become subjected to these negative outcomes.

I’m happy to hear that his friends are supportive of you, as the way his friends feel about you can actually positively (or negatively) influence the outcome of your relationship. But for now, if he has called it off, I suggest that you give him his space.

If you feel that you lack closure, you might need to accept that sometimes you will carry hurt forward with you. After a breakup, we tend to want to gloss over the negative emotions (that’s why there is an entire industry devoted to divorce parties), but celebrating won’t necessarily help you to move on. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself and don’t waste your energy criticizing his new partner (formerly the ex). Focus on yourself and allow yourself to feel hurt if that’s what you’re feeling. You need to acknowledge the emotion in order to heal.

Tim from Calgary writes: I’m in a happy marriage of six years with 2 kids, but we struggle with the issue of conflict in that we both avoid it. I know it’s not healthy because we just sweep issues under the rug and I can feel the resentment building. How do we start to engage in “healthy fights” without ruining our happy relationship?

Since you have a happy relationship, you’re in a great position to have constructive conversations. I suggest that you talk about the issues that bother you when you’re already in a good place. Don’t wait until you’re upset about an issue to bring it up.

For example, if you tend to fight about how much time you spend together, don’t wait until the tension has built to bring it up. It may seem counterintuitive to insert a potentially tense discussion into a happy moment (I get it – you’re worried you’ll ruin it), but if you talk about it when you’re feeling good together, you’re likely to be more reasonable.

When you’re enjoying some time together, let your partner know how much you appreciate them. And ask them how you might carve out more moments like these.

If you’re conflict-avoidant, you might also want to dig a little deeper and examine what fear or insecurity underlies your desire to avoid conflict.

Are you fearful that your partner will leave you?

Are you concerned that if you fight, you’ll eventually break up? Is this something you’ve seen in other relationships?

You fear that you’ll blow up and say/do something you’ll regret if you get into an argument?

Once you identify the underlying hot-thought, you might be able to look at the issue more realistically and ask yourself some important questions:

  • Have you ever had an argument that improved a relationship?
  • What are the consequences of an intense conversation based on other experiences?
  • How can you see disagreements as learning opportunities?

It’s likely that an irrational thought (a cognitive distortion) underlies your desire to avoid conflict and the good news is that you can reframe this thought into something more realistic.

Finally, if and when you do engage in intense conversations, take a moment to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you love your partner. Show them that you love them with physical affection or use your words as a reminder.

Remember: happy couples fight and small arguments can help to relieve tension to ward off more intense conflict.