The Realist’s Guide To Getting Back Together With Your Ex

For some, a high chance of reconciliation illuminates the way forward, for others, the road ahead appears to be very dark indeed. Either way, this guide has been built from the ground up to serve both scenarios equally and take no stage in the process for granted.

No matter what your situation is, this step-by-step guide will bring clarity even if the end result is painful or disconcerting. That’s what realism is all about — the truth, no matter the price!

Part 1 – The Planning Stage

Down to earth

The foundation of everything that happens from here on out rests squarely on the shoulders of our ability to be ruthlessly objective about our chances.

Hope, optimism and external validation (what everyone else is saying) are important factors, but they should have no hand in assessing our what happens next.

Making the most of what we have is a brutal process. Unless, of course, we’re being handed reconciliation on a silver platter. But let’s face it, if that was the case then we simply wouldn’t be here.

And even if it was all laughably easy, getting back together is just the beginning, which is another reason that taking a trip down objectivity lane is something we have to do before we even get to practical part of this guide (part 2 onwards).

Occam’s Razor

occam's razor

When it comes to being objective, we have to recognize that to a certain extent we are inseparable from our subjective hopes and insecurities.

Which means — you guessed it — we can’t trust ourselves to be as detached and realistic as we’d like to think we are. Particularly during a period of high emotional stress where the stakes are so high they greatly influence our peace of mind.

With this is mind, I’d like to call in the cavalry. Say hello to Occam’s Razor.

Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor) is a principle from philosophy. Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is. – Wikipedia

This is obviously not an article on philosophy or science, so I’ll get to the point. Here are a few examples of how we can use the razor to make mincemeat out of any damaging assumptions (false hope, false expectations, e.t.c) we’re likely to make about our chances.

Let’s play a game of what is more likely:

  • Your ex breaks with you: What is more likely? That (a) the relationship had become unsustainable, or that (b) it’s all just an elaborate design aimed at getting you to commit further and stop taking them for granted.
  • Your ex asks you for a time out: What is more likely? That (a) they feel drained and need some space, or that (b) they’re seeing someone else and want to weigh their options.
  • Your ex has stopped initiating contact: What is more likely? That (a) they have no desire to engage, or that (b) they’re trying to make you desperate so that you reach out instead.

You get the idea.

It should be apparent that Occam’s razor dictates that (a), in all cases, would be the preferable answer, although hope and expectation often make us entertain (b) instead, simply because it makes trauma less painful in the short term.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that this is the realist’s guide, and realism is every inch as rewarding as it is painful. If we want to move on cleanly (whether that’s reconciling or the land of singledom), we have to be willing to adjust our expectations according to a logic which is as objective as possible.

If we fail to do that we litter our future with traps like emotional minefields because every time one of those “hope bubbles” bursts it will send us careering back to the start of our healing journey.

For instance, what if we convince ourselves that it isn’t a real breakup, it’s just a case of the grass is greener syndrome, what happens should that particular hope turn out to be false?

Not only will it delay healing, it will force us to reconsider the breakup in its entirety from a new perspective. Basically, it means going through the breakup again. Oh, hell no!

Warning: Occam’s razor is a handy tool, but it does not guarantee anything. Sometimes the truth is messy and complicated. For the most part though, at least statistically, we’re far better off taking things at face value.

Figuring out what caused the breakup

Now that we’ve applied the razor to our own set of circumstances, and become aware of how insecurity may be tainting our outlook, it’s time to adjust our expectations realistically and plan ahead.

If we’re going to caress the thought of successful, long-term reconciliation, we have to figure out what led to separation, both physical and emotional. And the best way to do it is to look at the symptoms.

Common breakup symptoms (and what they mean)

symptoms of breaking upDiagnosing breakups is tricky, which is why this amounts to my personal interpretation of events rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. So keep that in mind.

On the left (bolded) are the symptoms, and to the right the causes.

  • Feeling drained / Needing time off or space: Neediness, jealousy, possessiveness or a partner who requires constant validation; leading to scenarios where the relationship has become too intense or where the dumper feels alienated from their own needs (insecurity is largely egotistic). Also consider: Needing time off isn’t always a breakup, sometimes feeling swamped has nothing to do with the relationship itself and is the result of stress or other aspects of life. Use the razor to figure out which is more likely.
Note: These forms of insecurity (neediness e.t.c) are tragically ironic. They stem from fear of abandonment and lead to a vicious cycle where the ever-increasing need to be validated by our partner leads to ever increasing distance. The greater the chase, the greater the flight. Sometimes just realizing how counter-productive the impulse is, is enough to break the cycle before it’s too late.
  • Infidelity / Cheating: Sexual dissatisfaction, boredom, lack of intimacy, subconscious revenge or a fleeting case of desperate desire. If we were cheated on, it is entirely up to us to decide how it affects trust from here on out. If we were the ones to cheat, it would pay to discard guilt for the time being and understand why it happened. Be objective, there’s a chance that certain needs are not being fulfilled and as sad and potentially unfair as it may seem, it might be better for the both of you if you parted ways (if you feel it might just happen again).
  • No longer feeling “the spark”: While we all know what I mean, we all have a different understanding of what “the spark” is. In any case, a common list of candidates include a decrease in physical attraction (letting oneself go, e.t.c), deep-seated resentment, inability to relate (growing apart) or a relationship that is unable to make the transition from attraction to attachment (which is both natural and common and doesn’t always stem from personal disparities, rather a difference in existential outlook). Confused? Is it a case of all or none? When in doubt wield the razor!
  • They’re in love with someone else: Either it is a way to help fill the void after the breakup (affection and validation are hard to give up) or a case of tough luck. They may have met someone they feel is romantically more compatible (there’s a big market out there). Yikes. No matter what it is though, we’re better off not lurking in the shadows waiting for the penny to drop. But there are still some things we can attempt (more on this in part 2).

In any case, I could literally fill up a library with a list of causes and effects in this way, so I won’t bore you, I’m sure you get the idea. If you want feedback tailored to your specific case you could either use the comment section below or contact me directly (yes, it’s free, but subject to availability).

So, if we’re relatively confident that we have an objective handle on what caused the breakup, and what our expectations should be, it’s now time to actually do something about it.

Part 2 – The Bargaining Stage

Repairing communication

firemanBreakups are notorious for their ability to cause us to preemptively burn our bridges, even if we continue to have strong feelings. But please, before torching the means of communication in an act of defiance, or to engage in a manipulative gamble, realize that no means of communication mean no reconciliation. You simply can’t build a relationship back up if you can’t communicate in a meaningful way! (no, Facebook likes don’t count).

Unlike the first section of this guide, this article requires action, because:

  • We can’t rely on our ex to repair communication for us.
  • It ain’t — as the saying goes — gonna fix itself.

Let’s take a bad scenario rather than a good one, because being realists means we’re prepared for anything! (just joking):

Many breakups end on an impulsive note, meaning that the last contact we have is a traumatic one that might make us doubt how that ex would react to us reaching out.

We don’t know how they’ll react to contact, and we haven’t really tried, because the risk of rejection is too painful to stomach.

In other words: A big, red, pulsating question mark.

Our first action

Our first goal should be that of making sure our ex knows that the means of communication are open, and contact is welcome. There are two ways to do this (depending on your current predisposition towards bravery).

  • Indirectly (less effective): Send them an open-ended message that does not require an answer. By doing so you will have implied that you’re cool with a chat, you don’t necessarily have to spell it out. The open-ended (no questions, implied or otherwise) aspect is supremely important because you don’t want to force their hand. If they do answer they will have done so voluntarily, not out of guilt. Needless to say this is good news (but don’t celebrate just yet).
  • Directly (more effective): Just tell them you’d like to chat / catch-up or hangout. I would start from an impersonal means of communication first (e-mail) and build up from there because to ask for coffee might be more than they are willing to handle. Work your way up for the same reason that you would make your message open ended. You don’t want to force their hand, because asking for coffee out of the blue will almost always be greeted with skepticism, even if there is an underlying desire to reconcile.

No matter which variant you go for, make sure you keep the message short and to the point. Don’t add any fluff because it will only dilute the importance of the message and confuse your ex. You know just how easy it is read between non-existent lines for non-existent clues!

Decoding the results

decoding communicationDon’t drop the razor yet, we still need it!

As discussed in part 1, I’m going to presume that we’re going to take communication at face value.

Sure, you can’t stop yourself from reading between the lines, we’re human after all, but when it comes to communicating back, make sure you are not making any assumptions.

Take what was given at face value, even if you suspect a game is being played or they are hiding behind a defensive mask (don’t try and rip it off, there’s a reason they’re using it. To press too hard is to disrespect their healing, and it will lead to further distance and resentment).

And if you’ve waited a solid week and have received nothing at all…

… bear in mind that too is an answer.

Repeatedly contacting them because “I wasn’t clear enough” or because “Google must have lost it” will not do you any long-term favors. On top of grief you’re now having to deal with your self-esteem being smashed to pieces.

Would not recommend.

Promising signs

The message is out, and the results are in; but what to make of them?

Here are some examples of things we’re hoping to see:

  • They mention your history in a neutral/positive way: The simple of act of bringing up something that only the both of you share has the subconscious effect of uniting you. Even if the tone is somewhat neutral, bringing up aspects of the relationship takes them out of the past and into present, and offers them up for discussion. Inside jokes or nicknames are a bonus.
  • Their response is timely: A timely response isn’t just a potential (subjectivity warning!) sign that they prize our communication highly, but it is a sign of respect. At this stage of the game though, rather than guess they’re craving for more contact, we’re better off assuming that we are still able to command attention and be happy with it.
  • They make it plain that contact is welcome: Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t. While this generally calls for optimism we have to be careful about not letting the subjective side of things rattle our objectivity. Yes, having an open communication channel is great, but we have to make sure it is being used for the right reasons, and it isn’t just a case of feeding their ego or our indulging in a false feeling of hope (on its own, contact is NOT a surefire sign it’s about reconciling; it might still be about closure or guilt). Establishing contact is merely the first step, let’s not jump the gun.
  • Strong emotion: Anger (unless that anger has to do with how you wasted their life, and is very impersonal…) is often misinterpreted as a distancing tactic, or the result of distaste. The reality however is that it takes a lot of caring to become emotionally unhinged. If they couldn’t care less about you, or reconciling, they wouldn’t — quite literally. Adios and goodbye. While anger and other strong emotions may not — on the surface — seem to bode well for us, it isn’t always a sign that our chances are shot. If anything it demonstrates that we continue to have influence on their lives.
  • They ramble on: Most people won’t waste a second more than necessary communicating with someone they have very little invested in. It’s just that simple. Rambling is usually a cue for you to reach out (with more than just the details), and can also be an indicator of nervousness (it’s actually a defense mechanism rather than an attempt to be vague).

Beyond this list of generalizations though, it pays to take an objective look at how their reply has engaged our senses! Don’t neglect your gut instinct.

Forget interpreting anything for the moment. Ask yourself how reading their messages made you feel? What was your reaction before logic kicked in? Did your subjectivity convince you it was good news even though your first read-through left you feeling down? Or did you subjective mind attempt to convince you that it wasn’t quite as positive as you initially felt it was?

These are important questions to consider. Don’t overlook them.

Note: If we agree that Occam’s razor is a useful tool, we also agree that simple explanations tend to be the right ones. And it really doesn’t get much simpler than body language (more on body language in Part 3!). Don’t make your attempt at getting back together exclusively cerebral, at some point maximizing success requires engaging physically, because physical cues and signs are an important way of building trust.

Not so uh… positive signs

no contactWhile I’m treading dangerously close to muddying the waters rather than clearing them, I thought a few examples of poor communication would be in order, just to set the overall tone.

  • The sound of silence – As mentioned earlier, silence might not mean that it’s over for good, but at least for now, we have to accept that it’s time to back off and keep moving forwards with our lives. Resist the urge to break the silence barrier for the sake of doing so (if you actually have something important to communicate then obviously do so); especially if that means being manipulative, you may come to regret it down the road.
  • Constant apologies – There’s nothing wrong with being apologetic of course, it’s always nice to know that our ex is considering our feelings. But it isn’t a great sign with regards to reconciliation (in my opinion, and I’ve noticed that most people and “experts” disagree with me here) because apology is rooted in guilt rather than a desire to move forward. And if reconciliation is the holy grail of keeping in touch, blame is the poison (only with regards to reconciling!) While an apology or two may be in order, and a sign they want to smooth over any turbulence, if their general attitude with regards to communication is apologetic (sorry it took me so long, sorry was busy, sorry it’s short don’t have much time, e.t.c), then there’s a good chance they either feel guilty about having to disappoint you, or their underlying intention is leaking. Your call.
  • De-escalation of contact – This means that your ex keeps gravitating towards a more and more impersonal means of communication (e.g Skype to Email). If your attempts at escalating contact are met with excuses or resistance, it may be time to take a reflective step backwards. Obviously, look for trends and don’t overly judge isolated incidents. Just because they said they couldn’t talk “that one time” doesn’t mean they didn’t want to, it probably just meant that they couldn’t.

At this point in the guide, you may be wondering how we transition from an educated guess to something more concrete. And the answer is….

Part 3 – Body language and the physical realm

The unparalleled importance of body language

Part 3 is where things start to click together, regardless of whether that means finding common purpose or flying apart.

Letting our presence do the talking is an incredibly potent way of getting answers, because while we may not be consciously aware of what is being said, our minds are busy scouring through a multi-band mania of signs and signals being sent our way. Which also means that while they may try to avoid giving us answers, we can get clues from their body language instead.

The “other language”, body language, and our incredible subconscious grasp of it, is the direct result of it’s evolutionary power. Without it, we’d never really be able to tell friend from foe as effectively as we do today. We’d be permanent sitting ducks and slaves to the will of others.

The next time you get a bad vibe off someone, realize that it isn’t as illogical as you might think, it’s actually your brain going ding-ding-ding! Non-verbal conflict detected! The weirdness of the vibe itself is due to the fact that we know something, but we can’t make sense of it at a conscious level (although with training, we absolutely can make it conscious — but that’s not the aim of this guide).

Now, with regards to why it’s useful to us, and why we should care; consider that it isn’t only a way of reading other peoples’ intent, but it is a way for us to demonstrate ours. As such, it is a great tool to comfort and reassure, minimize distrust and build rapport over time. Essential for our goal of reconciling.

Sending the right vibes

trust issuesBecoming body language experts isn’t necessary. The only thing I’d urge you to do though, is become conscious that non-verbal communication is occurring.

The most glaring example of this, and the one that immediately sets the tone of the subconscious meeting is posture:

  • Open posture: An open posture (arms and legs open, facing you, relaxed) is essentially a welcoming one, that invites someone in. This means that you feel safe (you trust them), and that you harbor no ill intent. More important than the overall posture though, it the act itself of “opening or closing up”. Seeing someone cross their arms every time we mention the word “relationship” betrays their unease when that particular subject comes up. It might mean hostility to the idea, it might mean nervousness (they’re protecting themselves) or — perhaps a little more prosaically — they might just be cold.
  • Closed posture: The reverse of an open posture, closed, distrustful and passively hostile (arms and/or crossed, looking away, body facing away, monotone conversation).

Strictly to stick to the premise of this guide, this is literally all I think we need to know.

The point I’m trying to make is simple: If you want your ex to feel comfortable, outside of trying to convince them via just a few lines of text, you can greatly improve the chances of this happening by communicating that you are open and comfortable non-verbally rather than verbally or textually. Making a small effort to placate insecurity can go a long way.

Say cheese!

Decoding their body language

Some people are naturally flirtatious and very expressive because they have a good innate understanding of how body language can influence their surroundings to their advantage. If that sounds like your ex then take into consideration that both of you might be playing the same game, and it could lead to suspicion.

The same general non-verbal cues that dictate how to give off an inviting vibe are the same kind of signals you should be looking for.

While being flirtatious is usually a good thing (unless they’re just looking for some commitment-free intimacy), bear in mind that when I say “inviting vibe” this can mean anything that unites you in some way.

It doesn’t have to mean radiating happiness (reconciliation is hard, emotionally intense work that is rarely joyous, but is instead quite painful and draining). But there needs to be a connection, and care-taking connections requires an invitation, because if you can’t dig to the roots of the problem, if you don’t have access to their insecurity, if they don’t let you in, you are going to be hard-pressed to take action in any meaningful way.

If you are:

  • Asked about your opinion on a delicate and personal matter.
  • Asked to share your side of the “the story”.
  • Asked to listen while they clarify their thought process for you.
  • Asked to help them work through something (yes, even if that means giving them time).

In all these cases, no matter what tone was employed, you are being invited into their private space. If they are made to feel comfortable (aided by our usage of an open posture), then we now have a hand in dictating the direction that your bond takes.

We are now no longer sitting back and waiting for the stars align and our scorecard as a partner to arrive in the mail, we are now active participants in the reconciliation process. This is getting back together gold.

Part 4 – The Not So Subtle Art Of Reconciling

Building a new routine together

building a relationshipWe’re getting warmer, but it isn’t a wrap yet!

At this point we can be fairly certain that at some level there is an interest at attempting a compromise, but the seriousness of this intent can range anywhere from basically just indulging your dreams because they themselves are too weak to confront you or change the status quo, (rare at this stage of the proceedings) to being very willing to restructure their lives with you at the forefront.

As always, the difficulty lies in telling the difference. I’ll give it a personal, subjective shot:

  • A person who is unwilling to commit, despite giving the appearing they do, is rarely going to physically act out what they may allude to. They may tell you they love you, but despite their story about how they would run the lengths of the earth in order to be with you, they are defeated by having to take a 20 minute bus-ride across town to have a chat. Actions over words always! Never forget this basic truism, it will spare you bucket-loads of grief — I guarantee it. If you want to see how committed they are, ask them to meet you halfway, or, quite frankly, ask them to actually do something about the stalemate you’re in.
  • A person who is willing to commit will voluntarily do their share of the heavy lifting. They will not wait for you to constantly initiate unless they are incredibly passive psychologically. Even allowing for this, love can make an introvert an extrovert — so perhaps I am being more flexible and optimistic than I should.
It boils down to this: When it comes to building a new future, you both have to show the willingness to get your hands dirty. You both have to override pride, security and resentment and be willing to take the hits. Not just because it seems “fair” (since when are feelings fair? Fairness comes excluded), but because the act of constructing the future in a mutual way means that the finished product is something you’re both comfortable with and had a hand in making.

A lot of couples “reconcile” in name only due to the sheer sacrifice and strength of one of the partners who carries the entire romance on their back. As laudable as it sounds; don’t be that person, you deserve and can achieve more.

Still want to reconcile? Onwards-ho.

Building a new relationship framework

Getting back together is a chance to get things right, the same “things” that collapsed under the weight of the relationship the last time around.

The good news is that you now have a far better understanding of the signs and symptoms of a failing relationship, and so — should you decide to give it a shot — are in a far better position to make it work (assuming you are doing some introspective groundwork).

If, on the other hand, nothing has changed, then we can’t expect this attempt to go any better than the last. So, in order to avoid that particular nightmare, let’s get cracking:

  • New personal boundaries – Now that you’re inside of each others’ sphere’s of influence and trust, it’s time to discuss what needs you both have that will become inviolable. Most of the time it is the neglect or trampling of these needs (don’t confuse needs with wants) that leads to the demise of the relationship the first time around. Now is the time to set that record straight. Don’t beat about the bush in order to appease the ex, because once you both settle into the fragile new relationship, if you haven’t taken care of safeguarding these needs, it will be all a case of history repeating.
  • A new focus on individuality – Successful relationships hinge upon the fact that the individuals involved be relatively content outside of the relationship itself. If you are miserable at work (for example) you will indubitably drag that misery back home. I know, it sounds cheesy, but co-dependence will tear apart the strongest of bonds given enough time. Which means you can’t solely depend on your partner as a source of stress relief, it will bring you both down in a vicious cycle. It may seem ironic but sometimes the key to reconciling means looking outside of the relationship for answers rather than inside it.
  • Never taking anything for granted – The good part about having broken up is that you’ve had the time to objectively re-assess just what the relationship and your ex mean to you. This is why many long term relationship are riddled by short term breakups. It really can be a chance for growth, not only with regards to the future of the relationship itself, but on an individual level too. Used wisely and transparently, taking time outs can diffusion tension and illusion from an otherwise tight-knit bond.

Consistency is the real bread-winner

getting back togetherDon’t be in a hurry to tie up loose ends in order to appease the tides insecurity threatening your peace of mind. The variables that will carry a successful reconciliation attempt forward are values that don’t just evaporate over-night.

If you are positive that you have a limited amount of time before they “run off into the distance”, then I would urge you to seriously think about what the chances of success really are for your relationship in the long-term. Not just in terms of the near future.

Consistency, not the type of consistency that spurs the heartbroken to send trivial, meaningless crumbs to an ex in order to validate their self-esteem, but the kind consistency that stems from confidence instead.

Consistency fosters trust. The pillar of any and every relationship that hopes to survive past the attraction “phase” (a few months at the most).

Consistency means that despite the turmoil inside, we externalize our intent transparently. This goes for every stage of the guide I have written about thus far, not just once you’re on the verge of “making it”. If you aren’t consistent from start to finish, you risk confusing, delaying and alienating. It is the metaphoric bread and butter of the reconciliation process.

The vast majority of relationship support requests I routinely receive share a single curious characteristic. That insecurity and fear render the reconciliation process a subtle dance of wills and intents. An ego-driven game. Both participants guard their intentions closely, to protect themselves from hurt and the bursting of their respective hope bubbles should things not pan out. It’s certainly understandable…

But if you ask me…

There should be nothing subtle about reconciling. Our intent should be clobbered home with a blunt hammer.

This doesn’t mean constantly pinging an “Oh, look it’s me” message in their direction in the vague hope that something will come of it or they won’t forget us, nor does it mean being rude or intrusive, I mean making our intent CRYSTAL clear. This we have complete control over, there are no excuses.

Yes, it requires a great deal of courage, but think of it this way; no matter what happens, you will at least have the satisfaction of having tried, of having made the absolute most of you chances. Nobody, including your ex, can ask more than that. And as time goes by, it will not be forgotten.

2 Comments

  1. Gabriel