How to Start Over in a Relationship

By Eric Helmsley | | Dating
How to Start Over in a Relationship
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

More than three years into being with her partner, Violet started looking into how to start over in a relationship.

“We both had had a very hard year compounded by a lot of huge and challenging life changes (for my partner) and the resurfacing of some mental health issues (for me),” said Violet, a 29-year-old student in Los Angeles. “We both felt like we were behaving in ways that felt alien to who we normally were.”

It was like, she said, they had “gotten trapped in this cycle of blaming each other for everything and seeing the worst in each other.”

Many people in that situation would just break up. But Violet believed in the relationship—so she and her partner, Arthur, elected to try a relationship reset instead.

What does it mean to start over in a relationship?

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression, and the core truth is that in life, you rarely get a chance to start over with anything.

Once you’ve started, you have to figure out how to get to the end in the context of that beginning. For a lot of people, that can mean one misstep will derail the whole endeavor—whether it’s a race they’re running, a cake they’re baking or a relationship they’re in.

But while there will always be another race to run, and baking a new cake is as easy as buying a few ingredients once more, human interactions are a bit trickier.

What does it mean to start over in a relationship, exactly?

“It means consciously choosing a new direction or path for your relationship,” said Tracy Ross, a New York-based relationship expert. It could make sense to “start over” after a rupture in the relationship, such as a breach of trust or lack of commitment to a clear future.

“Starting over means addressing what has changed and agreeing on a path forward,” Ross said. “This often comes about when couples are in limbo about the future of their relationship. If they examine their relationship and come to understand what is in the way of moving forward in either direction and then choose a path—it’s an indication of starting over.”

It also means finding new ways of relating and resolving differences. To put it one way, you’re still using the same ingredients—but you’re not following the same recipe steps in the same exact way as before.

Why it can be worth it to start over in a relationship

There are lots of different things that might leave you wondering how to get a fresh start in a relationship—but typically, it’s going to be something big.

Even if it’s triggered by a minor interaction, like one partner forgetting to do a chore or the other partner being a little too harsh in a text message, that minor action will be the tipping point on a larger underlying issue—something that’s gone wrong between the two of you.

“Every relationship has an unwritten and often unspoken contract,” Ross said. “When the contract is broken by one person (which could take various forms), in order to move forward as a couple, you need a new start.”

In Violet’s case, the “breach of contract” was feeling trapped in a cycle of negativity and blame with Arthur.

“We still were enjoying each other’s company, still physically intimate,” said Violet. “Just suddenly [we were] having a bunch of frustrating and out-of-character fights about things we didn’t actually want or need to fight about.”

That’s not what either of them wanted for their relationship—and they realized they had to fix it. However, that kind of dynamic shift is far from the only reason a couple might decide it’s time for a hard reset.

According to Ross, starting over could be around things like whether you want to have kids together, how much time you spend together, where you both live or even whether to be monogamous with each other.

Because those are all serious, foundational aspects to a relationship, disagreeing on them can lead to a breakup in many cases. But for Violet and Arthur, a breakup didn’t feel like the right approach.

In that light, she noted, “a reset seemed like a good first step rather than leaving behind something we both felt to be rare and special.”

However, that didn’t mean just staying the course. To Violet and her partner, doing something more drastic felt necessary “because it seemed like for the first time we were struggling to find the space and energy within our relationship to actually work on ourselves. [We] were using a bad dynamic as a crutch to avoid doing that work,” she said. And that’s how they decided to start over—together.

How to approach starting over in a relationship

It’s all well and good to decide, “OK, let’s start over,” but the real tricky part is how to start over with someone. Which actions do you need to take, and what things do you need to agree to in order to make something like this work?

For starters, you need to have a conversation with your partner about the need for a reset—which by itself can be a tall order.

“These are difficult conversations for many couples, and you have to approach them with sensitivity and awareness,” said Ross. “You can’t go into it just trying to prove a point or lobby for what you want. The best approach is openness, curiosity, and the desire and ability to really listen.”

You’ll also need, she suggests, the ability to weather some pushback from your partner if they’re not sure it’s necessary, or the right approach.

“You have to allow the other person to voice their objections and hesitations about the reset,” Ross said. “You have to be open to compromise, and you definitely won’t get anywhere if you try to prove that your position is the ‘right’ position.”

Instead, she said, “Approach the conversation with the mindset that you are in it together, not adversaries. If you want to have a loving, fulfilling relationship, you are both in fact working toward the same thing.”

If and when you do get your partner on board for a relationship reset, that’s where the real work begins. Luckily, there’s no one way to do a relationship reset—so you can work to tailor what it looks like to your specific needs as a couple.

For Ross, the main thing is agreeing to put in work in order to change the way the relationship functions.

You’ll have to “agree to hear and consider each other’s wants, needs and points of view—even if it makes you uncomfortable,” she said. “Agree that you are different people, and what works for one of you might not work for the other—and that can be OK if you address it instead of avoiding it.”

“Agree to trial and error; agree to checking in and devoting a lot of time to communicating and seeing what is and isn’t working for each of you.”

For Ross, a successful reset is a matter both of mindset and behavior. First, you have to change the former, and then the latter.

“Whatever got you to the point that you have decided you need a reset has to be examined openly and with willingness to adapt new ways of being together,” Ross said. “A fixed mindset is not compatible with a relationship reset.”

It’s also important to understand, she said, “that there are tools and skills you can learn and practice that will allow you to reset. This is where the behavior comes in, and it’s important to remember that these behaviors may take time to feel natural and be incorporated fully.”

For Violet and Arthur, the reset began with a bit of distance. With all the negativity they’d been projecting onto each other, it became clear that clearing the air was important.

“We took about a month and a half of space—communicating somewhat rarely, seeing each other maybe once every couple of weeks,” said Violet. “We each took that time to focus on what we needed to work through in our lives, and also to allow our desire for a relationship to resurface more organically (or find out if it wouldn’t).

“Then, when we did start seeing each other again, we also did so in a slightly limited fashion. We eventually returned to ’normal,’ but it was good to feel like we both were doing so out of an active and renewed desire to be together, rather than habit or obligation. It also forced us to cultivate things that we’d been missing.”

In Violet’s case, she had to learn to be more comfortable with aloneness, while Arthur wanted to work on spending more time with friends.

It’s been too long since we took the time

According to Ross, starting over in a relationship “includes communicating and resolving differences in new ways, letting go of old patterns, and allowing both you and your partner to make mistakes and not be perfect—but to keep showing up. Because if you both do, you will have a successful reset.”

That might sound like a pipe dream to some, but for Violet and Arthur, it actually worked.

“We are still together and communicating better than we ever were before, and also both feeling a lot better in general,” said Violet. She said their decision to start over allowed them to reassess their expectations for the relationship, and it led to a renewed feeling of excitement around being together.

“We are both people who tend to look for a lot of validation from a partner, so taking time to reset has forced us each to confront that and re-encounter one another as more independent, honest and secure people,” she said. “It was hard for sure at first, but I’m glad we did it.”

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.