Why Do Exes Always Seem to Come Back?

By Joel Balsam | | Dating
Why Do Exes Always Seem to Come Back?
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You had a breakup, went through the required grieving process and are finally ready to move on. But all of a sudden, your ex is texting you again and before you know it, they express how they want to be back in your life. This happens often. So, why do exes come back?

Why do exes come back?

Exes come back for various reasons, but the overarching reason why an ex lover comes back is they probably haven’t come to terms with how or why the relationship ended.

“Has that person done their work? Has that person taken accountability? Have they felt introspective?” said Julianne McGowan, a relationship manager and dating coach with Kelleher International.

Until your ex fully understands what caused the breakup and takes responsibility for being part of why it didn’t work out, they may come back.

With these complicated feelings in mind, here are some factors that could motivate your ex to come back.

They were never over the relationship

However the breakup went down, it felt too soon for your ex if this is their motivation for getting back together. Maybe they still wanted to be in the relationship or were swept up by something—maybe a new fling or a troubling moment in their life—and they were never over you.

An ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who comes back after months or years with this motivation probably didn’t spend enough time reflecting on why it didn’t work out. The frustrating part is getting back together might finally end up helping them figure out if they’re really ready to move on.

“There may be elements in the relationship that did work and some did not, so there’s inner conflict: ‘Do I stay or do I move on?’" McGowan said. “There’s that inner work on how to really look deep within yourself, and sometimes it takes getting back together to gain more clarity.”

They’re afraid to let go

Going from a relationship to single is a huge identity change. Let’s face it, finding someone else, either on dating apps or in person, can really suck.

If your ex is feeling afraid to let you go and get out there in the dating world, they probably haven’t come to terms with why the breakup happened and don’t feel comfortable with that result.

“It’s a process—you go through so much emotion after a breakup,” McGowan said. “The sadness, the loss, the grief. You really have to work through that in order to get to the place that you want to be in your next relationship.”

They’re scared you will find somebody else

When you’re single and your ex is single, the door is still open to rekindle things. When you find someone else, that door shuts. Your ex may want to come back to you just to keep their foot in the door.

They were recently dumped

Some people are serial daters—and your ex might have hopped immediately from you to the next person. When their next relationship or rebound fails, your ex might want to come back for something familiar until they find someone else.

“They don’t want to be single, they don’t want to go out in the world, so they may just cling back to that other (relationship) from the past,” McGowan said.

They’re lonely

Your ex could just be lonely, plain and simple. They reach back out to you to feel comforted again.

They’re hoping to fix it this time

The relationship ended for whatever reason and you explained why at the time. But those reasons you gave for breaking up could prompt your ex to change their behavior to make it work better this time. The thing is, both partners must have their needs met for a relationship to work.

“They want to be the fixer,” McGowan said. “They want to adapt to this other person’s needs and wants and desires rather than looking at their own needs and desires.”

They’re feeding their ego

If you were the one to initiate the breakup, their ego likely took a shot. If they have a bit of a narcissistic streak in them, getting back into your life may be the “win” they need to balance out the “loss” of getting dumped.

They might also want you back simply because they know they will feel accepted, McGowan said. Ultimately, though, this is their own doubt shining through.

“It’s that fear of the unfamiliar and being really comfortable with the familiar,” McGowan said.

They want to feel worthy again

Sometimes your ex wants you back for purely selfish reasons: They want to feel the boost of confidence you give them—or at least what you gave them during the relationship.

But this is likely an “illusion that is romanticizing about how things can be,” McGowan said.

Definitely keep an eye out for this behavior as it can be “another form of power and control,” McGowan said

They’re jealous

You didn’t think it’d be possible after your breakup, but you found someone new and things are going well! Now your ex is in your messages and DMs wanting to come back. This can be especially perplexing if they were the one to initiate the breakup.

If this is happening to you, your ex might be jealous of your new relationship and is unwilling to let you go.

They thought the grass would be greener

McGowan sees this a lot with her clients. Someone thinks their partner isn’t fulfilling their needs, so they try to find that fulfillment elsewhere.

But, McGowan said, your partner “is not responsible for fulfilling you.”

If your ex is coming back for this reason, they could have some more inner work to do.

They genuinely want you back

This can be tricky. Maybe the relationship ended prematurely and you both just needed a break before getting back together.

“It could be a timeout,” McGowan said. “It could be, ‘OK, I want to step back and reevaluate how can I do this, how can I do this relationship differently?’ And then maybe stepping back in the door again.”

Your ex could have used that time apart to find clarity and address the problems that caused the relationship to fail and really be better this time.

“Maybe they want to communicate more about what is wrong in the relationship but also what’s right in the relationship,” McGowan said. “Maybe that’s something that they haven’t really explored.”

This is simply a common thing in relationships

Exes usually come back. It’s human nature. Any one of these reasons could be a factor, a combination thereof or none in particular.

“There’s always the possibility of going back for more and seeing if things will change,” McGowan said. “It’s a very common behavior and it’s a pattern.”

Is it bad to get back with your ex?

Not necessarily. McGowan said breaking up once doesn’t necessarily mean you will again if you give things another try.

“I think sometimes you need to step back and let go of some things about what you’re doing or are talking about,” McGowan said.

This could especially be the case if your breakup was related to external circumstances—for example, if the relationship was long distance.

“It could feel suffocating and it would be beneficial to step out of the relationship temporarily to reevaluate what are the needs, what are some obstacles and if they can do it differently,” McGowan said.

What to do if your ex comes back

The first thing to do if your ex comes back is to ask yourself what you want out of the relationship and why. Questions like, “Is this what I want? Why? What’s important to me? How is this relationship going to be different?”

McGowan added that the “why” is the most important question of all because it’ll help you figure out your own needs and desires for this relationship and potentially future ones.

If you’re open to another relationship

After asking yourself how you feel and determining you really want to give things another go, communicate your needs and make sure they’re aligned.

“Not only their needs and their desires and wants but their values are so important,” McGowan said. “What are the long-term goals? Are they aligned? What relationship goals do they each have and are they aligned?”

If you’re satisfied with the answers to those questions, feel free to begin courtship. But don’t try to jump in where you left off, as tempting as it may be. Take things slow.

If you’re open to friendship only

You thought about it and you just want to be friends with your ex. Don’t worry, that happens a lot. But it has to be mutual, because your ex can understandably still be hurt from the breakup.

“It’s very hurtful what happened, right?” McGowan said. “We have this intimate romantic relationship and now you want to be friends? How can I detach my feelings? How can you detach your feelings when you go from this intimate relationship now to a friend? Where’s that healthy boundary?”

Going from an intimate relationship to a platonic friendship is definitely possible, but you have to maintain healthy boundaries, whatever that means to you.

If you never want to see them again

Telling someone off once and for all can be intimidating, especially if you aren’t sure how they’ll react.

To make sure things go smoothly, McGowan said, “you want to be honest and compassionate at the same time.”

Express where you are in the relationship and explain why you feel it doesn’t work, and don’t sugarcoat it.

“A lot of times people will say something differently that’s easier, like, ‘I’m just not ready for a relationship right now,’” McGowan said. “You say something different to avoid hurting the other person but hold yourself in integrity is what I would tell my clients.”

Conclusion

Why do exes come back after years or months? McGowan believes that happens because there are some unresolved questions left hanging.

“I hear from clients: ‘We didn’t have any closure. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why he or she did this,” McGowan said.

Having time apart can help both you and your ex answer those questions and get clarity about the relationship—and could help things go well next time around if that’s what you both want.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to get back together, this could be an opportunity to have a closure conversation about why things didn’t work out.

Whatever you choose to do, McGowan said to reflect and communicate your feelings—it’ll be a learning lesson for both of you.

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