Have you ever ended a relationship and then reconsidered your decision? This article will help you to make the best decisions about whether to make up after a break-up.
Example: A typical break-up, make-up scenario
Consider the following scenario: You’ve been dating someone for almost a year. Although the relationship was enjoyable early on, for most of its history both you and your partner have not been enjoying it. You’ve found over time that you have little in common. The result is that time spent talking with each other or sharing activities is so unpleasant that you avoid doing so. More often than not, talking leads to arguments partly because you differ in your attitudes on most issues and on many fundamental values.
Because the relationship does not appear to be a fit for either of you, you tell your partner that you want to break up so that each of you can find someone with whom you are more compatible. Once you have had this necessarily difficult conversation, you look forward with relief to moving on from this relationship.
Then something unexpected and disturbing happens. After a few days away from your ex-partner, you find yourself not only missing them but feeling strong anxiety as a result of being away from them. You can’t stop thinking about them. This leads you to begin to reevaluate them and the relationship. You begin recalling positive experiences you’ve had with them and qualities you appreciate in them. You put a more positive and understanding spin on the negative factors which characterized much of the relationship. You conclude that the discomfort you’re experiencing is a signal that you’ve made a mistake in ending the relationship and that the two of you are meant to be together. Your face suddenly brightens at the prospect of being able to end the pain you’re experiencing by calling your ex- and telling them you want to get back together.
Almost in a panic, you call your ex- to tell them you’ve made a mistake and ask them to take you back. Fortunately, your ex- is also eager to get back together and confides that they have also been miserable since the break-up. For the next while, your resurrected relationship is rejuvenated as you and your partner look forward to sharing time together with excitement and passion. This reinforces your previous gut feeling that breaking up was a mistake.
As time goes on after this ‘reunification’, the fun, passion and excitement begin to wear off. Before you know it, you are experiencing the very same concerns which led you to break up. You are considering ending the relationship a second time but think better about doing so because of what happened the last time you did. You conclude from what you went through during the break-up that, although your relationship has many problems, this is still the person you are meant to be with. You decide to stay with them and try, without success, to take steps to improve the relationship. You stay in this relationship which you think of as ‘mediocre’ indefinitely, rarely enjoying it but consoling yourself with the knowledge that you are with the person meant for you.
Poor decisions to reunite: Relying too much on your gut and not enough on your mind
The above is a fairly common scenario I’ve encountered with clients I’ve seen in counseling. It depicts the problems inherent in relying too much on your heart and gut and not enough on your mind in making relationship decisions. Let’s consider how using your mind would have led to a better outcome in the above scenario.
Instead of relying on your gut feelings, you evaluate the relationship objectively and decide that for most of it your experience has been largely negative. You ask yourself whether anything in your relationship has changed to make the second go-round likely to be better than the first. You answer is negative and you therefore decide not to call your partner and continue to move on. You also decide that the painful feelings you are experiencing are normal when a close relationship ends—even a bad one—and that the pain will eventually end. It does and you ultimately wind up in a more enjoyable relationship with a partner who is clearly a better match for you.
Why people rely on their feelings to guide them: The attachment system
If using your mind rather than your heart tends to be more effective in making key relationship decisions like in the above scenario, why do so many people do the opposite? I would argue that people often lean toward following their feelings because of their attachment system.
Built into all of us through evolution, the attachment system is triggered whenever we experience significant losses or separations from people close to us. The response triggered is an experience of significant distress and discomfort in one’s thoughts and emotions. It has been compared by some experts to the intense negative feelings a person experiences when withdrawing from a dru