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Could breaking up help your relationship?

Sometimes, a break-up isn’t the end of the story

by Psychologies

My boyfriend and I had been having problems for a few months and at the beginning of last November, we decided to break it off. But by the end of January, we were engaged and, dare I say it, happier than ever.

Conventional wisdom says that getting back together with an ex is something that should be approached with caution. Studies tend to show that couples who break up and get back together often end up parting permanently, or are less satisfied in their relationship overall. But as with every good rule, there are exceptions – and in some cases a split can actually be the thing that revives a flagging relationship. ‘A break-up is not diagnostic of future failure,’ says Dr Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.o (Hudson Street Press, £18.99) ‘Couples break up for all kinds of reasons.’

Although ending a relationship can be painful, a separation can give a couple space to work on personal issues that have been harming the relationship. ‘It can help individuals reassess their priorities, helping them to know more about what they would like to get out of a relationship,’ says Fredrickson. ‘Good relationships are based on a foundation of micro-moments of shared positive resonance, that energising feeling you get when you really connect and click with your partner. If these are in short supply, then a couple might need to rethink the things they do together.’

Getting back together with an ex shouldn’t be taken lightly. If time apart has given both parties a new perspective on their relationship, it’s important that this is discussed openly in order to effect change for the future, and it may be worth considering counselling to give your second attempt a better chance of success. ‘Just getting back together and saying “we are going to try harder” without a specific plan probably won’t work any better than it did previously,’ says Dr Sophie Slade, Imago relationship therapist.

Here, she suggests five ways to get your relationship back on track:

  • Get curious – curious about yourself, curious about your partner and curious about what led to your break-up. Try to replace all the criticism in your relationship with curiosity.
  • Take a long, hard look at your own contribution to the break-up – what were you doing that contributed to the pain in the relationship? Blaming your partner won’t get you anywhere. You can only change yourself.
  • See your relationship as an opportunity for your growth. What part of you do you need to grow to create the relationship differently and meet your partner’s needs? And how can you ask your partner to grow to meet your needs in ways he or she can hear and doesn’t have to defend against?
  • Create a vision of the relationship that you both want to have and then work out what you each need to contribute to create that kind of relationship.
  • Create some rituals of loving behaviour and expressions of appreciation for each other regularly: for example, expressing at least one thing you appreciate them doing for you each day at a specific time.

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