PSA: No amount of relationship advice will help you keep your ex if you’re not optimally compatible with them. If you’re not sure whether or not you are, read my article on compatibility and reflect on what you’ve read. I’m dead serious. If you don’t have the compatibility box crossed out with your ex, you have virtually zero chance of keeping them. Point blank. Period.
A lot of people want to know how to keep their ex once they get back together with them. And while there are a bazillion pieces of advice on how to do it, in this article, I’ll hone in on three that will give you the best bang for your buck.
- Making Identity-level changes within yourself.
- Building a healthy foundation for your relationship.
- Becoming aware of uncomfortable relationship quirks.
Once you implement these three pieces of advice, the chances of keeping your ex and creating a healthy and fulfilling relationship with them will skyrocket. In fact, they’ll help you out with more than just your ex. Knowing and utilizing them will improve all of your relationships. So here they are.
1. Make Identity-level changes within yourself
One of the most important things to keep your ex once you get them back is to develop awareness around why your relationship failed initially and, based on those insights, avoid making the same mistakes twice.
For example, if you broke up because of your lack of boundaries — you allowed your ex to push you around or take advantage of you — you now need to develop new and sturdier boundaries to make your relationship work.
Or if you broke up because you failed to open up emotionally and had crippling anxiety around intimacy, you now need to work on being more vulnerable and comfortable with intimacy to make your relationship work.
Or if you broke up because of low self-worth and a shitty self-image that made you exhibit controlling and needy behaviors, you now need to raise that self-worth and better your shitty self-image to stop behaving unattractively and thus make your relationship work.
Or if you broke up because you got complacent and stopped dating and courting your ex, you now know to not fall into that trap again and keep dating your ex to make your relationship work.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “How the fuck do I even figure out what made my relationship fail in the first place?”
Surprisingly, this isn’t all that difficult. Most people intuitively know why their relationships failed. They just have to dig in their psyche a bit to find out. This is normally done through reflection.
Reflection is the act of mindfully analyzing and your breakup, deducing why it happened, and coming up with ways to avoid the next one. You can engage in reflection while meditating, journaling, strolling, drawing, whatever.
Here’s are four examples of how reflections look like:
Why did we break up? Well, probably because I let my ex have her way with me all the time. I let her push me around, take advantage of my kindness, and then treat me like a second-class citizen. I’ve lacked a spine. I was the proverbial nice guy. Why though? Why was I like this? Probably because my father acted the same way with his wife. And since he was my only male role model, I figured that being a spinless pleaser around your partner was a good thing. Now I know it’s not.
Realization: I need to work on my boundaries. I need to not only set solid ones, but I also need to develop the discipline to keep them in place when they’re threatened — even if that means ending my relationship.
“Why did we break up? Probably because I inflated my own self-importance and came off as a selfish dick. No wonder my ex didn’t appreciate that… I mean, who would? I also put them down and disregarded all their emotional cues for closeness, intimacy, and connection. I didn’t even like doing that. I was simply afraid. Afraid of opening up? I guess so… Looks like I’m more of an avoidant than I thought.
Realization: I need to work on opening myself up and sharing myself with others, especially my partner. I also need to take responsibility to find something great in them; it’s not their responsibility to show me. I need to start being more curious and stop being so judgmental.
Why did we break up? Was it because I was too pushy? Did I act too desperate? Did I put much more importance on what my ex thinks of me than what I think of myself?” Yeah… I guess I did do all these things. Gee, I wonder why? Probably because I see myself as inferior to him. Oh no, I put my ex on a pedestal. No wonder I tried too hard. No wonder I chased after them. From where did that come from? Childhood trauma? The fact that I always needed to fight for my mother’s love and attention? Probably… How can I make it better, though? How can I make myself better?
Realization: I put my ex-boyfriend on a pedestal and marked myself inferior to him. I should focus on raising my self-esteem and self-worth. That will help me reduce my neediness. And reducing my neediness will then help me retake control of my behaviors and change them from toxic to healthy.
“Why did we break up? Well, maybe I took my ex for granted… Maybe I thought that since I have her, my job is done, and I can now lay on my couch 24/7, and she can keep bringing me beers. I really did stop courting and dating her… I got complacent. I made the relationship boring. What got into me? Well, I just became lazy and selfish… I stopped focusing on my girlfriend and only focused on myself.
Realization: I can’t let myself fall into complacency anymore. Never take your partner for granted ever again. I’m in a relationship to give and to love unconditionally. I should take my girlfriend out somewhere fun, at least every other weekend. Maybe I can take her to a new dive bar, or we can finally go hiking. I know she always wanted to go hiking.
Obviously, reflections will never be as straightforward as my example implies. You’ll need to dig deep and long in your psyche to figure out details like which aspects of yourself you will need to improve and which ones you should simply accept.
If you ever get stuck with this process, consider booking a therapist. A therapist will ask questions about your breakup instead of you, thus helping you to become more aware of why it happened and what to do to avoid the next one. From there on out, you’ll be free to act upon his/her advice to better your love life.
However, there is a catch to all of this…
For your relationship to work out and last, it’s not only you who must change; there’s also your ex. I know: scary. After all, you have no control over them. You can’t force or cajole them into changing. You can only educate them on why changing would be a good idea and lead by example.
2. Build (or Rebuild) a healthy foundation for your relationship
A healthy relationship entails several elements: efficient communication, sturdy boundaries, solid compatibility, a sound understanding of love, secure attachment styles in both partners, and, most importantly, mutual respect, trust, and affection.
Let’s zoom in on the last three elements since they’re the determinants of whether you’ll keep your ex or not. You’ve heard that right. Respect, trust, and affection make or break your relationship.
If you lack just one of these values, the other two begin to diminish as well. When that happens, everything begins to untangle, and eventually, your entire relationship caves in. And while it is possible to save a relationship devoid of affection or respect, it’s almost impossible to save one devoid of trust. Trust is the foundation for any healthy relationship, while respect and affection are the layers on top of it.
Below, I’ll discuss the importance of trust, respect, and affection and explain ways you can develop these elements in your relationship in order to keep your ex.
Disclaimer: This portion of the article is my summary of an old Mark Manson video, with a few extra points thrown in from my own research. If you’d like to check out the video for yourself, do so by clicking this link.
To trust your ex means you firmly beleive in their integrity, ability, or character. It’s when you take them at their word. It’s when you assume that if they told you they’d do something, they’ll go out and do it.
Trust between two partners develops over time through numerous accumulations of connection-focused interactions between them. Or as the famous marriage counselor John Gottman said:
“Trust is built in very small moments, which I call ‘sliding door’ moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner. One such moment is not important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship- very gradually, very slowly.”
In practical terms, trust develops when you have an honest and vulnerable conversation with your ex, when you’re showing mutual devotion, affection, or admiration, or when you’re meeting each other’s emotional needs.
Trust will also occasionally fluctuate depending on what your ex’s behaviors sub-communicate. For example, when they make a questionable decision that harms your bond, your trust in them lowers. But when they make a decision that supports and inspires your relationship, your trust in them rises.
Nevertheless, there are also attachment types that one has to consider when discussing trust fluctuations. For example, people who develop an insecure attachment type, like anxious or avoidant, will have challenges trusting their partner regardless of what their behavior sub-communicates.
To respect your ex means that you hold them in high esteem. You’re don’t look down upon them and are proud of who they are, what they’ve achieved, what activities they’ve thrown themselves in, and the values they’ve adopted.
Respect also acts as a cushion for conflicts that will inevitably turn up regardless of how good of a communicator you are. It will help you focus that you’re a team and should always turn toward each other, not away, in times of pain and struggle.
If you fail to respect your ex, you will begin to doubt their intentions, judge their choices, and encroach on their independence. You’ll also feel like you need to hide certain things from them and fear being vulnerable and hearing their criticisms or backlash.
Now, to respect your ex, you must first respect yourself. If you fail to do it, you will not only feel lesser compared to them, you won’t even begin to believe nor accept when they’re respecting you and will always find ways to sabotage your relationship.
For example, when your ex tells you how great you’re in bed, you’d shrug your shoulders and think, “That’s such a lie. I’m horrible in bed. How can they think I’m great. They probably want something from me or feel bad about something they said earlier.”
Being affectionate towards your ex translates to many small behaviors. It could be when you’re:
- Giving them a back rub.
- Cooking a tasty meal for them.
- Going out on a date with them.
- Telling them how much you love and care about them.
- Kissing them when you stopped at a red light.
- Kissing them goodbye when going to work.
- Sending them heart emojis via text.
- Thanking them for the great meal.
- Sitting down and listening to what they have to say (even when it comes to trivial subjects).
- Holding their hand while having a stroll.
The cool thing about these little gestures of affection is that they add up over time and keep deepening the bond between you and your ex, and raising mutual respect and trust.
The only times a couple will have difficulties giving or receiving affection are when a) their relationship is toxic (devoid of trust and respect) or b) one or both of them still carries unresolved trauma. Maybe they weren’t cuddled enough when they were a kid. Maybe they were neglected, ignored, shunned too often. Maybe they never knew their parents. There are a million and one places where one can absorb some degree of trauma.
But, But, But… What About Love?
Notice how love is not the core component of a healthy relationship. Most people are shocked when they find this out, but the truth is, if your relationship is primarily built on love, you’re in for a world of hurt.
Let’s say your ex cheated on you with the milkman. But, you love them like oh-so-much, so you give them another chance. So, they cheat again. Huh, who knew… But fuck it, you love them. And so you give them one more chance. And they cheat again. And then you give them another one. And then another one. And another one…
Eventually, your ex realizes that you’ll love them regardless of how they treat you. Thus, they recognize that there are no consequences for fucking the milkman — or anyone else for that matter. So they do more of the same.
And each time you let them get away with it, they lose a shard of respect for you, and you lose a shard of trust for them. Fast forward a couple of weeks of the same treatment, and you basically don’t have a relationship anymore.
Love is not a value one should base their entire relationship on. Love is merely a side product of mutual trust, respect, and affection between two partners. And when love is the side product, it also tends to be unconditional — love given without any attachments to the outcome. Think of it as a form of mature and healthy love. The type of love you should aim to give and receive.
Ultimately, when a relationship includes two healthy, compatible, and secure individuals who are in it for the right reasons, know how to love the right way, and can tolerate each other’s flaws, a strong sense of mutual trust, respect, and affection will naturally develop. Thus, they end up forming a healthy relationship.
But, if a relationship includes two emotionally unstable, incompatible, and insecure people with all sorts of hidden, unprocessed traumas, mutual trust, respect, and affection probably won’t ever develop. Thus, they end up forming a toxic relationship.
Many people wonder if there’s a chance to turn a toxic relationship into a healthy one. My answer: it depends. It is possible, but is it worth it? Usually, not. But that’s for you to decide.
3. Become aware of uncomfortable relationship quirks
Most people have a romantic view or relationships, especially those embedded in younger generations. They think that relationships should not only last a lifetime but that they should also be easy and fun and enjoyable all the freaking time.
Truth is, those are not characteristics of real relationships. Relationships are not always fun, easy, and enjoyable. They’re often difficult and confusing. And they contain a few quirks that most people mistake as red flags, while in reality, they are natural and healthy occurrences.
Below I’ll go over five most common healthy relationship quirks most people think are toxic, so that the next time you notice them in your relationship, you won’t freak out and think it’s over. Rather, you’ll think of them as challenges to overcome — challenges that, when overcome, will deepen the bond between you and your ex.
1. Relationships are never 50/50
Things change no matter how aware, and sure two people are of their roles and responsibilities in their relationship. Their entire relational dynamic can turn upside down in a blink of an eye. One day, it may be you who cleans the car, scrubs the toilet, and vacuums the house. The other day, it could be your partner who gets the short end of the stick.
These shifts are to be expected. No relationship is ever 50/50 — meaning that both partners put equal amounts of effort into it. So don’t keep score of who does what, who doesn’t.
Keeping score with your partner can quickly ensue into trivial competitions: one holds back because they feel they are not treated right; the other overcompensates and tries to mitigate or control the situation.
When you keep score, you’re always stuck in a perpetual cycle-jerk of pushing forward and holding back. And all this dynamic does is that it chips away at mutual trust and respect.
Once trust and respect diminish, affection goes down the drain, conflicts, and resentment rise, and eventually, all that’s left of your relationship is a disintegrating pile of shit. And no, love can’t help mend things. Remember: Love is never enough.
So instead of keeping score with your ex, focus on being a team and helping each other — even if you have to put more effort into the relationship some days. The whole point of a relationship is to unconditionally give to each other and help each other grow and become more. Take note of that.
2. Relationships are chaotic
I always chuckle when my readers email me their entire love-life stories and then ask me, “So what are my chances of saving my relationship.” Almost every time, I respond with, “I have no fucking clue.” Figuring out how a relationship will pan out or whether you can save and/or rebuild yours is impossible to predict accurately.
Generally speaking, relationships are dotted with confusion and chaos. Regardless of how great you think yours it is, there will always be problems. There will be pointless arguments about leaving the toilet seat up. There will be clashing insecurities about one person wanting more space, the other less. The will be miscommunication — you know, the times when you think you know where your partner is coming from, only to realize 30 seconds later that you didn’t get half of what they were saying.
A good place to start mitigating these challenges is by accepting that they will eventually come your way. In fact, find a way to enjoy the chaos (getting back together with a compatible ex helps).
By withstanding the uncomfortable and unsettling, you’ll generate meaning and fulfillment and potentially even sculpt a relationship worthwhile keeping intact — one that may stand the test of time.
3. Relationships change Overtime
People change (Shocker). They find and prioritize new values and leave the old behind. They get fresh perspectives on various new subjects and change some about the old. They get new interests, all while letting a few older ones wither away into nothingness.
This change in people is what changes their relationship. To put it differently, relationships evolve because the people in them change.
Sometimes these changes are for the better and only strengthen the relationship and embolden the love between two people. Sometimes the changes are for the worse and endanger a relationship, maybe even bring it to its knees. Sometimes people work things out. Sometimes they break up — again.
The chips fall both ways.
I’ve heard stories about people breaking up for the dumbest shit, like one partner getting a new job in a town about an hour or two away. And I’ve heard stories about couples who kept their relationship intact and thriving in spite of everything — different religions and worldviews, contrasting philosophies around raising kids, long-distance, mental illnesses, etc.
Accept the fact that your relationship, while it may be all honeycombs and silly frogs now, may not stay the same way after 3,5 or 10 years. Maybe you’ll find yourself growing in the same direction as your ex. Maybe you won’t.
We could even argue that love changes. The joy and benefits of love in the fifth week of relationships are far different than those after the fifth year or decade.
Relationships change, for better or worse. And both options are okay.
4. Relationships are festered with conflict
There’s a popular misconception about arguing in a relationship floating around the internet; many people believe it’s a sign that there’s something wrong with it — a red flag of sorts, an omen of death. In reality, arguing, disagreeing, and even having consistent conflicts in your relationship is normal and expected.
There are two types of relationship conflicts: neverending and one-time. And each one needs to be approached and handled somewhat differently.
The way you handle neverending or repeating conflict is by not letting it grow to the point where it blinds you from the fact that your partner is your teammate. Approach the conflict not with resentment but with awareness, humor, and compassion. Hell, make fun of the conflict. And don’t try to fix it. You can’t “fix” neverending conflict. You only manage them better.
An example: when I sense myself taking my girlfriend’s crappy diet too seriously — to the point where conflict arises — I start making fun of the whole situation, including myself. This disarms tension, deepens connection, encourages both of us to foster greater mutual acceptance.
Now, the way you handle one-time or situational conflicts is by resolving them. However, know that not all one-time issues have to be resolved. Sometimes it’s better to let them slide.
An example: when you feel neglected and thus hurt whenever your ex keeps chatting on their phone on your dates, say,” Hey, I feel neglected when you’re on the phone while I’m talking. It would mean a lot to me if you put it down and pay attention. Besides, I want to know what else happened this weekend to you on that camping trip. Tell me about it.” In short: dare to be vulnerable. It’s sexy.
5. Relationships bring perpetual mood swings
Some days, you’ll be frustrated and impatient with your ex. Other days you’ll radiate love, patience, and appreciation for them.
Some days you’re going to wish to try out new relationships. Other days you’ll be confident that your ex is the person you’ll stay committed to forever.
Some days your head will be strewn with insecurities that lead to needy tendencies, which then sabotage your relationship. Other days, you’ll feel as if you have little to no insecurities. You just won’t give a fuck.
Some days you’ll want to fuck your ex’s intestines out. Other days, you’ll have no interest in seeing them naked.
These fluctuations in moods and attraction are bound to happen, especially after the infamous Honeymoon period. In fact, after that period, emotional fluctuations become a recurring prospect. And that’s okay.
Think of yourself as a surfer, and think of these fluctuations as the waves — some are small and innocent; others are large and menacing. Your objective is to ride them well.
Ride them well.
The Best Relationship Advice Books To Help You Keep Your Ex
I would be lying if I told you I figured all these things on my own. I just read a lot and then regurgitate what I read with an extra dose of sarcasm and poop jokes.
So, if you’re finding the same issues popping up repeatedly in your relationships, and you’d like to know how to improve them, or you’re simply interested in the ideas I talked about in this article and want to go deeper with them, I encourage you to check out the following books. They are some of the best out there.
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work — By John Gottman.
- Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment — By Amir Levine.
- Getting the Love You Want — By Harville Hendrix.
- Hold Me Tight — By Sue Johnson.
- The Road Less Traveled — By M. Scott Peck (My personal top pick).
And just in case you’re more of a listener than a reader, check out Brene Brown’s speech on the power and importance of vulnerability, Mark Manson’s video on healthy relationships, as well as his Audible exclusive, Love Is Not Enough.
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