Ben Affleck and JLo – they look amazing together, don’t they? And their love story? How romantic and inspirational indeed. In case you’ve been under a rock lately, the celebrity couple – known as Bennifer to fans – reunited nearly 20 years after they were first engaged. After marriages to and children with other partners, the couple got married in a big bash on 20 August, a month after a low-key ceremony in Las Vegas.
Bennifer might be a shining example of finding love second time round but are they the exception or the norm? Admit it, many of us have someone in our lives who we wish we could be with again. And in some instances, the other party might feel the same too. But is it wise to give it a try? Should you reconnect with the one that got away?
Dr Natalie Games, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Counselling, quotes Los Angeles-based relationship expert Dr. Gary Brown, who defines such a person as “someone who, in hindsight, we regret not being with because when we look back we feel that they may have truly been ‘the one’ for us that we might want to have known better”. Or it’s a situation where you realise that “they were potentially the one you might very well want to spend the rest of your life with”.
You shouldn’t just go into such a situation blindly, though. It’s important to do it for the right reasons and make sure that “both parties are committed to changing things for the better”, says Dr Games.
“For starters, it’s imperative to make sure you’re not looking to reunite for the wrong reasons,” she stresses.
She lists some of these reasons:
- Your fear of being alone or ‘ starting over’ again. If you’re returning to the relationship just because it’s comfortable, then you’re operating from a space of fear and not what is in your best interest.
- You’re lonely. Learn how to spend time alone with yourself and be comfortable doing so. If you don’t learn to value time with yourself first, you’ll never know if you’re choosing someone out of love or loneliness.
- A potential red flag is that you’re worried about telling friends and family that you’re getting back together. This could mean you don’t truly think it is the best decision for you, or you know they would have questions or concerns that may make you second guess your decision.
Discuss your past before getting together again
If you’ve decided that this is a relationship worth revisiting, it’s important the issues that led to the initial break up are discussed and addressed. Also, both partners need to take responsibility and own their contributions to the problems they had together.
“It’s normal to miss an ex or the relationship but it does not mean getting back together is the right decision. If the issues remain unresolved, then it is likely that the couple will be on the path to breaking up once more,” says Dr Games.
One example where this might work is if you started the relationship when you were younger. Maturity may have been missing the first time round. However, after some time apart, one or both of you may have experienced a new relationship and life experience may help you to be better partners. Dr Games notes that the time apart and experiences could have given you an opportunity to see different perspectives, understand yourselves better, approach problem-solving and resolution in a more constructive way, as well as appreciate qualities in the other person that you could not the first time around.
Once you’ve both ironed out your issues and decide that you want to give the relationship another go, there are a few ways you can approach it. Dr Games suggests some:
* Have a candid discussion – discuss what went wrong in the relationship the first time around and how you two will both do something different this time.
* Try some written couples therapy exercises – have each person make a list of their relationship expectations and assumptions, then discuss these one by one in detail with your partner. Write down your top concerns regarding issues that may arise when you get back together; these will need to be addressed.
* Attend couples therapy together – attend pre-unification couples therapy to discuss and work through their expectations and assumptions, any fears/concerns you may have and/or any potentially unresolved issues from your first try at a relationship.
* Start fresh (and take it slow) – rushing into the relationship and picking up right where you left off may not allow you the time to address issues that could have negatively impacted the relationship in the past.
Don’t expect a “happily ever after”
Couples who reunite tend to be serious about making the relationship work. Dr Games shares stats from the book Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do by Dr. Duana Welch – 80% of people who had lost a lover they recontacted after at least five years married that person. And 98% of people who married their former love stayed together.
However, there is no guarantee your reunion will lead to a happily ever after. There is a chance your feelings aren’t reciprocated and you’ll get hurt. If this happens, it’s important to acknowledge and validate your feelings. Then, talk about it, says Dr Games. Talk to the person if that’s appropriate or talk to a trusted friend about what you’re going through. Sometimes just talking about it can be cathartic and help put things into perspective.
Also, feel your feelings. Unrequited love generally involves a lot of emotions and not all of them are negative. Dr Games advises to try practicing mindful acceptance of all these feelings. Accept them as they come up, without attaching judgment to them – notice them and let them pass. Journaling about them can help too.
The next step is to move forward as “too much time wallowing can end up making you more miserable”. Dr Games has the following suggestions:
- Try to make extra time where you can for your interests, friends and other enjoyable activities.
- Take care of yourself by eating regular meals and staying active.
- Treat yourself to something small, whether it’s fresh flowers, a nice meal out or a new book or movie.
- Consider dating casually, once you’re ready, to find a partner who does return your feelings.
“Even if things didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, that doesn’t mean the love or feelings are meaningless. What did you learn about yourself? How did you grow?” Dr Games adds. “If you keep experiencing unrequited love, it could help to consider whether this pattern says something about your needs. Falling in love with people who don’t return your feelings could suggest you feel like you should be in love with someone when you’re really happier on your own. Maybe you don’t really want a relationship – there’s nothing wrong with that.”