Long-Distance Relationship Breakup

Long-Distance Relationship Breakup

Should We Breakup?

As a couples therapist and relationship coach who provides services online, I frequently work with couples who find themselves in long-distance relationships. Long-distance relationships are more popular than ever these days, especially as more and more people are finding love through apps or websites that expand their pool of potential partners beyond their own towns and cities. 

Lots of great articles and podcasts exist for people in long-distance relationships about how to improve their relationships or maintain their connections. However, today, I want to talk about a side of long-distance relationships that usually gets less attention–how to know when it’s time to let go, and how to move on once you’ve made that decision.

What’s The Real Problem–the Relationship Or The Distance?

When working with couples or individuals who are going through a hard time in their long-distance relationship, one of the most common questions I receive is whether the problems they are experiencing are just being caused by the distance or whether it’s the relationship itself that isn’t working. 

In my experience, the answer to this question is most often that the challenges at hand are from a combination of the two. For example, I often meet with couples who experience some communication difficulties when they’re together that then are exacerbated into something larger when they are long distance. 

In these kinds of situations, I recommend that couples work with an experienced couples therapist or relationship coach who can help them determine the root cause of their challenges and give them tools to help address them.

Here are a few of the questions that I usually walkthrough as I help my clients determine an answer to whether their challenges are being caused by being long distance or by deeper issues within the relationship:

  • What is your relationship like when you are physically together?
  • Have you been physically together for extended periods of time before?
  • Have you been physically together when real-life stressors are present? (Or in other words, not just on vacation?)
  • In thinking about your relationship’s challenging areas, what are those areas like when you are physically together?

A final point about this common question: If your relationship is likely to remain long-distance for months or years to come, differentiating between problems caused by the distance and problems caused by the relationship may not matter all that much.

When clients ask me this question in our work together, they’re often assuming that if the relationship is all good when they’re together and it’s really just the distance that’s causing difficulties, they can discount the problems caused by physical separation as somehow less real. However, if being long-distance is a standard part of your relationship, the problems that come along deserve serious consideration as you decide whether to continue in the relationship.

What If You Can’t Make A Long-Distance Relationship Work? 

There are lots of valid reasons why partners might choose to end a relationship, and when it comes to couples who are long-distance, physical separation also often plays a role. While there are absolutely couples who are able to have healthy and happy long-distance relationships, not being able to consistently share physical space with your partner can be a legitimate challenge.

One reason for this is that being in a long-distance relationship requires more intentionality to help each partner feel loved and cherished. When you live with or in the same city as your significant other, it’s relatively easy to share little moments that build your connection, such as doing small acts of service for each other or holding hands as you talk about your day. In a long-distance relationship, it often takes more planning and forethought to show these small gestures of love, which means that it’s easier for them to fall to the wayside.

If you come to the conclusion that a long-distance relationship and the intentionality necessary to maintain it is not right for you, but still want to maintain your relationship with your partner, it may be worth exploring if you or your partner relocating to either live together or in the same city is a feasible option.

What Are Some Of The Signs That It’s Time To Let Go Of A Long Distance Relationship?

How to know when it’s time to let go of a relationship, regardless of whether it’s long-distance or not, is one of the most common questions that I get asked by my clients. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that no one knows your relationship like you do, and only you and your partner can make the final decision of when to end things. With that in mind, here are some of the signs specific to long-distance couples that I often discuss with my clients about when it may be time to consider letting go of your relationship:

  • You realize that you or your partner has needs that are too difficult to meet when you are long-distance, and these unmet needs are leading to resentment.
  • You or your partner don’t have the energy or time to exercise the intentionality that’s necessary to have a healthy and thriving long-distance relationship.
  • You don’t want to be long-distance anymore, but there is no feasible way for you and your partner to live together or in the same city in the near future.

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What Is The Best Way To Initiate A Long-Distance Breakup?

Just like with all breakups, showing your partner respect is a key part of ending your long-distance relationship. Here are a few things that are helpful to consider when trying to figure out the best way to break up with your long-distance partner: 

The Medium. A good rule of thumb when breaking up with your partner is to choose a medium as close as possible to speaking in person, like a video chat or a phone call. Because long-distance relationships often rely a lot on text messaging or email as a means of communication, it can be tempting to break up through these means of communication as well, especially if you’re a person who hates conflict. Resist that urge! 

Unless there were extenuating circumstances in the relationship that could endanger your emotional safety during a phone or video conversation (like emotional abuse or gaslighting), it’s always better to go with a phone or video call if possible. 

The Timing. Another important factor to consider when initiating a breakup with your long-distance partner is timing. Ideally, try to choose a time when you know they won’t be busy, like in the middle of their workday, or preoccupied, like right before an interview or large presentation.

A Head’s Up. It can be helpful to your partner (and help get the ball rolling in the actual breakup conversation) if you give them a head’s up about having something important to talk about with them when you schedule a time for your phone or video conversation. 

There’s no need to go into too much detail (after all, you don’t want to do the actual breaking up here), but simply letting them know that when you have this conversation, there’s something important you need to talk with them about regarding the relationship will give them some time to mentally prepare for what’s to come.

How Can I Begin To Heal From The End Of My Long-Distance Relationship?

In my work as a breakup recovery therapist and coach, one of the ways that I have seen a long-distance breakup be different from typical breakups is that, at first, your life may not seem to change all that much. 

In a typical relationship, a breakup often involves moving out from the living space you share with your partner or finding new things to do during your evenings and weekends. However, when your long-distance relationship ends, your living space will usually not change, and your day-to-day life will likely remain largely the same, minus some messages and calls from your ex.

Because long-distance breakups tend to change people’s daily lives less dramatically, it may take longer for the reality of your breakup and the typical grieving process to set in. Once it does, however, healing from the end of your relationship is much like healing from the end of any relationship. Grieving your relationship, experiencing a range of emotions, and eventually, growth, are all normal and to be expected. To learn about the stages of a breakup in more detail, I recommend checking out Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby’s podcast episode specifically on this topic: Long Distance Relationship Questions.

As you heal from the end of your relationship, should you feel that additional support beyond what your friends and family can provide would be helpful, I would also recommend meeting with a therapist or coach who specializes in breakup recovery for private meetings or group sessions (like my online Breakup Support Group). 

Gaining professional guidance can help you make sure that you are on the right path to healing, and, if you decide to attend a group, hearing from others in similar situations can help you to know that you’re not alone.

If you find yourself in a long-distance relationship that doesn’t seem to be working, I hope that some of the perspectives I’ve shared here can be helpful to you.

Warmly,
Kensington

Utah online marriage counseling Denver online breakup recovery group

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington O., M.S., LAMFT, MFTC helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your relationships.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

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Healing Your Relationship After An Emotional Affair

Healing Your Relationship After An Emotional Affair

Healing Your Relationship After An Emotional Affair

Emotional Affair Recovery

Emotional Affairs: What Are They?

When we think of cheating in a relationship, the first thing that often comes to mind is sexual infidelity. While sexual infidelity can absolutely be devastating to a relationship, another kind of infidelity that can pose just as much of a threat has recently begun to garner more attention: emotional infidelity. 

So, just what is emotional infidelity? An emotional affair occurs when one partner engages in a relationship that has an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy. While emotional affairs do not include an active sexual component (such as exchanging pictures or engaging in physical intimacy), there is usually an element of attraction for at least one side of the affair, often labeled an “innocent crush.” Emotional affairs can also lead to sexual affairs down the road.

Emotional Affairs vs. Physical Affairs: Which One Is More Serious?

When I first meet with a couple that wants to recover from an emotional affair, one comment I often receive is, “Well, nothing sexual actually happened!” While some people may think that an emotional affair is not as serious as a physical one, the reality is usually much different. An emotional affair can inflict just as much pain and damage to trust in a relationship as a sexual one.

Part of why emotional affairs are just as painful as physical ones have to do with boundary violations. When partners come to me justifying their emotional affair by saying that nothing sexual happened, what they are really saying is, “I didn’t violate the boundaries we have around sexual fidelity.” While this may be true, couples also usually have boundaries around emotional fidelity, although they are much less likely to discuss these kinds of boundaries explicitly. When these boundaries around emotional fidelity are violated, the feelings of deception and betrayal that are experienced are very real and poignant.

One thing that can help ensure that both partners are on the same page about emotional fidelity is explicitly talking about what the boundaries are. The earlier you have this conversation, the more likely you and your partner will have a greater understanding of what’s important to each of you. Here are just a few questions that can be helpful to discuss with your partner around emotional boundaries:

  • What kinds of things are okay to discuss with or confide in close friends? What things are off-limits?
  • Is it okay for us to have close friendships that the other doesn’t know about? What kinds of things do we need to disclose to each other?
  • Are there certain kinds of people (i.e., people who you used to date, people who you are attracted to, people with a history of infidelity) who are off-limits for ongoing close friendships? 

If you find that having this conversation starts to bring up uncomfortable feelings or results in one or both partners shutting down, it’s okay to reach out for help. Including someone you both trust in the conversation, such as a relative, spiritual leader, therapist, or mentor could provide a level of safety/comfortability in the conversation and accountability. 

Emotional Affairs vs. Close Friendships: What’s The Difference?

A question I often receive as a couples therapist and relationship coach is what the difference is between emotional infidelity and a close friendship. Emotional infidelity includes a betrayal of trust or, in other words, doing something that would hurt or make your partner feel uncomfortable if they knew about it. In many ways, this difference is dependent on the boundaries that you and your partner each feel comfortable with for emotional fidelity in your relationship, which is why it’s so important to talk about those boundaries.

Three other criteria that can help define the difference between an emotional affair and a friendship are:

  • Intimate information, such as life dreams and personal hardships, is shared
  • The closeness of the friendship is kept a secret from your partner
  • There is sexual attraction going at least one way in the friendship, even if that attraction has never been acted on

Pay attention to your friendships, are any of them playing with the boundaries that you and your partner have agreed on? Are you crossing any lines that would make your partner feel uncomfortable? By checking in with yourself regularly, you can avoid slipping into an unhealthy relationship with others that would ultimately betray your partner’s trust. Emotional affairs don’t happen in just one night, they tend to gradually grow and turn into something more serious over time – the earlier you read the signs, the easier it is to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. 

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What Are The Signs That You Are In An Emotional Affair?

In addition to the above three criteria, here are other signs that reveal you may be involved in an emotional affair: 

  • Your partner would feel uncomfortable if they witnessed your interactions with your friend
  • You feel that the friend understands you better than your partner
  • You feel emotionally distant from your partner or find that it’s difficult to communicate with them
  • You find yourself anticipating being able to spend time with or communicate with the friend more than in other platonic friendships
  • You find yourself sharing more with the friend than with the partner
  • When you learn big news, your friend is the first person you want to share it with
  • You dress up for your friend
  • You feel dependent on the emotional high from interacting with your friend 

If you recognize that you’re in an emotional affair and want to save your current relationship, the affair must be ended. Because of the emotionally intimate nature of emotional affairs, this can be very difficult! You likely will have developed a strong attachment to this person and will be tempted to try to hold on to the friendship by committing to adhere to certain boundaries with them. While this desire is understandable, it is usually not sustainable. If the intense emotional attachment is still present, it will be very easy to cross those boundaries again if the friendship is maintained. 

Once you have decided to end the emotional affair, here are some steps that you can follow: 

  • Communicate this desire to the other person. Clearly state that you feel that the friendship has crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed and that you have chosen to not participate in it anymore. Ask that they respect your wishes.
  • Set clear boundaries. Let them know that you do not want any more contact with them. If they are a work colleague or someone who you will need to interact with, set clear boundaries for the content and method of communication that is okay. For example, you may request that they only communicate with you through your work email and that your supervisor or other coworkers are included on every email. 
  • Delete the person from your social media and block their phone number and personal email. While this may seem like an extreme step, it is an additional safeguard you can put in place to make the temptation to reconnect as minimal as possible. 

Once you have decided to end the emotional affair, the first step is to communicate this desire to the other person. Clearly state that you feel that the friendship has crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed, and that you have chosen to not participate in the relationship anymore. Ask that they respect your wishes.  

Secondly, you will need to set clear boundaries. Let the friend know that you do not want any more contact with them. If they are a work colleague or someone who you will need to interact with, set clear boundaries for the content and method of communication that is okay. For example, you may request that they only communicate with you through your work email and that your supervisor or other coworkers are included on every email.  

Lastly, you will need to make a conscious effort to remove them from your personal life. Delete/block them from your social media, block their phone number and personal email, and cut off other forms of communication. While this may seem like an extreme step, it is an additional safeguard you can put in place to make the temptation to reconnect as minimal as possible.  

Remember, you’re not doing this to hurt your friend, but to save your most important relationship with your partner. 

Signs That Your Partner Is Participating In An Emotional Affair

Because of the nature of emotional affairs, it can be difficult to recognize if your partner is participating in one. Usually, when emotional infidelity occurs, there is a lack of physical evidence. However, here are a few things that could indicate the presence of emotional infidelity: 

  • Your partner spends large amounts of time texting or messaging on their phone or computer
  • Your partner is protective over their electronic devices and does not let others use them
  • Your partner no longer shares emotional or personal things with you
  • Your partner suddenly seems to be less interested in hearing emotional or personal things you want to share with them
  • Your intuition tells you that something is not right
  • When you try to discuss your concerns with your partner, they tell you that you’re imagining things or get overly defensive 

If your partner is in an emotional affair and you decide that you would like to pursue reconciliation, they must also make the choice to end the affair and to focus their efforts on rebuilding trust and emotional intimacy in your relationship. If your partner is serious about ending the affair and repairing your relationship, some telltale signs include: 

  • They accept responsibility and are remorseful for the ways that they have violated boundaries and broken trust
  • They are committed to ending all contact with the person as much as possible
  • They demonstrate their commitment to rebuilding your relationship by putting effort into reconnecting and actively participating in couples therapy

Moving Forward After An Emotional Affair

Once contact has been cut off with the affair partner and the couple has decided to move forward in their relationship, it is time for the healing process to begin. This can be a very difficult and tricky process to navigate, which is why I recommend enlisting the help of an experienced couples therapist, preferably someone with a license and training as a Marriage and Family Therapist! Your therapist can guide you through the affair recovery process and help you to build a relationship that is stronger and more connected than before the affair occurred. 

A good couples therapist can help guide you and your partner through emotional affair recovery by giving space to the partner who was hurt by the affair so they can express their pain and ask questions of their partner. In return, a good couples therapist can give space to the partner who was involved in the affair, accept responsibility and validate their partner’s pain.  

Additionally, emotional affair recovery with a trained professional can help you and your partner explore some of the circumstances that led to the emotional affair, revisit boundaries for close friendships, and help you and your partner find exercises and establish habits that will help you reconnect and build emotional intimacy and trust in your relationship once again. 

As painful and heartbreaking as experiencing an emotional affair can be, I have also seen couples emerge from the repair process stronger and more in love than ever. With time, commitment, and hard work with an experienced couples therapist, couples can understand some of the circumstances that led to the emotional affair, rebuild trust, reconnect, and learn new tools to build deep and lasting emotional intimacy.

 

Warmly,
Kensington Osmond, M.S., LAMFT, MFTC

Online marriage counseling new york florida online couples therapist

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington Osmond, M.S., LAMFT, MFTC helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your relationships.

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

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Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Stages Of Getting Back Together With Your Ex

Is This Relationship For You?

When you and an ex have broken up, it’s completely normal to find yourself wondering whether you’ve made a mistake! When someone who used to be a large part of your daily life suddenly isn’t, it makes sense that you will experience sadness and miss the wonderful parts of your former relationship. However, sadness and missing your ex doesn’t necessarily mean you should get back together. Couples break up for a reason, and the sadness of missing a former partner can sometimes impact our ability to see and remember those reasons clearly.

As an online breakup recovery coach and Utah couples counselor – I want to explore with you questions that I find are helpful for my clients when figuring out whether “working it out” with an ex and getting back together is the best thing for them, or whether it’s time to move on. 

Why Did The Relationship End?

This question is important, layered, and may actually be different from the “official” reason for why you broke up! For example, if one of you was unfaithful in the relationship, that may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. While there is no excuse for betraying your partner when you’ve both committed to a monogamous relationship, these types of events typically don’t happen in isolation. What else was happening in the relationship that contributed to its downfall?

When working through the stage of “should we get back together” it’s important to view your relationship as a whole. It’s very easy to push aside the negative or uncomfortable memories and focus on the good and warm memories that are most likely drawing you back to your ex in the first place (or making it incredibly difficult to get over them). With every relationship though, there are good and bad times and habits. To truly care for yourself and your ex, you must weigh the good and the bad before moving forward in your decision to get back together. 

What’s Different This Time Around?

The things that caused the end of your relationship, have they changed? If not, are the things that caused the end of your relationship resolvable or acceptable? Think about the different factors that contributed to the end of your relationship. For example, if you struggled with communicating openly about your emotions, have you since worked on your ability to do this? If not, are you willing to? 

Depending on the nature of the things that ended your relationship, some may be more changeable than others. For example, behavioral changes like improving communication, learning patience, or even learning to be less messy can be changed and learned. 

However, character qualities and core values are often less changeable, meaning that you need to consider whether acceptance is a viable option. For example, if you and your ex support different political parties, is this something you will both be able to accept?

While compromise is a necessary ingredient to any successful relationship, sometimes the change required to meet that compromise is just not doable and that’s okay. Being honest with yourself and with your ex is the only way to move towards a happier, healthier future – whether it’s with your ex or not.

What Level Of Responsibility Are You Willing To Accept?

Okay, so you broke up for a reason and you’ve contemplated the good and the bad of your relationship. You’ve come to a personal understanding of what it means to compromise in your relationship, and you’re ready to give this a go, again. However, forgiving your ex for the wrong or pain they’ve caused you will not set your heart free – it will not lay the foundation for a better and brighter future together. You must be willing to accept responsibility for the part that you played in the relationship’s past. 

Do you each recognize your own part in the problems of your relationship? Think back to the last time you and your ex communicated about the end of your relationship. What did they attribute it to? Are you both capable of taking responsibility for your part in the problems that led to the problems you experienced?

If you both just “move past” the relationship as it was, hoping to enter into a new and shiny place together – you’ll find that a lot of what wasn’t working before is still not going to work for either of you. Accepting responsibility for your own part of the problems (and your partner doing the same) will help to strengthen your bond and trust in one another. Without that acceptance, your relationship problems are ultimately doomed to repeat themselves.

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Why Do You Want To Get Back Together With Your Ex?

There are many different reasons why you might want to get back together with your ex, and it is important to honestly examine all of them so you can decide whether getting back together would be healthy for you. 

Some of the best reasons to consider getting back together include believing that you have both grown in ways that would make you good partners for each other and believing that you could have a healthy relationship if you both put the work in. 

There are also less healthy reasons to consider getting back together. While it is normal to experience some of these, on their own, they may not be good enough justification for pursuing someone as your life partner. 

Some of these reasons include: feeling lonely, missing the good parts of your relationship, feeling afraid that you may not find someone else, and missing the familiarity of your old relationship. If you find that you are primarily experiencing this second set of reasons for wanting to get back together, it may be a sign that personal growth work with a therapist or coach would be helpful for you.

Remember, these moments of honesty with yourself will lead you to a happier and healthier future.

Does Your Ex Want To Get Back Together With You?

This may be an obvious question, but it’s an important one to consider! Ultimately, we all deserve to be with someone who wants to be with us. If your ex has moved on and is not interested in exploring reunification, you owe it to yourself to do the same.

If you and your ex have decided that you both want to give things another shot, as tempting as it can be to jump right back in where things left off, it’s often a good idea to start off slow. As eager as you might be to start posting pictures together again or jump right back into your sexual relationship, try to treat the early stages of getting back together as a provisional period of exploration when you can learn how you have each changed during your time apart, figure out what you both want and need from the relationship, and test out whether you’re each willing and able to make necessary changes.

Depending on how long it’s been since your relationship ended, there may be more or less for you and your former partner to catch up on during this exploration phase. Here are some helpful questions to discuss with your ex as you explore what getting back together might look like for you:

  • What are some of the insights you’ve had about why our relationship didn’t work out before? What do you think were some of my and some of your contributions to the problem?
  • What are some of the important experiences you’ve had and lessons you’ve learned since we were last together?
  • What would you want to be different in our relationship this time around?
  • How do you think we could make sure those things would be different?

Discussing these questions with your ex can help you each figure out whether you’re looking for the same things as well as how successful giving your relationship another go is likely to be. For example, if your ex has a hard time taking responsibility for their contribution to what went wrong in your relationship or if the things they have learned about what they value in a relationship seem fundamentally different from what you are looking for, these may be signs that giving things another go won’t be as successful. 

However, if they are able to engage in an insightful conversation about some of these questions and express a willingness to take concrete steps such as participating in relationship counseling or coaching, these may be signs that your relationship can be more successful this time around.

Red Flags That Getting Back Together With Your Ex Is NOT A Good Idea

As you move through the provisional exploration phase of getting back together with your ex, here are some additional warning signs that the relationship may not be headed for success:

  • When it comes to making things better, it’s all talk and no walk. It’s always easier to talk about the things that need to change in order for the relationship to improve than to actually do them. If you realize that the promise of getting back together was so alluring to either you or your ex that one or both of you committed to making more changes than you were ready to (like committing to doing couples counseling but then complaining about going), it’s a sign that you may need to re-evaluate getting back together.
  • You realize that the fantasy of being back together is better than the reality. Often when we have a break-up, we conveniently forget all of the bad stuff about our former relationship and instead fantasize about how wonderful it would be to get back together. If you find that, once you are back together, the fantasy was better than reality, you may need to re-visit questions about what is solvable and what you are willing to accept.
  • You or your partner keep bringing up past mistakes. Relationships end for a reason, and it’s likely that you and your ex hurt each other’s feelings in the past. If you find that you or your partner keeps bringing up mistakes from when you were together previously, it’s likely that those past mistakes haven’t been completely forgiven. Re-evaluate whether you have each fully apologized to each other for past hurts and whether you believe that full forgiveness will be possible in your situation.

Signs That Getting Back Together With Your Ex IS A Good Idea

On the opposite side, here are some additional “green lights,” or signs that your relationship is on the right track and is changing for the better:

  • You and your partner have been able to identify specific goals to improve your relationship and are actively working towards achieving them. For example, if one problem you experienced in your prior relationship was feeling as though you were never on the same page, one new habit you might be developing together is eating together at mealtimes without any distractions such as phones or the TV.
  • For the issues that you know you would like to improve but are having a hard time handling on your own, you have found a relationship therapist or coach and are actively working with them. Having a hard time making changes on your own doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed–we all need an outside professional opinion sometimes. As a relationship therapist, I often have couples come to me who have the right intentions but need a little help gaining insight and finding personalized strategies and action plans that work for them.
  • You are both actively working towards your own personal growth. The healthiest relationships are ones where both partners are actively working towards personal growth in order to become better partners rather than casting the responsibility for change and improvement on one person. 

Getting Back Together With Your Ex: Moving Forward In The Relationship

Once you both feel confident that your relationship is heading in a healthy new direction, the provisional exploration phase is over. Communicate openly and regularly with your partner about when you each feel ready to shift from “trying things out” to “making it official.” You don’t need to wait until the relationship is perfect, but should wait until you each understand and agree on what went wrong the first time around, what each of your contributions to the problems was, what you want to be different this time, and are taking concrete steps individually and as a couple to make those changes.

Making the decision about whether to get back together with an ex can be difficult, but through open self-reflection and honest conversation, you have the power to make a decision that will be healthy for you. Also, remember that it can be very worthwhile to ask for help from a professional. Whether you are deciding whether to get back together with your ex and want to bounce your ideas and feelings off of someone or you and your ex have decided to give it another go and want help creating an action plan for change, don’t be afraid to seek out help.

Warmly,
Kensington

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington Osmond, M.S., LAMFT, MFTC helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your relationships.

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

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Pre-Engagement Counseling

Pre-Engagement Counseling

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Strengthen Your Bond

Pre-engagement counseling, who is it for? As an Utah couples therapist and online relationship coach I have couples come to me in all different stages of their relationships. One of the most common types of couples that I work with are couples who are in a serious, long-term relationship but not yet engaged. These couples are typically looking to build a strong foundation or looking for guidance through communication issues, conflict, or big-picture plans. 

I love working with pre-engagement couples because there is no better time to build your bond, strengthen your relationship skillset, and find ways to work together! Many couples who come to couples counseling or marriage counseling are typically doing so because they feel like the relationship is already too far gone – however, being proactive (like getting your annual wellness and physical at the doctors) can help establish healthy habits and strong, positive relationships.

Today, I want to share with you some couples therapy insights to pre-engagement counseling and answer your top questions!

Growing Together: Better Communication

It’s completely normal to have some areas in your relationship that aren’t perfect. Having a wonderful partnership is a continual work-in-progress rather than a destination that we “arrive” at one day. 

One great working goal to have prior to getting engaged or married is to improve your communication, both in the day to day, as well as during conflict. When thinking about your day to day communication, you might consider asking yourself the following:

Do my partner and I check in with each other on a daily basis?
Do we get at least 15 minutes of conversation every day either face to face or on the phone (not text)?
Do we get daily communication without distractions (phones away, TV off)?

Simply spending more time having undistracted conversations with your partner on a daily basis is a great way to make sure that the communication channels stay open.

Communication is a foundational skill, and if you can establish good communication between you and your partner earlier in your relationship, it will make the difficult times easier to navigate. Think of communication like a rudder and your relationship is the boat. Without the rudder, the boat will have no true sense of direction – the waves and wind will push and pull it in whatever direction they wish. Communication, much like a rudder, can help guide your relationship through the good and the bad times. The stronger your communication, the easier it is to stay the path you’ve prepared together. 

Working Together: Growth Through Conflict

Another area that many couples work through in pre-engagement counseling is how to grow closer together through conflict. Much like communication, the ability to work together as a team through conflict is a vital skill to the health and longevity of your relationship. 

Improving communication patterns during conflict is one of the most common goals that the couples I see in therapy want help with, and for good reason! Conflict is normal, but learning how to have conflict in a way that feels healthy, safe, and productive is a key part of creating a lasting relationship. Working with a professional relationship therapist or coach can be very helpful in understanding where unhelpful conflict patterns stem from and creating a personalized plan for your relationship, but here are some general tips that can help all couples have better conflict:

  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks. If conflict feels overwhelming or you can sense yourself becoming heated, taking a break can be great! Breaks can give you a chance to calm down and collect your bearings so that when you do return to the conflict at hand, you are able to express yourself more clearly and actually hear what your partner is trying to say.
  • When you take breaks, don’t get caught up in rumination. As helpful as taking a break can be, it’s only helpful if you take the time to calm yourself down rather than stewing and ruminating. Consider taking a walk or doing some breathing exercises during this time.
  • Say how you feel. Often during conflict, we get caught up in saying what we think instead of how we feel. Both are important, but expressing our feelings can help our partner better understand where we are coming from. Try to expand your expression beyond words like “angry” or “frustrated” (examples could include “hurt,” “afraid,” and “unimportant”).
  • Consider how you bring things up. The way we start a difficult conversation can have a big impact on the direction things go! One helpful tip for bringing up the hard stuff is to try to use “I” statements and talk about how you feel as opposed to “you” statements that include blaming.

Conflict is normal, but learning how to have conflict in a way that feels healthy, safe, and productive is a key part of creating a lasting relationship.

Let's Talk. Schedule a Free Consultation Today.

Strengthen Your Foundation: Friendship

Another great area of your relationship to focus on is to strengthen the foundation of your relationship: your friendship. When we become comfortable with a partner, it can be easy to get into a routine that no longer involves trying new things, having fun together, and continuing to learn about each other. 

I always like to remind my couples clients of the importance of making daily conversations and connection a priority, and taking the time to do something fun or special together every week. This is especially important during quarantine, when, if you live together, you may be together more often than normal. Some COVID-friendly date ideas include:

  • Making a new meal or treat together
  • Enjoying a candlelight dinner with your favorite takeout
  • Buying a new game and learning to play together
  • Going on a picnic to a new park

By focusing on your friendship, you build trust and security in one another.

Pre-Engagement Counseling: How Does it Work?

I believe that counseling is a great option for everyone, including couples who feel that their relationship has a strong foundation! In this situation, the purpose of counseling would be to strengthen all of the good things that you and your partner have developed, as well as discover some new areas for growth and discussion.

I believe that there are always ways we can become better communicators, and working with a therapist can help you fine-tune things and figure out what about your communication is working well for you (and areas of communication growth!).

As a premarital and pre-engagement therapist who works with many happy and compatible couples, one of my favorite things to do is have couples take a relationship assessment. The relationship assessment that I use covers a wide range of topics that couples may not realize they are neglecting to talk about.

My happy couples clients have often said that taking the assessment helps them to realize how well-prepared they are for the rest of their lives together while also giving them ideas for a few areas of growth that would be helpful to cover in therapy.

[Want to take an assessment on your own? Try the How Healthy is Your Relationship: Free Relationship Quiz]

Another huge benefit of participating in counseling prior to marriage (even if you do not have concerns about your relationship) is that it makes participating in couples therapy less scary, which can be extremely helpful if your relationship encounters bumps in the road in the future. 

Common reasons why couples will often wait to try therapy until an issue feels very pressing include not knowing what to expect from therapy and not knowing how to contact a therapist. By participating in couples therapy at the beginning of your relationship, you know what couples therapy will be like and also have a therapist you can reach out to for help or referrals.

When attending pre-engagement couples counseling, it’s important to work with a counselor that you and your partner are comfortable with, as well as someone who is experienced in working through your desired goals. Your success in couples counseling starts with finding the right fit for your relationship and generally would involve a free couples consultation with a couples counselor or relationship coach of your choice. 

In your consultation you can discuss your relationship goals, struggles, and strengths to set up a plan that will work well for you and your partner. Often then, you will take a relationship assessment so that you and your partner can see your areas of strength and areas of growth. 

Many couples that are coming to couples therapy for proactive sessions typically meet with a counselor or coach for less than 10 sessions!

Help! Are They “The One?”

If you find yourself asking questions like, “How do I know if my partner is the “one” for me?” Or, “If we have areas where we don’t see eye to eye or struggle to understand one another, does that mean it’s doomed?” You may be feeling a sense of anxiety around your future together. Even if you know that you love your partner and want a future together, but still find yourself worried – you are completely normal. 

Even when partners are highly compatible, it’s perfectly normal to have some areas of disagreement! In fact, being aware of the areas where there is room for growth or improvement shows that you are not shying away from talking about the hard things. This is a situation where it would be great to work with a professional relationship therapist or coach. 

Here are some things to consider and that a therapist can help you work through if you find yourself in this situation:

  • What are the things that you disagree on? Are they things that are possible to accept or compromise on, or are they deal breakers for either partner? The areas that partners may be willing to accept and compromise on or not vary from couple to couple, and may even be different between partners. Some common areas of concern for couples include political views, religion/spirituality, and wanting to have children.
  • What have you already tried to resolve your differences? To what extent have those attempts been helpful or unhelpful? In my experience, when couples have differences, learning new communication skills can often help them to understand each other's perspectives and come to a place of acceptance or compromise. Because we all come into relationships with our own personal histories and communication patterns, we often don’t recognize the ways that our communication styles may be ineffective. Working with a therapist can help you gain new insights and skills around your communication and facilitate meaningful conversations to help you and your partner work through your differences.

In my experience as a therapist, when it comes to making it work with someone we love but are having a hard time getting on the same page with, the qualities that make it most likely that couples will be able to enjoy a healthy, long-lasting relationship include:

  • Level of commitment to the relationship 
  • Willingness to compromise and change
  • Respect for your partner’s opinions and beliefs
  • Willingness to apologize
  • Having a growth mindset. 

When partners have these qualities, I have seen that, with some work and professional guidance, they are able to create happy partnerships.

Dating and Personal Growth: Being the Best Version of Yourself

As you think about what you want in a partner, think about the people you have gotten to know. What qualities do you like in others? What do you dislike? What would it be like to be life partners with each of these people? Some of these questions can give you hints about the qualities that you may prefer in a partner. 

Here are some other questions that are important to reflect on when considering what it would be like to be partners with someone:

  • What are their core values and goals for their lives? Are these compatible with your core values and goals?
  • How do they treat you and others around them (including friends, family members, coworkers, and service providers)?
  • What do they do when they’re upset or angry? Do they feel comfortable discussing emotions? 
  • How much time do they like to spend with friends and family? How much time do they like to spend with you? How much time do they like to spend alone? Are these compatible with how you like to spend your time?
  • Do you like being around them?

As you prepare to be a great partner, you can ask yourself many of these same questions. A large part of being a great partner is knowing yourself and being able to express your emotions, values, beliefs, and preferences clearly to others.

If you have friendly and safe relationships with people you used to be in relationships with, it may be a good idea to ask them for their perspective. What were their favorite parts about being in a relationship with you? What things were hard? You may also consider reading evidence-based relationship books, such as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by Dr. John Gottman. 

Regardless of whether you feel 100% compatible with your partner, have a few concerns, or simply want to work on yourself in preparation for a future relationship, consulting with a professional relationship therapist or coach is always a great idea to help you resolve concerns, gain skills, and create a strong foundation for a lifetime of meaningful love and connection.

Warmly,
Kensington

 

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

With compassionate understanding and unique insights, Kensington Osmond M.S., LAMFT, MFTC, helps you improve the most meaningful parts of your life, from your emotional well-being to your relationships.

Real Help For Your Relationship

Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

Working with an expert couples counselor can help you create understanding, empathy and open communication that felt impossible before.

 

Start your journey of growth together by scheduling a free consultation.

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