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When the One that Got Away Comes Back – 6 Relationship Experts Reveal Exactly What To Do

by Rebecca Lanier – LMFT, EdS, MEd, Erica Wollerman – PsyD, Hollis Wall – MA, LMHCA, Heather Petitpas – MEd, LMHC, Jennifer Meyer – M.A., LPC, NCC, Sally LeBoy – MS, MFT

When the One that Got Away Comes Back

“A busy, vibrant, goal-oriented woman is so much more attractive than a woman who waits around for a man to validate her existence.”

~ Mandy Hale

Mandy Hale Busy Vibrant Woman Quote
Rebecca Lanier

The one that got away has resurfaced in your life and wants to be in a relationship with you. What do you do?!

Before you “do” anything, do a gut check.

What is your initial gut reaction to hearing from him? Are you surprised? Angry? Excited? Confused? What feelings are coming up for you?

Pay particular attention to your body. 

Are your muscles tense? Do you have butterflies in your stomach? Are you flush? Is there electricity running through you from head to toe? Or do you feel nothing? What is your body telling you?

Before you hear him out, it’s absolutely crucial that you tune in to yourself and acknowledge what you are feeling. Honor thy SELF first and foremost. This will help you make an informed decision, rooted in your authentic truth, when considering whether to take him back or not.

So, what is your gut telling you?

If your gut is telling you to “RUN”, then listen. Don’t second guess it. Don’t over analyze. Don’t ask your friends their advice. Trust your intuition – it is a beautiful, wise tool. It is meant to serve your highest and best self while keeping you on your path. 

Set a boundary and make it clear you are not interested in a relationship with him. Done. Move on. Do not engage in a back and forth exchange.

If your gut checks out and you’re open to the possibility of rekindling a relationship, hear him out. 

If he is serious about re-committing to you, look for these 3 things:

1. Share the reason he has come back 

“Why now?” is an important question you will need an answer to. 

  • What prompted him to contact you? Was it a life event? A bad break-up? New self-awareness gained? Did he experience a loss? 
  • Is he struggling in his personal life? Is he internally motivated or externally motivated? 
  • Does he share his reason in a way that is honest and reveals his inner world to you? Or does he keep it brief and vague leaving you confused? 

His reason for wanting you back should be clear, sincere, and thoughtful.

2. Express remorse and take accountability 

In order to move forward in a new way, healing the past will likely need to happen. Don’t expect this to happen overnight. This is something that will happen over time as trust is rebuilt and your friendship is re-established. But, in the meantime, your guy should initially express remorse and take accountability for his role in the relationship breakdown. 

Taking accountability has two key elements: 

a. Accepting full responsibility for his behavior without blaming you and b. Acknowledging the impact his behavior had on you. 

It’s never easy owning up to our mistakes or admitting we’ve hurt someone. Yet, the transformative power this has for a relationship is massive. 

If he can take ownership for his role in the relationship issues, apologize for his behavior, understand and validate your feelings, and show empathy for your experience, chances are he is serious about mending things between you.

A word of caution: If his attempts to apologize and repair are all about him (i,e. excessively explaining why he did what he did, justifying his actions, minimizing your feelings, emphasizing how he was a victim too, blaming you for his behavior) watch out! 

This kind of defensive/blaming language suggests he is not taking true responsibility and the chance for a healthy relationship is unlikely.

3. Commit to change 

Lastly, it’ll be important to know if he is committed to change and what that looks like. 

  • What is he offering to do differently? 
  • Does he articulate specific things he could personally do to improve the relationship? 
  • Does he invite feedback from you on what you would need from him? 
  • Does he validate and accept what your needs are and express his commit to meeting your needs? 

Of course, a relationship is a two-way street and there should be a mutual commitment to meeting each other’s needs. 

But, remember…he reached out to you. 

So, initially, he should take the lead on this discussion by sharing ways in which he will improve. Hopefully, he has put some deep thought into this and is not expecting you to come up with all the solutions. 

If he’s serious about making it better this time, he’ll need to have a level of self-awareness as to what went wrong in the past and how to overcome those obstacles in the future.

After you hear him out, do another gut check.

Now how do you feel? Are you feeling optimistic and open to the possibility of a healthy future together? Are you feeling skeptical and unsure? Take some time to reflect on the feelings you have after hearing him out. 

Meditate, get out in nature, journal, take a walk, practice yoga, go for a swim, do some kind of introspective work to get clear on what YOU want for your life moving forward. Do YOU want to give this relationship a second chance? Only you can make this decision.

If your decision is Yes:

1. Be clear about your reason for choosing Yes

2. Identify your needs, wants, boundaries, and expectations moving forward and communicate these to your man

3. Together, identify areas of growth you need to work on as individuals and as a partnership

4. Seek couples therapy to address old relationship injuries that need mending and healing

5. Stay connected and true to your Self so you can live the life you envision

If your decision is No, find peace in that knowing. Knowing what you DON’T want helps solidify what you DO want. Perhaps this is the reason he resurfaced in your life: To help clarify and reaffirm your life vision. There is a lesson in everything.

Rebecca Lanier, LMFT, EdS, MEd – www.rebeccalanierlmft.com

Jennifer Meyer

If you have experienced a situation where the man of your dreams “got away” and is now back in your life, wanting a relationship with you, here are some guidelines to consider before diving headfirst into a committed relationship with him. 

First, consider why he “got away.”  

Were there environmental or external circumstances somewhat or fully out of his control that led to him being out of your life?  

Examples of this could be job relocation, an academic opportunity, caring for a sick relative, etc.  

If his reason for being out of your life for a period of time was understandable—or a choice you could have seen yourself making in his situation—it’s worth hearing him out.  

Ask him what he learned during the time you were apart.   

If he missed you terribly and is prepared to make things right this time around, his requests are worth an open ear and open mind on your part.  However, you also need to keep in mind what you want at this point in your life.  

If you’ve moved on, be honest and tell him.

Alternatively, did he choose to leave the relationship due to doubts about your compatibility, commitment issues, or because he was interested in someone else?  The reason the two of you have been apart has a lot to do with whether you should give him another chance.  

Be cautious about words, especially if he is known for his gift of charm.  Watch for tangible proof that he has done some soul-searching and is ready to commit this time around.  

His behavior over time will show you his intentions.  

  • Does he follow through and call when he says he will?  
  • Does he act interested, or does he seem gamey?  
  • Ask him what’s different now that he’s ready to come back: Did he miss you?  
  • Does he validate the pain he caused you?  
  • Did he do any work on himself to figure out why he left?  

People do change, and he could be in a much different place than he was when you were together before, but keep in mind that it takes time, commitment to the process, and consistent effort to make deep changes in ourselves. 

Overall, the biggest question to ask yourself (and him) is, “What’s different this time that will make our outcome different?”  

Listen for true, vulnerable responses that show he has given your relationship a lot of thinking on how he could be better.  If you aren’t convinced he’s done the work, and your gut tells you he is just lonely or playing you, trust your gut and protect your heart!

Jennifer Meyer, M.A., LPC, NCC – www.jenmeyercounseling.com

Heather Petitpas

If the one who got away pops back into your life and you are considering another go at it-it is important to ask yourself, why did it not work out the first time? 

And, what would be different this time?

Either he felt the need, or you felt the need, to end it. 

Something brought him back in the picture and you are entertaining the idea of rekindling things. 

Time to get curious as to what would be different this time around if you truly want to give this person another shot. 

This will require some reflection and honesty. 

Time needs to be spent figuring things out not only for yourself first but also talking with this person at length to get his thoughts and ideas on both what went wrong and what would be different. 

Perhaps some compromises need to be made. Maybe expectations will need to change. Either way, for “take two” of this relationship to be successful, a lot of healthy communication will be needed. 

Some people decide to do some couples work to have an objective perspective by a professional to determine what may need to be worked on so the two for you have a fighting chance. This can be very helpful-sometimes therapists can see blind spots that the couple themselves cannot see. 

Really ask yourself, 

  • Do you feel this person has made significant growth or positive changes since the last relationship? 
  • Do you feel your needs can be met? 
  • Are you only entertaining the idea due to familiarity and comfort? 

Take a good, hard look at your intentions for getting back together, along with his. 

Sometimes people and relationships deserve a second chance, sometimes we may hold ourselves back by repeating old patterns. 

Make sure to the best of your ability that this time would be different-in a good way! 

Heather Petitpas, MEd, LMHC – www.tissuesfortheissues.com

Hollis Wall

Almost everyone has that one guy that got away. So what if he comes running back into your life and wants you back? 

You have the option of either giving it a shot and possibly falling back in love with him or you can decide to let him go from your life. 

If you do choose to let him back into your life and give it another shot you should have many conversations with him and make sure you’re both on the same page. 

Through these conversations you should make clear to each other what you are expecting out of the relationship and one another. 

What happened in your previous relationship that you won’t tolerate again and how to prevent your last breakup from happening again. 

By having this open and honest conversation early on you will both know what boundaries you both want to set for the relationship. 

Through these conversations you might also want to ask some specific questions for example, 

“Why didn’t things work out between us before? What will be different this time? What made you come back? How have we both changed?” 

These are all important questions to ask each other. It is also important to understand that you are two different people now and to respect that about each other. And to try and not bring up old baggage that happened between the two of you and move forward. 

The other important thing to know is that you can’t pick up your relationship right where it left off. 

That is not fair to you or your guy because you have become different people. You both have to get to know each other again and it may mean taking your relationship slowly. 

It may be that the changes in both of you are a good fit and you feel you can make your relationship work. Or you may find that the changes in both of you won’t be able to move forward in a relationship. 

When he comes back you should also take time to yourself and do some soul searching. 

By doing this you may figure out if you want to give him another shot or let him go again. Some questions you could ask yourself are “Did I miss him? Am I still in love with him or could I love him again?” 

It might be that the time apart that you spent is exactly what you both needed. 

Also, listen to what your heart and gut are telling you. They are much stronger and wiser now and you should listen to them. They often lead you down the path that makes the most sense for you.

Hollis Wall, MA, LMHCA – www.wallehollis.com

Erica Wollerman

I have worked with many women who have struggled with this exact challenge – when someone from their past comes back into their lives and wants a relationship again. 

This can be such a tough situation where women feel so much conflict about what to do, particularly if the relationship ended in a negative way or where they were hurt in the process of it ending. 

This situation can be made even more difficult by family members or friends who may hold biased opinions about this person and encourage you to not even give them the time of day. 

For the person who was in the relationship, it can be hard to follow this advice particularly if there were parts of the relationship that you have struggled to find with others like chemistry, understanding, or shared history. 

So, what should we do in this situation?

I would suggest that this is a good time to take stock and do some serious self-reflection about the relationship and what is going on that led this person back to your life. You could use these questions to help guide this journey and process. 

1. Why now? 

What is the reason that this person has given for showing up in your life again?  Specifically, I would be looking for something a bit more compelling then, “I missed you, I was lonely, etc.” I would want the person to be able to express exactly why they missed you and why this time together might be different. 

2. Is there an apology involved or some level of understanding at the harm they caused you?

If you have a person coming back in your life who shows true remorse and understanding that perhaps the way things happened in the past was hurtful, that feels much different and like a better starting place than if they come back completely oblivious to the harm they caused. 

3. Why will it be different this time?

Anytime you consider starting back up a relationship with a person from your past I think you would benefit from reflecting both on why the relationship will be different for you now as well as for the other person. To recreate patterns and repair the past, it takes work and it will be important to know why you are bothering to try. 

4. Can you forgive them? 

If this person has caused serious levels of harm in your life, it is necessary to ask yourself the tough question of, can I possibly forgive this person and move on?  If not, it probably is not worth trying again as you will end up living more in the past than planning a new future together. 

5. What does this person or this relationship bring to your life? 

Some reflection around why specifically you are entertaining this relationship again will help guide your choice. Once you come up with thoughts and ideas of what you are looking for by resuming this relationship, you can decide if those are reasons worth pursuing and in line with your values.  

6. Would you have reached out to them?

Another consideration in this situation would be… if the person had not reached out to you, would you have felt compelled to consider the relationship again and to seek them out? If not, why entertain this situation at all?  If so, then it might be worth considering! 

I hope these questions can help guide you in developing your internal compass about your relationship and path forward!

Erica Wollerman, PsyD – www.thrivetherapystudio.com

Sally LeBoy

If the one who got away comes back, you need to answer some questions: 

  • Do you still even want to have a relationship with him? 
  • What were the circumstances surrounding his departure? 
  • Did he get away or did he run away? 
  • Is this a manipulative game or have the circumstances changed in such a way that there is really a chance for this relationship to work? (assuming you actually want it to).

I think the most important question is whether or not you want to have a relationship with him. 

I don’t know how long it’s been since he “got away” but things change, not just for him but for you. Is he someone who would enhance the life that you are living now?

The question of whether to start up a relationship, any relationship is about you and your needs at this time. 

Just like in any new relationship (which this would be) there are questions to ask yourself: Do you trust him, or did he behave badly when he got away? 

It’s important to remember that while circumstances change, character really doesn’t. 

  • If he was honest with you and considerate of your feelings, it could be worth giving it another shot. 
  • If he led you on, indicating to you that he was more invested than he really was, I’d assume that he’s self-centered, and that it will probably be no different this time around.

Were there signs the last time that it wasn’t going to work with him? Could you have ignored these signs? 

If so, that’s a lesson about ignoring the red flags that you don’t want to see. 

We all do it occasionally, but there’s always a price to pay. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away; it just takes away our power to manage it and take care of ourselves.

Be honest with yourself about what you and he both want. 

If it looks like you’re both now on the same page, by all means give it another chance. As I said, things change and while the timing and circumstances could have been off then, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t work out now.

Sally LeBoy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

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