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When the One that Got Away Comes Back – 2 Relationship Experts Reveal Exactly What To Do

by Rebecca Lanier – LMFT, EdS, MEd, Erica Wollerman – PsyD

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

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

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