Picture the scene: you've had a wardrobe clear-out and, feeling virtuous, you take a bulging bag of clothes to the charity shop. A week later you're wishing you hadn't been so ruthless, and buy all your clothes back. But once you've put them on you realise the reason you gave them away was because they just didn't fit you anymore, so it's back to Oxfam they go... Okay, so we're likening an ex-boyfriend to an old pair of jeans, but you get the idea. Getting back together with an ex is a relief at first, ending weeks of misery where you missed each other and wondered why on earth you split up in the first place. But what usually begins as a heady romantic reunion, full of promises to never leave each other's side, can rapidly deteriorate into arguments and sulking as you discover that not only are the old problems still there, but you've found new reasons to fight too. And I speak from experience here. James and I had been together for two years when we split up. Things had been becoming strained between us for a while as we focused more on our careers than our relationship. But a month after the break-up we'd started phoning each other every few days and, meeting up one night to talk things through, we decided to try again. Reader, it lasted two months.
I discovered that missing someone doesn't necessarily mean he was The One. Three weeks of best behaviour quickly down-shifted back to our old habit of being too tired to make any effort with each other. Breaking up a second time was just as painful as the first, particularly as this time I knew it was for good.
"My gut feeling is that getting back together with an ex is generally not a wise move," says Jill Goodhew, a psychotherapist who specialises in relationships. "It takes a lot of hard work and honesty to work through whatever it was that split you up and you have to question why it was you ignored the warning signs in the first place." Before you jump back on the cosy sofa of your old relationship, Goodhew says it's essential to look in minute detail at your reasons for going back, otherwise you may find you're carrying baggage from the past forwards into the next phase. She suggests asking yourself the following questions: Why haven't you both moved on?
Could it be that neither of you can be bothered to get back out into the dating world making getting back together the easy - and lazy - option? "We can get to a certain time in our life where we haven't got the time or energy to put into dating and so getting back together with an ex becomes a compromise, though that doesn't make a good foundation for the future," says Goodhew. Do you want him back because he's found somebody else?
The man whose football obsession bored you to tears and who couldn't talk about his feelings suddenly becomes as sexy as Brad Pitt when there's a new girlfriend on the scene. If you haven't met anyone yourself while you've been apart, what you're feeling could be plain old jealousy rather than the realisation that it was true love. Is it because you're not happy on your own?
It takes time to adjust to being single again, and you're bound to miss the comfort of your old relationship. "Before you rush back into a reconciliation, ask yourself why you're scared to be on your own," says Goodhew. "Time alone is an opportunity to really get to know yourself and build self-confidence. Thinking it's better to be with somebody rather than nobody is not a good reason to go backwards."
What was it that brought you together, and what changed so badly that you split up?
When a relationship ends, for whatever reason, it's tempting to look back on the good times with rose-tinted specs as the anger and frustrations fade. But if things had been going well surely you would still be together and would have worked at any issues that came up? If the relationship stalled and problems couldn't be solved, do you realistically believe that you're both going to find the impetus to make it work a second time around?
"It's unrealistic to think it's going to be better than the first time around," says Goodhew. "What you should be aiming for is for it to be different." If you're both prepared to examine what went wrong, have asked yourself (and answered honestly) the hard questions, and your feelings for each other are as strong as ever, you stand a good chance to make it work. For some couples, getting back together after a break can be what seals their commitment to each other, as Katie, a 28-year-old teacher from London, explains:
"Nick and I had been together for three years and had been living together for a year. We'd been rowing a lot and after a particularly bad weekend I packed my bags and went to stay with my sister. We both did a lot of soul searching in the three months we were apart. I went out on a few dates but it just didn't feel right, so when Nick phoned me on my birthday we had a long talk and decided to give it another go. I didn't move straight back in though - we'd see each other two for three times a week and really talked about what had happened before and why we'd let things get out of hand. That was two years ago now, and we've just got engaged."
If, like Katie and Nick, you both feel that trying again is the way forward, here are Goodhew's tips to help get you back on track.
Keep all the lines of communication open
It's essential to not only talk about what went wrong but to also look at why you didn't talk about the problems at the time. Be patient and let each person have their say without interrupting them. Talk about what has gone on in the interim for each of you - be honest about what you've been doing so that you don't start the next stage of the relationship with recriminations every time there's an argument.
Take it slowly
Don't rush back into living together if you were before - start dating each other instead and have sleep-overs at the weekend. Make an effort to do things differently to ensure you don't fall back into old patterns. Try new restaurants and bars and take up a hobby you can enjoy together such as salsa dancing - in short, do anything to help breathe new life into your relationship.
Don't make any rash decisions or plans
This is not the time to get engaged or start trying for a baby. Don't do anything big in the first year - give yourselves time to work at the 'new' relationship and rebuild the foundations to give yourselves the best chance to make it work.