There are few things that hurt more than being left by the person you love. If you’ve been dumped, if your partner has walked away, or your spouse has told you they’re filing for divorce, it is a terribly painful situation.
But as they say, it’s not over until it’s over. If you want to know how to win back your ex, you need a few important things.
Let’s be clear, though, that this post is not for folks who got dumped in 2021 and have been Facebook-stalking their exes since then. Sometimes it actually is over! This is going to be about helping people whose relationships are over relatively recently and are not damaged to the point of no return (for example, through sleeping with your girlfriend’s sister).
As an analogy, it’s common for patients to die on the operating table and be revived after being officially dead for a short while. Nobody has yet to raise a deceased person who’s been buried for a year or to resuscitate someone who’s been decapitated. There’s a limit.
4 Principles to Rebuild a Relationship
For those of you in situations where the relationship can conceivably still be revived, we can lay out some important principles that will help you succeed. In order to win your ex back, you’ll need the following four (4) ingredients:
Let’s explore these points further.
#1 – Accountability
If your partner left you, they were obviously unhappy with the way the relationship was going. And while there’s always the possibility that “it’s not you, it’s me,” that cliché is generally recognized as an excuse more than an explanation.
Meaning, it’s probably you.
Now, that doesn’t mean you’re a lost cause or a rotten person. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all do annoying things. The question here is not whether you’ve got faults. It’s whether you’re going to acknowledge and take accountability for them. For a lot of people, this is understandably not so easy.
Understand Your Role in the Breakup
There are actually two challenging aspects of this. First is admitting that you messed up and that there is some undesirable characteristic about you or your behavior. That’s hard. Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong. It can feel embarrassing and vulnerable. Most of us go out there every day trying to hide those things!
The other hard part is not looking at the faults of your ex-partner (at least not right now). Obviously, they have weak points too. It’s likely that they also contributed to the downfall of the relationship in some way. But they chose to leave. And you want to stay. So it’s on you at this point to look in the mirror and take responsibility for the things that are in your capacity to change – which is you – and not focus on the things that you can’t – which is your partner.
Admit Your Mistakes
Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t matter at this point because you’re trying to save this thing. We can worry about fair later. If you harp on your ex’s contributions to the problems in the relationship or even cast a sideways glance at those contributions, you probably won’t get your ex to come back.
Accountability means you’re going to focus on what you’ve done wrong and how you can make it right. That doesn’t mean we’re never going to address your ex’s stuff. Once you’ve gotten back together, there will be time to discuss those things. Now is the time for you to look at you.
Take Responsibility for Your Actions
Thus far, I have been assuming that you know what you did that led to the breakup. It is rare (though not unheard of) for people to leave their partner without giving any indication that something was wrong. More often, the problems are well-known because they are the subject of repeated arguments.
So, if you know what the issue is, take accountability for it. That might sound like, “I know I’ve been [fill in the blank], and I recognize that this problem is [part of] the reason you left.” No excuses, no soft-pedaling. Say it straight: “I said really mean things when I got angry,” “I cheated on you,” “I refused to admit I was wrong.”
It’s hard to do, but if you don’t own up to the problems you’re a part of, you can’t fix them, and if you don’t fix them, you probably aren’t getting your ex back.
If you truly do not know what the issue was that caused them to leave, well, ask them! “I honestly don’t know what I did that was so painful for you, but I genuinely would like to know so I can try to do things differently. I hope you’ll give me the chance to do that by telling me what you feel the problems were.” Then, listen and don’t argue!
#2 – Empathy
The next thing you need is to care about your ex’s complaints. It’s not enough to know what they are and to be accountable for them. “Yes, I was disrespectful to you” is a start, but if you don’t really care about the impact you had on them, it won’t get you very far.
Choose Empathy Over Defense
Again, you probably know how you affected your partner. They might have felt sad, angry, frustrated, lonely – whatever their particular unhappiness, they’ve probably complained about it before.
And, if you’re like many people out there, you probably responded in the past by defending yourself, lodging your own complaints, or using other unhelpful approaches that are unfortunately common.
Welp, you can’t do that anymore! You’re going to have to be empathic now instead of defensive. Whether your ex’s complaints are accurate or inaccurate, fair or unfair, you won’t get anywhere by trying to argue them down. (That may well be how you got here in the first place!) Instead, you need to show that whatever has been said or done, their pain is important to you. That’s empathy.
Show Sincere Care
Empathy means, “If you’re hurting, I’m hurting with you.” It does not mean “I will take away your hurt,” and certainly not “I will take away your hurt by showing you you’re wrong to be hurt.”
In order to accomplish this, as we said above, you will need to put your own grievances aside for now. Get into your partner’s world and really try to feel what it’s been like to be them. You need to convey to them that you sincerely care about the pain they’ve felt in this relationship. If you can’t convince them of that, there isn’t much reason for them to come back. Would you entrust your feelings to someone who doesn’t care about them?
#3 – Change
It goes without saying that if you don’t actually change the issues you’ve acknowledged, you are not getting back together with your ex. (Actually, to be fair, it’s possible you will get back together, but it is virtually guaranteed that you’ll break up again anyway).
As they say, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
The Difficulty of Change
Of course, easier said than done, right? Change isn’t easy. You really mean it when you say you’re not going to yell at your partner anymore, but doggone it. Next time things heat up, there you go again.
Change doesn’t mean you say you’re going to change or you intend to change. It means you change. It means you make things different.
But change also doesn’t mean you must make things 100% different this minute. Rarely does sustainable change happen in an instant.
Instead, change looks like little baby steps in the right direction, but consistently. If your partner left you because of your drinking – let’s say you’d been drinking basically every day – and you make a choice one time this week to do something different and not hit the bottle – that’s a success. That’s progress. That’s change.
It’s the kind of difference we’re looking for, little bits of forward movement over a long period. Slow and steady wins the race.
How to Address Severe Issues
For really severe issues, being slow and steady may not apply. For example, if you’ve been violent with your partner, please seek help for this whether or not your ex comes back. It will not do to beat them up a little less badly each time or to beat them three times this week instead of four. That is a behavior that needs to be categorically stopped before you can reasonably hope for the restoration of a viable relationship.
Especially if you’ve promised change in the past, it is important to devise a plan for how change will happen. If you have anger issues, perhaps you need to join an anger management group.
If you’ve been unfaithful, you may need to demonstrate the steps you’re taking to distance yourself from the affair partner or to engage in therapy to understand why you did what you did. Enrolling in a program, hiring a life coach, or joining an accountability group are ways to solidify your commitment to change.
Create a Plan for Change
Creating a plan for change is important not just so that you can succeed at making the desired change but also so that your ex can feel more confident that change is actually going to happen.
It’s also critical when trying to change to be prepared for backsliding. Change is also rarely purely a forward motion; usually, it’s more like two steps forward, one step back. You need to be aware that this is normal and not throw in the towel when you fall back into an old habit or behavior despite your best efforts.
The solution is – pick yourself back up and try again. Over and over.
#4 – Patience
This brings us to our final point: change doesn’t happen quickly, as we said, and you will have to be patient and persevere with your attempts to do things differently.
Just as important, you must also be patient with your ex. The last thing you want to do is apply pressure and coercion to get them to come back. Even if you succeed, you can be sure they’ll eventually leave again because the choice to come back wasn’t made wholeheartedly.
Be Consistent With Your Actions
All the things we discussed above will need to happen repeatedly before your ex is ready to believe you: you’ll need to accept responsibility for your mistakes and apologize for them, show empathy for their pain, and make small, consistent changes over a span of time much longer than you wish – so be prepared for that.
Also, be prepared for intense skepticism on the part of your ex. They may feel they’ve heard it all before, that you’ve promised to change and haven’t, that you’ve said you wouldn’t do that again and did. This time, of course, you really mean it, right? As we noted above, you’re going to be taking concrete steps to demonstrate your genuine commitment to change.
Still, your ex may be hesitant, and they have every right to feel that way. This is even more so if the problems in the relationship involved a breach of trust on your part, in which case they are even less likely to believe your insistence that “it’s going to be different this time.”
Turning Over a New Leaf
Sometimes people really do turn over a new leaf, and it can be super frustrating when their ex doesn’t see it. They try to persuade their ex, make grand promises and insist they’ve changed, but these don’t help.
The only thing that will make a real difference is your ex experiencing the difference. And for most issues, that’s an opportunity that may not be present every single day.
Which means, again, you’ll have to be patient. Rushing the process tends to backfire: people who make big decisions because of external pressure placed on them tend to regret those decisions sooner or later.
Let’s Wrap Up
If you really take these principles to heart and make a real change in yourself, there is a good chance that you can win back your ex and have a happy relationship again. That said, it’s important to recognize that there are no guarantees.
Your ex may not be interested in pursuing this relationship any longer. They may not be willing to forgive things you’ve done. If you’ve cheated, if you’ve been abusive (physically or emotionally), if you have repeatedly apologized and repeated your offenses, there might not be a path home on this one.
It’s absolutely possible to have a situation where things can’t be saved. Your ex may have made up their mind, and there isn’t anything you can do to change it. You can certainly hope that this isn’t the case, but even the sincerest repentance does not guarantee success here.
So, do the best you can. If you need help figuring out how to succeed, we’re here to support you. Be accountable and empathetic. Be different and patient. And hopefully, you will be together again.