We've all heard the saying "they always come back." But is there any truth to it, or is it just something we tell ourselves to cushion the blow? Undoubtedly, it's something we've all pondered and held onto for comfort after a break-up. It's what we hope for when we follow every condition of the no-contact rule.
However, some exes dash our hopes of reconciliation and carry on as if we never existed. Others (usually the exes we'd like to forget) stick around and cause problems. The most puzzling cases are those who wait years before making a grand reappearance.
If you've ever wondered why exes come back, you might want to keep reading.
Things to know
- Exes come back around 40-50% of the time, with factors such as the nature of the relationship or breakup influencing whether or not they decide to return..
- They may come back due to an addiction to drama, difficulty moving on, low self-esteem, attachment issues, commitment issues, fear of being alone, heartbreak, love addiction, jealousy, closure, personal growth, and more.
- Some exes come back for sinister reasons such as manipulation, control, and abuse. It's important to know the difference between these types and those who come back hoping to reconcile.
For even deeper insight into this complex topic, let's explore the following:
Do Exes Always Come Back?
No, they don't always come back. Studies show that exes come back only around 40-50% of the time. But what determines whether they do? The following insights might be helpful:
The nature of the break-up
People leave relationships for many reasons, including feeling unfulfilled, not being compatible, or experiencing personal growth that takes them in a different direction. These reasons play a major role in whether they come back or not. A breakup due to fundamental differences in habits or goals, for instance, is a lot different from breaking up because of infidelity or because a partner is abusive.
The nature of the relationship
Unlike casual arrangements, meaningful relationships often leave behind lingering feelings. Similarly, relationships that meet an untimely end because of circumstances tend to leave behind unresolved feelings. In these situations, the strong feelings involved often cause people to explore past relationships.
The relationship pattern
Although relationships that cycle through making up and breaking up are of lower quality and result in subsequent breakups, they are much harder to shake. That's why people caught in this type of relationship pattern tend to keep coming back to each other.
Their attachment style
There are four attachment styles: secure, anxious, fearful-avoidant, and dismissive-avoidant. These attachment styles determine how people establish relationships, deal with conflict, intimacy, and breakups.
People with insecure attachment styles are more likely to fixate on an ex-partner and seek to reunite with them. Due to fear, pride, or a combination of both, avoidants are less likely to come back. Securely attached people are better able to weigh the pros and cons of going back to an ex and tend to do so if they're sure it's what they want.
While women take heartbreak harder, they tend to recover more fully than men. This, together with the fact that women tend to view their exes more negatively, makes them less likely to come back to a failed relationship.
Men have less emotional support during a break-up, and tend to move on without fully addressing their heartache. This, together with the fact that they tend to view their exes more favorably, makes them more likely to come back.
Why Do Exes Come Back?
Exes come back because they feel it's in their best interests. Whether they have an epiphany or they're on the prowl for a predictable distraction, it all boils down to warm and fuzzy self-interest. Let's unpack some of the other common reasons exes can't stay gone:
They don't know who they are without you
Their entire identity was tied to being your partner. Being with you gave them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Without you or your validation, they feel lost and out of sorts. Coming back is an attempt to reclaim their identity.
They want an ego boost
An ex with low self-esteem may try to come in and out of your life as a way to boost their ego. After all, if you're prepared to take them back no matter how much they've hurt you, or how badly they sabotaged the relationship, they must be worth it, right? Plus, whether you're telling them to leave you alone or entertaining them, you're paying attention — and that's all that matters.
They're addicted to drama
Unhealthy habits are hard to break. Sadly, this applies to relationships too. An ex might come back because they're addicted to the highs and lows of a toxic relationship. They've tried to move on but the constant push-and-pull dynamic is what they crave.
They have attachment issues
If your ex has an anxious attachment style, they might not be over you or the break-up. Coming back is typically a consequence of codependency, emotional turmoil, and the lack of a support system to help them cope.
Similarly, if your ex is fearful-avoidant, they might be back because the fear of intimacy that caused them to walk out in the first place has been replaced by a fear of loneliness and abandonment.
They have commitment issues
Commitment issues, which stem from past trauma and insecurities, may be another reason why an ex can't seem to stay away. If your ex has commitment issues, they might be torn between loving you and not being able to commit due to a fear of losing their independence or being hurt. As they grapple with the decision, they might leave and come back repeatedly.
They didn't mean to break up
Perhaps breaking up with you was a spur-of-the-moment decision. They left in the heat of the moment only to realize the gravity of their actions later on. Even if your ex swallows their pride and apologizes, it's crucial that you address their impulsivity before moving forward.
They feel guilty
They're back, not because they want to be but because they feel guilty or indebted to you. Sooner or later, they'll grow frustrated and start to resent you. Needless to say, these are prime conditions for a toxic situation.
They miss you
Sometimes people don't appreciate what they have until they've had a taste of life without it. Maybe they got bored and the grass seemed greener on the other side. Whatever it was, they left, only to realize that they gave up on a great relationship.
They're afraid of being alone
A fear of being alone may drive some people to idealize their ex partners or romanticize failed relationships. If your ex has this fear, their efforts to get you back aren't healthy and may keep you trapped in a cycle of making up and breaking up.
You're a safe, familiar option, especially now that they're heartbroken and in need of some company. The fact that they've been down heartbreak lane with you before won't keep them away, especially if they're lonely and looking to use you as a rebound.
They're addicted to love
If your ex has a history of jumping from one relationship to the next, they might be a love addict. Coming back is an attempt to feel the 'high' of love all over again. Be warned, however, that once the honeymoon phase passes (much quicker this time) they'll be out the door again, chasing their next hit.
They want closure
To help them move past the uncertainty, confusion, and lingering emotions that are so common with break-ups, some exes come back to understand what went wrong. In doing so, they hope to find a sense of closure.
Break-ups force people to confront the most vulnerable parts of themselves. They often emerge wiser and more certain of who they are and what they want. It's usually during this period of personal growth that some exes realize the true value of what they left behind.
They don't want the hassle of starting over
Finding love can be a daunting process. From run-ins with catfish and ghost encounters, the perils of dating apps often make old flames seem more appealing. Unfortunately, being able to pick up where they left off with someone who already knows who they are is why they're suddenly knocking on your door.
They want to hook up
Not all exes have the best intentions. Some of them simply want to hook up, and instead of swiping through tons of profiles, it's just easier for them to try their luck with ex partners. So, before you get roped into an 'exes with benefits' arrangement, make sure you find out what they truly want.
They want emotional support
You were always there for them - often at the expense of your own well-being - and now that they're going through a rough patch, they need you. It's completely selfish on their end, and just like all the times before, it won't be long before their emotional needs start to take a psychological toll on you.
If they left in a huff and you've moved on, jealousy might be why they're back. And if the only reason they want you back is that they can't stand to see you happy with someone else, should you be putting everything you've built on the line for them?
Narcissists are notorious for playing mind games with their exes. It's always about the need for attention, control, and validation. When denied these things, they can get nasty, and put their exes through hell for the sake of it.
If a narcissistic ex tries to contact you, don't give them the time of day. Doing so will only give them the opportunity to ensnare you through manipulation and other underhanded psychological tricks.
Much like the narcissist, this ex wants to toy with your emotions. They get a kick out of seeing you in pain, so they'll wait until you're happy just to show up and ruin things for you. This type of toxic behavior is the hallmark of all abusive ex-partners. Again, run and don't look back.
What To Do When They Come Back
When dealing with exes, one thing is clear: some come back because they think they can while others come back because they hope they can. And it's important to know the difference.
Refuse to engage
The exes who think they can come back have little respect for your boundaries. These types of exes are toxic and will stalk or harass you to get what they want. Refuse to engage; remember that all they deserve for their efforts is radio silence.
If their behavior starts to affect your well-being, or if you fear for your safety, seek help from the authorities and a qualified mental health professional.
Remember that they left
The exes that hope they can come back are usually a mixed bag. Be cautious and set boundaries, especially where second chances are concerned.
If you find yourself getting starry-eyed over the fact that they're back, remember that they left. They broke your trust and hurt you once, and they might do it again.
Take the time to understand your feelings and the reasons behind their return. If they truly want a second chance, they should be willing to put in the work to regain your trust and prove their worth.