Ask Margie: Is Dating an Ex Ever a Good Idea?
I am very confused about a situation with my ex. We dated for about 9 months and lived together in the same apartment. Toward the end of our relationship he felt trapped and tied down so he started looking to end the relationship. We talked to see if we could work things out but it only got worse. He ended up moving out and I decided to move back to my home state, about 440 miles away.
I was devastated. He told me we would never be together again that he was not interested in me. These were very hurtful words and I thought everything was over.
After a few months I had a business trip in our city and mentioned to him that I would be in town for a few days. He called, we ended up meeting, and I spent the night with him. We had sex and it was strange but very satisfying. Then last week I was in the city again for a follow-up meeting, and he agreed to stay with me in the hotel. I even took our dogs to see him. We drank, had a great time, and even had sex again. He told me he loved me and was afraid of hurting me again.
I have such strong feelings for him and I know that I love him. He tends to hide his feelings better, but I know he cares about me. After these reunions, I began to think about moving back—not for him, but for myself. I am not happy in my hometown, I truly miss the city and the nightlife. I am currently in the process of getting a job in the city and it is possible that I will eventually move back. He said he hoped I would move back as well.
This is all very confusing because I don't want to trick myself into believing something is there when it may not be. Am I doing the right thing or am I tricking myself? Please help!
-Lost N Confused
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Dear Lost and Confused,
Clearly you two originally moved in together too quickly. You got lost in the “I’m falling in love” moment and didn’t focus on the difficult questions of what you have in common in terms of family, spirituality, financial standing, emotional issues and so on. Perhaps one or both of you might have the pattern of going for the moment without thinking the consequences through. Whatever the case, you have demonstrated some healthy and caring behavior by giving him some distance and time to consider what he lost. You brought the dogs and offered your hotel room for a rendezvous, versus insisting that you go to his place. You have given him his space and boundaries. Now your ex is re-engaging with you and telling you he loves you but does not want to hurt you. Since your past experience together shows that it’s easier for him to walk out the door than talk, we can see that this as a good thing, but if you want things to succeed the both of you need to learn how to talk through the misunderstandings and learn “repair communication skills.”
“Repair communication skills” mean just what they sound like: tools to help you and another person repair your relationship through proper communication. The basic tool for resolving misunderstandings is to agree from the beginning of the conversation that you are not there to convince your partner that you are right and he is wrong. That will never work. Instead, you want to communicate to him that you understand his feelings and point of view. This is done by using “reflective listening skills.” Literally, you reflect back to your partner what he has just told you. For example, your partner went into detail about how he needs time to himself. Reflect that back and give him some empathy by saying something like, “I hear that you feel trapped when I come home every night from work and expect that we spend time together. This could make you feel like you are trapped into spending all your free time with me.” Your partner will know and feel understood, which can help heal the frustrations he has been feeling. These repair conversations are about understanding, not being right!
As for you moving back to a city where you enjoyed yourself, this is good for several reasons:
1. It should be based on a sense of self-independence, fulfilling your own desires to be in an environment that makes you happy— with or without this boyfriend. Feeling happy can only benefit you and any relationship you eventually choose. Your self-esteem will be enhanced, and you’ll have the wisdom to make better choices for yourself.
2. This could potentially reignite the love between the two of you, but in a slower mode than before: Try dates with no sleepovers, dates that include other friends, dates where each person suggests new themes/places that are fun and interesting and where you can share time with each other.
3. Dates should have at least a day in-between. This will give time to slowly re-engage in conversations that might be difficult. Give your ex time to think things through when bringing up hot button topics. He’s already demonstrated needing time to consider his confusion, therefore use reflective listening and empathy to repair the relationship and start moving forward again.
Remember, love and sex is about the intimacy of building trust between the two of you. It only gets hotter when you have this kind of trust.
Margie Mirell, LMFT and life coach, has been working in private practice with the LGBT community in Santa Monica, California for more than 20 years. She focuses on relationship issues, addictions, and co-dependency. This article is based on “repair communication skills” developed in Imago Therapy.
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