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Can a Relationship Be Recycled?

When it comes to bottles, cans, and men, I like to recycle.  I’ve believed that most of my relationships are like the 6-Million Dollar Man, they can be rebuilt, made stronger.  After a breakup, I usually leave the door open a crack, allowing for second, third, and a thirty-seventh chance at happiness with the same person.  I don’t think it’s a bad idea, though it doesn’t always end up being a good one.  But since I’m a pretty complicated combination of picky and eccentric, I like to really exhaust the possibilities with one person before I begin the arduous task of breaking in someone new.  Just like with a new therapist, the process of explaining myself, making someone understand what makes me tick, is long and hard, so I like to do it as infrequently as possible.  Now, I don’t believe that all relationships should be reconciled, abusive ones should be left as a smoking pile of ashes, but if you truly feel like your life is better with that special person in it romantically, there’s nothing wrong with exploring the possibility of a reunion. However, there’s a few things to do before jumping right back in, that help to set you up for as much success as possible (which varies situationally, of course.)

  1. Take an honest self-assessment.

    Ask yourself why you want to get back together.  Do you genuinely love and miss being coupled with this person, or are you just trying to avoid the painful process of grieving and healing?  Do you want to journey towards happiness together, or do you just not want the other person to move on before you have?  Think long and hard about whether you want this specific person, or just someone, anyone, to end the loneliness.  There’s no sense in getting back together just to be miserable.  A bad relationship will not cure loneliness, it usually just makes it worse.  No one likes being the single rider in line at the amusement park, but it’s easier to enjoy the ride alone than it is when you’re shoved in the roller coaster car next to some jerk who’s all elbows and armpits.  And think hard about whether or not the intimacy is even what you want with your estranged beloved.  The nature of a relationship is always open to evolution.  Do you need them in your bed, or would you be happy with them on the opposite side of your couch?   Imagine the person in a number of different roles, as a platonic friend, casual sex partner, dog walker, writing partner, or distant memory.  The great part about being independent is that no one else gets to dictate what makes you feel good, and it’s okay to be content with whatever you come up with that feels right.

  2. Talk it out.

    A relationship involves more than just you, so determining if it can be rebuilt isn’t exclusively your call.  Talk about everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, and do so with an open heart and mind.  You may not hear what you want to hear, but it’s important to be open to receiving the truth.  Discuss why it ended, and if those reasons are ones that can be worked through together, or ones that will recur and explode again.  Hash out what each of your ideal situations are, and if they’re ones that can actually mesh together.

  3. Build it together.

    Rebuilding a healthy relationship requires effort from both parties. When only one person works at it, it sets up an unfair power dynamic, putting the person who exerts no effort in the position of queen/king, and the other as a servant.  No one is exempt, and regardless of the reasons for the breakup, there’s work for everyone to do, even if it’s just finding forgiveness (which is actually the hardest thing for most people to do).  Be accountable for your part in it all, don’t refute the other person’s feelings, and be aware of whether or not they are extending you the same courtesy and kindness.  A strong relationship is born from a foundation of respect and trust, not denial and blame-shaming.

  4. This is new, go slow.

    Treat this as a new relationship, because that’s what it is.  Even if it feels like just a new chapter in the same book, it isn’t.  Breakups are periods of grieving, and grief changes us.  You are not the same person you were when you first got together with your partner.

  5. Take care of YOU. Pay close attention to how you feel at all times.

    Keep the communication open, and don’t be afraid to change your mind, if you realize that it actually isn’t what you want.  You truly are the only person you’re bound to for your entire life, so give yourself and your emotional health and security first priority.  For a machine to run most effectively, all parts must be in good working order.  You are responsible for keeping up with how the YOU component is functioning, so do what you need to do in order to keep your gears greased and turning.

Giving a relationship another chance is a beautiful and difficult feat, but so is self-preservation.  Above any other tips anyone could give is this: never let the former compromise the latter.