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What science says about hooking up with your ex

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Hooking up with your ex, or relationship churningis is on the rise. Psychologists say it’s a worrying trend. According to research, staying in touch with a romantic partner after a breakup can  disrupt emotional recovery and sometimes lead to even more conflict, including verbal and physical abuse.

Breaking up in the digital age

In the age of social media, splitting up has become trickier. These days it’s almost impossible to completely avoid your ex after a breakup. Unless you unfriend, unfollow or block them across every social media platform, you’ll be haunted by your former life via an endless stream of updates and notifications.

Although Facebook recently rolled out tools to help with tricky ex-issues, research indicates that keeping tabs on your former partner is a big mistake and leads to stalking, increased distress, more negative feelings, increased sexual desire and longing for your ex-partner.

And as well as prolonging the emotional fallout of the breakup, these constant reminders increase the likelihood of relationship churning. Coupled with the growing acceptance of alternative relationship statuses, young couples are more likely to want to ‘stay friends’, choose to engage in casual sex, or co-habit after a breakup.

The rise of relationship churning

It is no wonder then, that recent polls indicate that 1 in 4young adults said they have had at least one reunion with an ex. Of these, half also reported having sex with their ex.

People tend to justify their reasons for hooking up with an ex because of a number of reasons, such as:

  • they have common friends
  • they’re part of the same community and can’t really avoid each other
  • they aren’t over each other
  • the person who initiated the breakup feels bad
  • or one or both partners want to continue having the comfort of a known person around.

Whilst these factors raise the probability of a reunion, the real risk of this turning into relationship churning can happen increases when a couple:

  • has unresolved issues
  • is unable to handle conflict efficiently
  • makes breaking-up a way to bargain for something
  • knows each other well already and like things about each other, or
  • because one person is more invested than the other

Why getting back with your ex is a bad idea

While it might feel like the path of least resistance, all the research suggests that getting back with your ex is generally not a great idea. There are several reasons:

There is a higher chance of anger and fighting – People seem to be breaking up over less extreme differences these days – which could be a reason why they consider reconciliation once they cool off. Yet, just the act of having gone through a breakup brings it’s own flavor of hurt. Experts think that this could be why we see verbalized anger and  pain among relationship churners.

Less happiness and satisfaction – Even though these couples know a lot about each other, they tend to be less happy with their relationships. this is not really surprising; and in fact, could be part of the reason why the relationship is less stable to begin with. The longer the couple stays on the roller-coaster, the less satisfied they find themselves. This is particularly true for the more invested partner.

Problems continue to trouble you – Relationship churners use breaking up as a strategy to avoid the difficult issues – which effectively remain unresolved. so the next time the couple gets back together, the same issues eventually pop up. And thus the cycle starts again.

So, can you stay friends with your ex?

Actually, we can.  It’s more likely that people will stay friends after a breakup if they were friends before they started dating; possibly because they have experience with setting the boundaries for a friendship, and know what ‘being friends‘ with each other entails. One thing to note is to make sure you stick to a set of rules. Some of these include:

Honesty with new partners

As an individual moves on, it is important for new partners to be on board with the dynamic between you and your ex. In fact, it is a sign of a healthy friendship when we can introduce the new partner to an ex-turned-friend. It is also a sign that the new relationship is strong and healthy.

Truly end the relationship

Often, one or both partners will be tempted to back-track on the decision to end a relationship in the early days after the breakup. Even after the decision is taken, it can take some time for our minds to adjust to the change in our relationship status. This is particularly true when the breakup was not too acrimonious. Taking some time to get past this phase is necessary if you want to stay friends.

Get past the hurt 

A friendship with an ex may not be the best idea immediately after the break-up; even if you were friends before you entered a relationship. It’s important to let some time go by and heal emotionally. This enables us to then start a healthy friendship with no strings attached.

Friends….. with benefits?

For some couples, it is even possible to engage in sexual activity after a breakup without complicating their relationship. Often, for the more committed partner, sex after the breakup can help them deal with the loneliness and distress of the break-up; and achieve some form of closure. On the other hand, for partners who have put the relationship behind them, ex-sex is usually just about the comfort of being with someone you know and understand.

The Golden Rule

Healthy interaction with your ex is all about intention and being aware. If someone has hopes of rekindling the relationship; staying in touch will only complicate things. Ex-partners who can’t re-draw the boundaries can end up in a toxic on-again-off-again situation. But those who stay in touch because they enjoy common interests, have valuable, platonic interactions, and respect their changed relationship status can develop healthy, lasting friendships.