Love Better

We Spoke to People Who Got Back With Their Ex And Made it Work

“These are all the things that are wrong with you, fix them” isn’t gonna cut it this time. 
polaroid photos of travelling couple
SolStock x VICE

Most of the time, the healthiest thing to do after a break-up is to walk away and not look back. Avoiding the mess that’s an on-and-off relationship is ideal, but occasionally, like, very, very occasionally, getting back together can be for the best. 

VICE chatted to 2 couples –  one who spent 3 months apart and one who split for 4 whole years – who put the mahi in and managed to make it work the second time around. 


Here’s what they had to say.  

RHIANNE AND DAN - Broken up for 3 months, since together 6 years. 

VICE: So what was your relationship like the first time? 

RHIANNE: The vibe of our relationship has always been really fun, just like two fun people, together. But we're both quite independent, and where I feel like we became unstuck was that we entwined ourselves too much. 

Is that why things ended? 

Yeah. Lines in the sand kept changing. And then for me, I was like, I can't move the lines anymore. 

Did you think of that break-up as the end, or were you holding out hope?

Yeah, I genuinely had to go at it and be like, This could be it, because I just couldn't keep moving the lines anymore. 

I think what I wanted to happen was for me to be, like, this is over, this is why, and for him to instantly change. But you can’t do that. That version of it doesn't accept any of the blame on myself. No relationship ends just because of one person. We're both fully involved in that. 

And how long were you apart? 

Three months. 

What was that time like?  

I think we both needed to have time on our own. It was like, Oh, now I'm independent again. And I think that's interesting for couples who have been together for a long time. Because you think that you want to be independent, and you think that that means not being with that person. 

But actually, what it can mean is defining your independence within a relationship. And I think, at a younger age, I thought that I couldn't do the two. And I don't think I could have done both at that time in my life. I think I needed to go through that period of not having Dan in my life, to see me as just me and realise there was a Dan shaped hole. There still would be if we didn't work on fixing things.


I also listened to a lot of Esther Perel. She's, like, the best sex and relationship therapist and she has a podcast called Where Should We Begin? where she gets a couple and will give them a free counselling session, so long as she can record it on the podcast. Obviously there's so much work that went on in getting back together, but I found listening to other couples in Esther's podcast to be a really useful tool in not, like, siloing my own experience of: Why does Dan do this? Why doesn’t he do that? 

Hearing from other couples helped me to understand that often these dysfunctions are 50/50.

And how did your relationship start again? 

We gradually started talking again. And when we decided we were going to try again we really figured out the roles we had and what that would look like as two independent people. It wasn’t like restarting the relationship again, because there's all of that history there, but boiling back down to the fun and the excitement and maintaining independence. 

What was different this time? 

So the first time we'd moved in together, after like six months, whereas now when we were getting back together, I was very much like, I'm gonna go and live with friends, you can do the same if you want to, but this is what I want to do. And we dated again for like two years before we then moved back in together. It was the best way to do it. Life can grind you down and you come home from work and you're like, Hey, it's you. Whereas living apart it was like, Hey, let's go on a date! It was fun and exciting again. 


Also, I think before, Dan and I didn't know how to talk to each other about how we felt. I had loads of conversations in my head about our relationship, but like, if you think that you're good at communicating, you might not be.

My friend always said, you can have all these problems that are on one side of the river. And if you don't have communication, which is your bridge, you can't bring any of the problems across to the other person to solve. Without that, everything's just going to stay on one side or the other. So you have to figure out how to communicate.

I think once you have those principles from the beginning, that's what you try and hold true to. It’s not necessarily a new relationship, but it's a new chapter.

Did it feel right immediately, to be back together? 

It definitely felt good, but it was something that we needed to do slowly and to make sure we had the right level of investment in. Once you've broken up once, you understand the pain, and when you get back together you're basically taking out a tiny, fragile thing again, and being like, Don't drop it. It's each other's hearts that you're putting back on the table again. And they're really delicate things. So you do have to be careful. 

What would be your advice to other people giving a relationship a second try? 


I have quite a few friends that have broken up and got back together and all said that that time apart has been really fruitful. 

Make sure that you're getting back for the right reasons, and that it's not just like, everybody kitchen sinking, and being like, These are all the things that are wrong with you, fix them. It's like, These are the things that don't work with us, can we fix them together?

You both need self awareness of your own issues first, before you can tell the other person what you think. And that’s something space and time can afford you. 

JONO AND SARAH - Broken up for 4 years, now engaged. 

VICE: How did you get together in the first place? 

JONO: So we met through friends in our early 20s. I'm 27 now and Sarah's 25. A friend of mine calls me up and he's like, “I've got a warm lead”. He was one of those people who meddles for fun, but sometimes it's for good.

Sounds like this time his meddling worked out? 

Yeah. We dated for like, 11 months, but always with a semi-end date because Sarah was going over to the UK to study. I'm a hopeless romantic so I thought I could convince her to stay. Then we got to the end of it and she's like, LOL jokes, see you. 

SARAH: There was like your natural period of like, Are we gonna have an expiration dateYes? Then let's just have fun. 


Was going away to study 100% gonna happen from the start?

I knew it was on the table and then about 3 months in I got confirmation. As soon as I got confirmation I was like, Okay, we can keep dating till June when I leave or we can break it off now, but it's always really hard to break something off when you still really like each other and live in the same city.

Were there ever any talks about both going over or did that not really feel realistic at the time?

Definitely didn't feel realistic. Jono had just gotten his first job and I knew that I was going over there for like 8-9 months so him going would never have made sense.

But also I definitely didn't want him to come… I was like, I want to go ahead with my hot girl summer and be single. Jono was my first boyfriend, as well, so I didn’t want to get into a serious relationship and then go abroad and go long-distance. 

When you guys were in that period of being apart, was there hope that the situation might change again?

Yeah, I think there was so much hope. When I first went over, I travelled for like six or seven weeks and Jono actually came over to, quote unquote, “see some family members”. So he's like, I'll meet you in Marseille. And I was like, As friends, right? And he's like, Yeah, definitely as friends. We lasted a few days, and then we inevitably hooked up and he's like, So what does this mean? But I didn’t think anything changed. He was going back to New Zealand. I was going to the UK. 


In my memory, we left things on pretty poor terms. I think also there was a sense from both of us that we had some growing up to do, like, I was 20, he was 22. Jono didn't buy that. But I still maintain it was a great call. 

Jono, from your side, going to France, were you always hopeful?

JONO: Oh, hell yes.

So how long were you apart?

SARAH: 4 years. So I came back from Oxford and he promptly announced that he was moving to the UK and left like a month later. 

Did you ever have a super concrete conversation about how to handle being apart?

No, I don't think we ever had a “define the non-relationship kind of talk. In hindsight, it would have been really helpful. 

JONO: I think we're both such hopeless romantics, we would start up convos, and it would be so easy and so natural to talk, but it almost feels safer when you're in different countries to do that. It was both really dangerous but really easy. 

And then one of us would be like, No, it's too hard, let's not talk. Like, I can't talk if we're not going to be together. Then it'd be the odd slip into the Instagram DMS or the odd random message over the years. 

I ended up having to unfollow you on everything because I couldn't start new relationships when Sarah would just like, talk to me out of the blue. 

How did you end up getting back together?


I was in the UK and was seeing someone, then Sarah came over for Christmas. I think I re-followed and messaged you because I was in a stable relationship and was like, Stable relationship, this is fine, honestly, thinking nothing of it. We ended up going to a wine bar and had a drink, and then another and another. And I was like, Oh, this is really easy. This is great. 

And I was like, I don't want to be with her, but I want to be with someone that makes me feel the way that she makes me feel, so I split it up with a girl I was seeing. But Sarah and I didn't talk again for three months.

SARAH: It was kind of at a bit of a stalemate because Jono was in London and I’d gone back home and then the world pretty much went into lockdown. The long and short of it is, for some reason, during lockdown, we just gently picked up messaging again. I found out he was single and I was single as well. Every day, we would just FaceTime and talk and like sometimes it would be five minutes, sometimes it'd be 20 minutes. And I think, at least for me, there was always a thing in the back of my mind of like, oh, what does this all mean? 

Then finally a girlfriend of mine  just turned around and she's like, is he gonna move home or not? So I’m like, will you move back to New Zealand? We had a little bit of back and forth about it and then he bought tickets and came home.


How was it when he got home? 

It was a high stakes dating experience. And we had a lot of conversations about how to do it, so It was always gonna be, we're going to start dating, and it's going to be as if it's from day one. I made a rule that I was like the first six dates, we're not going to kiss, like it's not sexual. It's because I really want to make sure that we're going into this like new. We changed so much from the first time we started dating. I wanted to behave as though we were new people, because in a lot of ways we were, even though we felt familiar to one another.

Why do you think it worked out that second time around?

Round two, we were able to clearly set rules. We understood who each other were, we understood our pitfalls and rhythms, and we were just able to say, This is how we're going to do this relationship, which you don't actually get the privilege of doing when you're dating the first time.

You’re still dealing with all the, Do they like me, do they want to do that, do I want to do that, stuff. When you date the first time, there's so much like dancing around the edges of what you actually want to say. But what was so cool about this was, because it was so high stakes, we could shoot straight and really say what we wanted. 

Any advice for other people starting up a relationship again?


JONO: For us, the first time around, I think it was “the right people at the wrong time”, so we just kind of waited for the timing to be right. But I think a lot of people go back to their ex because it's the easiest option. It’s familiar, you know what it's gonna be like, but the question really is, can I put up with the shit that caused it to end? 

SARAH: I think time definitely gives you an opportunity to discern, Why am I going back to that person, and look at the reasons you broke up with them in the first place. 

I know a lot of people who’ve gone back to someone because they'd rather be in a subpar relationship than alone. I think for me, what was really important was having a season of being single and then building up that comfort where it feels like, actually, I'd be fine if I'm by myself. And so I'm actively choosing this person. And knowing that there are other options that could work, so yeah, actively choosing Jono as opposed to it being a default or something that's familiar.

We needed to reset and feel like we could actually make that decision.

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Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa.