Love, Lindsay

'My Ex And I Recently Got Back Together. How Do We Get Our Spark Back?'

All your relationship questions answered — right here, right now.

Lindsay here, A Plus's resident relationship guru/columnist. While I may not know everything, I do know a lil something about love and our seemingly endless pursuit of it. Having written dozens of A Plus articles about dating, relationships, and sex, I'm ready and willing to investigate all of your romantically-inclined questions (submit here!) — because I've asked them myself. What I hope to bring to A Plus's readers is a sex-positive, body-positive, and most importantly, you-positive perspective on modern love. Consider Love, Lindsay your digital Cupid. 

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Hello Lindsay,

I have been with the same man since I was 17 (I'm 23 now), and we hit a really rough period this past year. So rough that I did leave him and move half way across the country for four months until he contacted me again. He was saying how things were going to change, and I said how I had changed as a person as well. I decide to trust him and move back. For the first month, all his promises were coming true. We moved out together (after living with his parents for three years), we talked openly and honestly so we could put the past behind us, everything seemed great. 

Now things are starting to get rough again for me and him. I find myself resenting him because I left a job that I loved with good pay and benefits, I moved away from my very supportive family and friends, and I didn't even have a job when I moved back. He seems to think I'm not putting any effort into our relationship. He promised me marriage and babies and everything I want out of life and he made it seem like it would be soon. I asked him why he hadn't proposed yet, and he said he didn't have any money. But I come home the other day to a $2000 tool box in my living room because he felt he deserved to buy himself something nice. I love him more than anything and I just need advice as to how to get our spark back after a breakup. 

Thank you, 

Briana

Hi Briana,

This relationship is clearly a priority for you, so it makes sense to feel upset and dissatisfied when your boyfriend fails to deliver on certain promises that were fundamental in your decision to get back together with him. While you've taken concrete steps to show your commitment (by leaving a job and moving), he has yet to reciprocate in a major way. 

Instead, he's made a large, arguably selfish, purchase without your knowledge. Without him even realizing it, that could send off an unintended signal that he's not as serious about the relationship as you are. Understandably, all this can fuel distrust in a newly re-established relationship. 

Dr. Alexandra Solomon, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, sees your real issue not as "a lack of spark, but a lack of shared vision." Rebuilding a relationship after a breakup is hard enough to do on its own. Adding in the common couple conflict of money puts even more pressure on a relationship. What's important to note here, as Solomon explains, is that "fights about money are not about dollars and cents per se. They are about what money represents. Spending choices highlight all kinds of deeper patterns." Namely, what people prioritize long-term.  

To begin a constructive conversation about the way personal priorities can affect your shared future's trajectory, Solomon recommends using the phrase: "the story I start telling myself is …" and focusing on your feelings. "Consider saying something like, 'When I came home and saw that you bought an expensive toolbox, the story I start telling myself is that I don't matter to you. I am really scared that you are less committed to this relationship than I am,'" she advises. "Approaching him in this way will reduce his defensiveness and invite him into a place of self-reflection." By focusing on your feelings, you may help him get in better touch with his own.

This is one obstacle you and your boyfriend can overcome, but there will most likely be others as you go through this transition. Working together to reignite that spark can strengthen your relationship so it's even better than the first time around. 

To begin, talk to your boyfriend about what attracted you to each other in the first place. Whatever it was, let that be the guide that helps you find your way back to each other. "There is a lot of shared history between the two of you. Each of you carries within you the memories and stories of the other's youth. That is a powerful bond," Solomon adds. "It's no surprise that you both have been committed to trying to rebuild this relationship, even when it's difficult." Perhaps that means recreating one of your first dates, solidifying your bond through a favorite shared activity you haven't done in a long time, or to really jazz things up, trying something new, different, and even out-of-the-box together. 

The latter, in particular, has proven to help couples reconnect and, consequently, feel more satisfied in their relationship, long after the honeymoon phase has ended. In 1993, Arthur Aron, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, and his colleagues published a study that discovered couples who spent time jointly doing new and exciting activities were more satisfied with their relationships. 

Though "try new things" may sound simplistic, it's an important way to create new memories in this new stage of your relationship. Though you and your boyfriend do have a lot of shared history, be careful not to default on what the relationship was like before — good or bad — because you're not in that relationship anymore. You spent enough time apart that you had to make a conscious decision to start over and give it another chance. You've entered a new chapter with a (slightly) new version of the person you first fell in love with. 

While the foundation of that love still endures, only you can decide if it's strong enough to warrant a future commitment. To help you make that assessment, you may want to consider couples counseling. Doing this can help show that, as a couple, you're willing to put in the extra effort to ensure the relationship works. 

"Couple therapists are trained to look at the patterns/tendencies/wounds that you each bring into this relationship, and how the relationship itself stirs those up," Solomon adds. "... We all have baggage and in order to build a happy and healthy romantic relationship, we need to be able to connect the challenges we face in our romantic relationships with the experiences we had as we were growing up." According to her, taking stock of each person's "relational self-awareness" teaches couples how to do two things: 1. Manage the feelings that get stirred up in you when you hit bumps in the road and 2. Approach your partner with curiosity and empathy when his behavior feels upsetting and confusing to you. 

That said, be realistic. If your best attempts to reignite that spark don't catch and light a passionate fire in your relationship, then — I've said it before and I'll say it again — let it fizzle. While I hope that doesn't happen, it's still smart to be prepared for the possibility. Sometimes, the relationship we want is not the relationship we are meant to have, no matter how hard we, or the other person, tries. And that's OK even though it might not be ideal.  So no matter what happens, you'll be OK, too.

Love, Lindsay 

Cover image via Kornél Máhl on Unsplash

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