How to get your ex back

When your spouse insists on separation, is that the end, or is there a way you can win your marriage back? How to get your ex back is the subject of Dr. Heitler’s recent post on Psychology Today. In it she explains five essential steps to recovering from a separation and reconciling with your spouse. She follows the story of Peter, a real patient who allowed her to publish his writings to her in order for others to learn from his experience.

Step #1: Get back on your feet.

“Human experience has not yet devised anything,” Peter writes, “that can shield us from the pain of a broken love, the pain of feeling thrown out of your own world and out into the cold.” A separation–perhaps being thrown out of your own home–is a devastating experience. Allow yourself to feel pain, disappointment, loneliness, and anger. These are part of your grieving process. At the same time, don’t act on these feelings. Know that they are your body’s reaction to an emotionally painful event, acknowledge them, and let them pass through you over time.

A healthy marriage is made from two healthy individuals. Now is the time for you to rebuild your emotional and physical health so you can focus on how to get your ex back from a place of strength. Reach out to friends and counselors, get active, and try new social and spiritual activities. Don’t move forward with the other steps of how to get your ex back until you are truly back on your feet.

Step #2: List your spouse’s complaints.

Listening to complaints about ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. Many times our spouse’s criticisms touch on habits and behaviors we are well aware of and bring up feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To protect our ego from this pain, we practice avoidance, defensiveness and anger.

Many of your marriage problems may have come from avoiding confronting complaints. Well, no more! Make a list of each specific complaint that your spouse has, each reason that he or she has for divorce. Remember, “information is power,” Dr. Heitler writes, “even information you don’t like.”

Step #3: Clean up your act.

Neither of you bear the full blame for the collapse of your relationship; each of you contribute your own part. Your job is not to change your partner–you can only change yourself. Now that you have an honest list of areas to work on, it’s time to do just that! Make a game plan of clear, doable steps towards how you can address and solve your problem areas.

For example, Peter had once cheated during a business trip. To make sure this would never happen again, he made certain rules: he would never hang out after work with co-ed coworkers; he would go back to his hotel room by 10pm, call home and watch a movie; he wouldn’t drink.

Peter also knew that his dislike of his job had caused him to fall into a self-obsessed depression. This had lead to further distancing from his wife, increased his loneliness, and partly contributed to his infidelity. He promised himself to attend regular therapy, avoid thought patterns of “victimizing” himself, and immediately started looking for a new job.

Step #4: Agree to divorce the old marriage.

An essential part of how to get your ex back is acknowledging that your old marriage is done for, finished, kaput. And that’s a good thing! It was toxic. Let your spouse know that you agree with him/her: you want a divorce from your old marriage. You want a new marriage but still with the same person. This is possible! Our thoughts, behaviors and habits are actually quite maleable. At the same time, they require practice and discipline to change. Learning the skills for a great marriage will take time and dedication, and is achievable for practically every couple.

Step #5: Reconnect from a position of strength.

Now that you are stable, healthy, and have a clear plan for how to do your part to build a new marriage, it’s time to meet with your ex. Get together in a neutral space that doesn’t provoke emotion or appears too intimate, such as a cafe or park. Again, how to get your ex back does not mean changing or controlling him or her in any way. All you can do is show your commitment and capacity to change by the steps that you have already taken. Avoid reacting to his or her comments with emotion, accusations, or criticism. Be prepared to take things slow. Know that you have the strength and love for yourself to weather this.


These five steps for how to get your ex back are no guarantee that your marriage will be saved. That depends on your level of commitment, your spouse, and the unique circumstances of your relationship. You will, however, find that these steps will help you find strength, clarity, and calm in a very emotional and painful time. Whatever the ultimate outcome, Dr. Heitler writes, “the panic of a devastating waterfall ahead [will be] replaced by anticipation of a safe and sunny future.”

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