Before word even got out that Selena Gomez and The Weeknd had broken up, she was already spending time with her ex, Justin Bieber. The Weeknd has also been spotted hanging out with his ex, supermodel Bella Hadid. Despite the photographic evidence and anonymous “insider” quotes, we’re not going to pretend like we know for sure about their relationship statuses. What we do know is that even spending a night with an ex goes against what we’ve always been cautioned by friends, parents, therapist and whoever else we’ve turned to for advice.
Now the latest celebrity gossip is making us wonder if “don’t go there” is the final word? Laurel House, a dating and relationship coach, and the author of several relationship books including Screwing the Rules: The No-Games Guide to Love says no. “Getting back with an ex is not a thoughtless decision. It’s something you have to be clear about and strategic about,” House tells Playboy.
House has worked with celebrities on their romantic problems for the E! show Famously Single, and chances are, she’d give Bella, Selena, Justin and Abel the same advice she gives the rest of us: You can’t just pick up where you left off. If you only broke up for a short time, it might seem like it’s not a big deal to reconnect, but House also advises, “The problem with breaking up and immediately getting back together is that you haven’t healed yet, and you haven’t done the work to rebuild the foundation. It is obviously very common when you break up and then you have what feels like a hole in your heart, in your head, and in your life, when you’re in that place, people go into various different modes of desperation, and they attempt to fill that void.”
The fact is, unless the breakup was a made on a whim, you did indeed split up for a reason, whether it was a good reason or not. House says, “If you’re getting back together, it can’t just be ‘because I’m lonely.’” And no, referring to the situation as “friends with benefits” and hoping it turns back into a relationship isn’t the solution either. “Your heart isn’t going to slowly and eventually lose interest in that person if you guys continue to sleep together. You have to make a very active decision to either end it, and end it hard, or get back together and do it strategically,” explains House.
How exactly does one reconnect “strategically”? Basically, you’ve got to be clear with yourself and your partner about what went wrong, and how you are willing to change. House believes breakups are often driven by a lack of communication. “They don’t talk about what’s bothering them. They don’t talk about the little issues that they have.” If a couple is trying to avoid fights and drama, House says the little issues may come to light for the first time during the break up. She adds, “Once that break happens, it’s like cracking an egg, as the truth and the reality of what has been happening in their relationship comes out. Once it’s out, then it can finally be addressed. And if it’s addressed, it can be fixed. And your relationship can, for the first time, be truly healthy and honest.”
Even getting back with an ex who cheated on you isn’t hopeless, according to House. Though, it’s going to take a lot of work: “I have seen couples who have been able to have an even better relationship, because what the cheating did was illuminate the areas in their relationship that were weaknesses.” She puts cheating in three categories, “An emotional affair, a physical affair that is thoughtless, and a physical affair that is planned,” and says, “If there’s cheating, no matter what it is—even if it were the shallow cheat—the person who you cheated on is still going to feel very hurt and you’re going to have to make up for that, and you’re going to have to rebuild that foundation.” She cautions that a thoughtless physical affair can also signal a lack of self-control, and that your partner may not value the relationship. When cheating has happened, House says that even though what the cheater did was not okay, the person who was cheated on should ask themselves “What was my contribution to this break? What compelled you to want to cheat on me?”
If you and your ex haven’t spent much time apart, and haven’t had any serious conversations about the future, it might just be a rebound. Maybe you’re in a better place now mentally (and/or geographically) for a relationship with this person, but it also depends on whether your partner has achieved the same clarity. House says, “Signs that she might be rebounding are that she’s immediately going back to her old ways. She’s immediately using your old fights against you, talking about the old things that happened, and when you’re together, she doesn’t want to address the actual problems. It’s either ‘let’s harp on the past’ or let’s just move forward.’”
House’s advice on breakups boils down to this: “Getting back with an ex is hard. It takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot of difficult conversations.” Romantic comedies make it look like getting back together involves a sudden realization followed by instant happiness, but if you’re reuniting with an ex and you want it to be the real deal, expect to work at it. When people say, “It didn’t work out last time, and it won’t this time,” just ignore them. The relationship’s success isn’t about what your family or friends think. If you’re a celebrity, it’s not about what gossip sites or your Instagram commenters think. It’s about the two of you, and what you both want. If you can figure that out, you’re already on the right track.