When you and your partner decide to start over in your relationship you must first attempt to identify what it means to start over from each partner’s perspective.
For some couples, this will mean finding forgiveness and discovering a way to close the door on a painful history before creating a new life together. Other couples may find that starting over means getting to know each other for who they are today. Life stress, the demands of family and children, or focusing on busy careers can cause an emotional disconnect between partners, resulting in feeling as if you are living with a roommate or even a stranger.
The good news is that starting over can happen if both people are on the same page and believe the relationship is worth fighting for. Whether you choose to engage in therapy, work with a relationship expert or dating coach, or attend a weekend retreat or workshop, you will need to commit to being open to the possibility of change. This requires vulnerability and an open heart, which can feel scary if you have been hurt in the past or experienced a loss of trust.
A mistake many couples make when they are attempting to start over is they keep one another stuck in the former relationship dynamics by expecting or fearing previous behaviors and dynamics to reemerge. The first step to starting over with a clean slate is letting go of the old relationship that wasn’t working. Commit to meeting one another as who you are today.
What does it mean to start over in a relationship?
When someone is willing to start over, they realize that it’s not about blame or pointing out past mistakes. It is a willingness to find a middle ground and approach an already established relationship in a beginner’s state of mind.
When we are nurturing a new relationship we are present and engaged and we spend quality time together. We are curious about our partner and have a strong desire to learn about one another’s experiences and perspectives. We also naturally focus on positives and allow the relationship that we are creating to unfold without projecting. It can be a time when we find joy in our commonalities, as well as our differences.
It is not always easy to bring this mindset to a relationship with someone with whom we have a long history involving negative or hurtful experiences. Starting over in a relationship can be a difficult concept to embrace when we’re grappling with negative emotions from the past. The key is identifying the fears and negative narratives getting in the way and keeping you from cultivating the curiosity and joy that caused you to bond in the first place.
It is not required to agree with one another’s perspective to move forward but it is required that you respect and accept the validity of each other’s experiences. It is impossible to authentically move forward with someone who has hurt or betrayed us if we don’t feel they can grasp the gravity of our grief or pain.
Scenarios when a fresh start might make sense
A fresh start can make sense when both parties wish to forgive and move forward. They both have determined there is enough about the relationship that they value to give it another shot and are committed to putting in the effort required to truly heal.
This will not be true for all couples. There are some betrayals or crossing of boundaries that people can not or do not want to work through, and instead prefer to move on. However, if you both want a new beginning and have determined that healing the relationship is in your best interest, couples therapy may help you start to heal your relationship and start anew.
Here are seven scenarios that may lead to the desire to start over in your relationship:
- When infidelity or an affair has occurred.
- When one, or both, parties have gone through addiction and are now in recovery.
- When experiencing struggles with infertility.
- When the spark or emotional connection with one another has been lost due to outside circumstances (kids, family, career, financial issues, traumatic events, grief, loss, etc.)
- When initial hopes for the relationship are beginning to seem out of reach.
- When partners do not know how to support one another in their individual or shared challenges and aspirations.
- When trauma from childhood or other relationships is surfacing and is having a detrimental impact on the current relationship.
How to start over in a relationship and make it work
When a couple decides to restart their relationship, some helpful practices can be implemented to forge a stronger connection this time around. Applying these practices could be the difference between making the relationship work and repeating harmful patterns that led to the breakdown in the first place. Here are some helpful tips for restarting a relationship and making it work:
1) Process negative feelings
Couples struggle with how to start over when they are experiencing unresolved emotional pain. We must accept and understand our history before we can move beyond it. In order to forgive we must first feel heard. We can not ask our partner to let go of what caused them pain if we don’t recognize the pain it caused and the reasons why it occurred.
This is not an easy process and couples often hope they can bypass this part of healing and just agree to a fresh start. Unfortunately, this does not work. You must first acknowledge and understand what has happened before you can let go of the past and believe change is possible. Ask yourselves the following:
- What do I need to recognize, understand, and forgive in order to move forward?
- Can I empathize with my partner’s experience, validate their feelings, and take responsibility for previous actions that may have caused harm to the relationship?
- Do I have a positive vision for our lives together and what might be possible if we start over?
2) Create shared goals
One of the main reasons couples decide to start over is the belief that life is more valuable together than apart. Consider the reasons why you and your partner are choosing to start anew. Talking about shared goals and dreams will move you toward creating the positive future you imagine is possible.
Pay attention to your thoughts and your inner narrative. Give your loved one and your relationship the benefit of the doubt. Focus on being friends. Talk about your hopes and dreams for the future. Write a new story by co-creating the partnership you believe is possible instead of staying stuck in your old story.
3) Close the door to unwanted experiences
Once you have done the work to acknowledge and process negative feelings, be intentional about leaving your former dynamic behind. The key to starting over is a willingness and commitment to create a new experience and cultivate a new relationship. Do not let fear or anxiety keep you and your partner stuck in unwanted relationship dynamics.
Talk about the relationship you are creating by focusing on the outcomes you want, instead of the outcomes you fear. When we ruminate on our fears we often manifest them into our reality. Allow a new version to take form and flourish.
4) Engage in your own personal growth work
Often the wounding that we experience in relationships is deeply rooted in our past. It is possible to project trauma from childhood or a previous relationship onto your current relationship without even realizing it.
Doing your own personal development work or therapy can help you work through old baggage that you may be holding onto consciously or unconsciously. Understanding and taking responsibility for unhealthy behavior can help you break free of toxic patterns and bring the best version of you to breathe new life into your relationship.
5) Try couples counseling
Working with a trained professional such as a couples therapist or relationship coach can be an effective way to help couples start over. An expert can teach couples to communicate effectively, process and resolve emotional wounds, improve intimacy, and forge emotional connections.
A therapist or coach can offer an unbiased perspective that can deepen a couple’s insight into their experiences and facilitate a greater understanding of why difficulties occurred so further unwanted mistakes can be avoided.
6) Create rituals of connection
Rituals of connection are the little things you can do every day to feel connected with your partner. This can be as simple as speaking with kindness and affection while having a conversation over a morning cup of coffee, or giving a hug or kiss when leaving for work.
Most couples over time forget to do the things that brought them close in the first place. Doing nice things for your partner, like bringing home a treat from the bakery or buying flowers for no reason, can be opportunities for positive connection.
7) Learn how to have stress-reducing conversations
When considering how to start over in a relationship, positive communication is key. Learn to support your person when you have to discuss bad news. Healthy partnerships are built on trust and communication.
When your partner can bring difficult topics to you and you can listen with empathy without giving unsolicited advice, you create emotional trust and attraction in your relationship. Gottman Method Couples Counseling can teach you and your spouse how to have a stress-reducing conversation with ease.
8) Help your partner co-regulate their emotional state
Co-regulation is the process of entering a calm state with another person so each person can bolster the others’ state. We can co-regulate with our children and friends, but it is especially important with our significant others. We feel safe with people we believe see and understand our emotions.
When we are distressed it can be beneficial for those close to us to help regulate our emotional state by consoling us and remaining calm. However, because our emotions are so intertwined with our significant others, it can be challenging to remain calm when your partner is distressed.
Significant others who hold space for each other’s difficult emotions without taking them personally help support each other’s ability to emotionally regulate while increasing trust and deepening connection. Let one person speak while the other person listens. Seek to understand your partner without rushing to fix or change them. This practice will help you build the trust that is necessary for starting over.
Not every situation deserves a fresh start
It is important to point out that a fresh start is not always possible. Bad things can occur that will make it impossible for two people to repair their relationship. It is not wrong if you determine that it is in your best interest to move on. There are issues that people decide are deal breakers for them and a second chance is just not possible. It might be a bad idea to continue if:
- There have been ongoing affairs
- Mental or emotional abuse
- No matter what you do you feel wrong and unheard by your partner
- You are the victim of domestic violence
These indicators may point to the reality that the relationship is not salvageable. Continual lying is another example where folks may decide that starting over is not the best move. Mutual Respect is essential. As always, it is up to the people involved to decide the best course of action for them.