Reunited, and it feels so terrible

Young woman sitting on sofa, looking at distressed man at table couple fight argue disagreement depressed depression marriage divorce anxiety msnbc stock photo photography
Young woman sitting on sofa, looking at distressed man at table couple fight argue disagreement depressed depression marriage divorce anxiety msnbc stock photo photographyNoel Hendrickson / Today

A couple of years ago, Melissa Braverman broke up with the guy she'd been dating for six months, then had second thoughts and begged him to take her back. He did -- which is when the trouble really started.

"It ended up being a disaster," says the 38-year-old from Manhattan. "He never forgave me for hurting him and was repeatedly cold and distant. He didn't trust me the same way and I felt guarded because I could tell he was retreating. It was unpleasant and emotionally exhausting."

While painful, their rocky reunion was spot on with regard to the predicted outcome for recycled romances, a new study out of Kansas State University has found.

"Most people have been dumped and can relate to that longing for an ex and the dream of a second chance," says Amber Vennum, assistant professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, and author of the study. "But in real life, as much as it hurts, maybe there are relationships that are better off left as memories."

For the study, Vennum analyzed data from a score of old and young "cyclical couples" (couples who break up, then make up) as well as noncyclical couples (those who stick together through thick and thin) and found that cyclical couples tend to have a much tougher time after reuniting.

Among their problems, these couples reported less communication, greater disillusionment and lower satisfaction and commitment.

They also tended to "slide" more.

"Cyclical partners tend to report less conscious decision-making in their relationships; there's more 'sliding,' the term we use for moving through relationship transitions without fully considering the implications," says Vennum. "They are more uncertain about the status of the relationship."

In addition, couples who break up and then make up are more likely to do the same thing while living together, and to experience a trial separation during marriage.

"On average, partners who were cyclical while dating enter marriage in a slightly more challenging spot than their non-cyclical partners," says Vennum. "[They] report more uncertainty about whether getting married is the best decision and begin the marriage with more destructive conflict, less feelings of closeness to their partner and lower satisfaction."

Vennum says in the world of romance research, there are plenty of theories as to why we continually try to rekindle old flames, even though we may know better.

"Some people miss their partner or are uncertain why they broke up or they feel the relationship has improved," she says. "It may be a combination of factors such as continued attachment to the previous partner, less closure if the reason for the breakup was not very clear, or constraints, such as having a child together or living together."

As for the "let's be friends" approach, Vennum says there needs to be more research done to see whether friendship with an ex is a feasible alternative.

"From what we know ... it would probably be less risky if the break-up is mutual and there is clarity on the status of the relationship post-breakup," she says. "[But] it may be risky if there is continued attachment. Researchers have found that on days when we see our exes, we feel more feelings of love towards them than on days we don't."

What's her advice for couples going through a breakup?

"Be clear about the ending of the relationship and why it is ending -- in a kind but firm way," she says, adding that time apart from each other is also key.

Vennum doesn't dismiss the idea of a recycled romance altogether, though, which is good news for those of us still pining for an ex. Or, for those of us who simply love to see our favorite celebrities and soap opera characters play round after round of relationship ping pong.

"If the reasons that have previously kept you apart become resolved, be very clear with yourself and with each other what your commitment levels are to the relationship and go slow," she says.

As for Braverman, who blogs about dating at SingleGalNYC, she says she's sworn off recycled love affairs for now.

"You can revisit but it doesn't mean the outcome is going to be any different," she says. "It never is. Just have faith in yourself and your judgment. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache."

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