Breaking up sucks. Maybe you missed the warning signs of a toxic relationship and things didn’t work out, or you just realized you and bae weren’t compatible after all. Regardless, breakups pretty much always hurt, even if you get a Taylor-Swift-level creativity boost from the drama of it all.

Getting back together, on the other hand, can be really amazing. But how can you know if it’s a good idea or not? “Backsliding” is crazy common among newly broken up couples, and sometimes it’s not such a bad thing — it could even lead to a better relationship this time around. Other times, it has the potential to be emotionally exhausting and damaging. Just when you’re starting to love yourself again, your ex comes knocking on your door. We chatted with Samantha Burns, relationship counselor and dating consultant, to find out how to know when it’s the real deal and when it’s better to just stay exes.

Relationship difficulties

1. Think about why you broke up. When your ex-boo approaches you to talk about getting back together or vice versa, you’ve got to think long and hard about why exactly things ended in the first place. Is it something that can change? Samantha notes that “in many cases, the thing that broke you up is likely still going to be a problem — misaligned core values, poor communication skills, mental health issues, a lack of attraction or sexual incompatibility.” The most successful reconciliations happen when the initial breakup was due to timing or long distance. “Sometimes you need to step away and get your life in order to get to a place where you can treat someone the way they deserve to be treated,” she says. Once you’re back in a better place to focus on the relationship and give your S.O. the attention they deserve, the discussion of getting back together can begin.

2. Make sure you’ve taken time apart. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason you need to take time away from bae before you can even consider reconciling. “A breakup impacts us on a neuropsychological level similar to drug withdrawal. Researchers have actually found through brain scan studies that people who report being deeply in love have the same brain regions activated that are linked with addiction,” Samantha explains. “Basically, we are addicted to our partner.” In order to make a clear-headed decision about your ex-boo, you need to wait for that withdrawal period to end. This varies from one person to the next, but a good guideline time frame is two to three months.

Comfy with some coffee3. Examine your reasoning. It’s crucial to really determine exactly why you want to get back together. It’s one thing if you just really love and miss your old partner, but it’s completely another if your actions are coming from a more negative place. According to Samantha, one major reason you shouldn’t get back together is jealousy. “After a breakup, the natural process is to begin dating again and this can be a challenging experience, especially if your ex hits the dating scene before you’re ready.” How can you keep the green-eyed monster at bay? “Remind yourself it’s normal to be interested again when another person finds your ex attractive — that’s human nature. However, do not misinterpret this pang of jealousy as a sign that you made a mistake.”

4. Discuss what you’ve learned since the breakup. Communication is so key in every relationship, romantic or otherwise. The first step you can take together toward reconciling is to talk about what you’ve learned in your time apart. “Some questions to consider are: What did each of you learn about yourselves both as individuals and as partners the first time around? What has changed since your breakup that leads you to believe it will be different the second time around? What are you willing to compromise on this time, and what are your firm deal-breakers? How do each of you envision your future together? Why are you stronger together as a team? Don’t shy away from these difficult conversations, and don’t put pressure on yourself to make an immediate decision.”

5. Ask yourself if you can feel secure again. Most importantly, you need to feel safe and secure in your relationship before it can move forward. “After listening to what your potential partner has to say, ask yourself if you can forgive, trust and move forward. Happy couples have a sense of safety and security in their relationship.” While infidelity is a super tough thing to cope with, it doesn’t always mean there’s no hope of making things work in the future. “Though this may be a common reason for a breakup, in my counseling practice I help couples on a weekly basis repair their relationship after an affair,” says Samantha. “In fact, many couples come out stronger. People’s capacity for forgiveness varies wildly, so it’s all about what you define as a relationship deal-breaker.”

Overall, your ex S.O. should be prepared to be your true partner, and you should feel ready and excited to reciprocate. If you aren’t both there yet, it might be better to hold off or cut ties altogether. “Partners need to know that they can rely on each other for support, protection and a sense of belonging, that they will come first before others and that their needs will be met,” says Samantha. “In thinking about this, ask yourself: Do you honestly believe that your ex will be able to provide these foundational relational requirements? In the right relationship, your heart and head will align.”

Have you ever gotten back together with an ex? How did you make the big decision? Tell us about it @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)