How to Keep Yourself from Going Back to an Old Relationship When You’re Home for Break

New Girl called it the “backslide” when Jess and Nick went back to their exes. “How I Met Your Mother” coined the phrase “revertigo.” Gossip Girl just blamed fate and hormones for the on and off again Chuck and Blair relationship rollercoaster.

Whatever term or excuse you prefer, there is undoubtedly some sort of phenomena that makes us return to old relationships and habits when we really should just move on. And this tendency to revert back to old ways seems maximized when we go home for the holidays. Maybe that means getting drunk with high school friends and reminiscing on the past, or maybe it means something more damaging, like returning to an old relationship that has been played out time and time again.

For some, there’s always that one person we keep returning to when we’re back to our old home address, whether it’s for the summer, Thanksgiving, or winter break. And no matter how many months you’ve been away at college, even if you haven’t thought about them all semester, once you’re back in the old zip code you’re just the same high schooler hung up on a guy. So how do you avoid this back-home backslide? How do you honor the months of progress you have made while away? And why are you tempted to backslide in the first place?

Why do we backslide in the first place? 

Let’s get to the root of the problem. Why do we backslide in the first place? According to professional matchmaker Marla Martenson, there are two major factors at play that make us return to old relationships. First is a self-esteem issue. We all want to be wanted, and past relationships remind us of what that was like. Second is humans do not particularly like change.

Related: 9 Times When Being Single is the Best

“We get used to someone, as well as attached, and it is challenging to let go, even when the situation is not ideal,” explains Martenson.

Author and blogger Stephanie May Wilson agrees that fear of the unknown can influence our decision to backslide into a past relationship because it seems like a comfortable, familiar, and fast way to stop being alone.

“I think we all share two really common fears as humans,” explains Wilson. “We fear being alone and we fear the unknown. Old relationships, even if they were hard, painful, or even destructive ones, feel like a way around both of these fears.”

Old relationships can become like security blankets. They feel safe and comfortable, sure, but they also can prevent growth. We talk and reason ourselves back into these relationships even when we know they are not right for us because we are afraid of change, we are afraid of the unknown, and we think that maybe this time, things will be different.

“We reason that even if the relationship wasn’t perfect, at least we know what to expect, at least we have a relationship,” says Wilson. “But of course, this is a destructive pattern that can keep us trapped in bad relationships for years.”

That might explain why we keep going back to that freshman year hook up when we’re bored or why our best friend is back “on again” with her on-again-off-again boyfriend, but what about being home for the holidays? Why is backsliding so much more tempting when we’re away from school and back in our hometowns?

Blame it on the nostalgia

It does not help that we are surrounded by places and people that remind us of who we used to be, and by extension, who we used to be with. Sometimes nostalgia takes over and makes us think things were really better than they were. Constant reminders and nostalgia make for a killer reminiscing combination.

“Going back home, to the place where your whole relationship existed, is like visiting a museum of your relationship,” says Wilson. “It brings back all of your old memories, and usually only the good ones, which of course sparks that thought, ‘Maybe I should call him. Maybe there’s still something there.’”

Not to mention, if you and your ex went to different colleges, just being back in close proximity location wise means higher probability of running into them at the grocery store, while Christmas shopping, or at a bar with your friends. The “out of sight out of mind” philosophy suddenly doesn’t work as well.

Is backsliding really that bad? 

So why is backsliding a bad thing? If it’s just a short-term hookup while you’re home, is it really that big of a deal?

The first thing to keep in mind is that when relationships end, it is for a reason. Maybe those reasons have changed or gone away in the time that has past, but before you think of texting him to meet up, remind yourself why you broke up in the first place.

“Your relationship ended because one of you, and probably both of you, weren’t getting what you needed out of the relationship. Or maybe it was timing, or circumstances, or your season of life, or fundamental incompatibility,” says Wilson. “Whatever the reason, your relationship ended because it wasn’t working.”

At this point, you might try to justify it to yourself by saying you have changed, or they have changed, or the circumstances are different now. Maybe your ex is even telling you himself that he has changed or will change. But in many cases, “change” is easier said than done.

“People are totally capable of changing, and maybe there will be a day when both of you will have changed into the kind of people who are just perfect for each other, but that kind of change takes a long time,” explains Wilson. “If someone tells you, ‘I’ve changed,’ or ‘I will change’ or if you’re thinking they might have changed, it’s best to really give it some time and space until you’re sure… When a relationship fails, we need to wait until we see real, consistent evidence of change before we think about diving back in.”

Remember why things ended in the first place

Your relationship ended for a reason, and more than likely that reason did not just disappear in a matter of months.  Not only is returning to old relationships potentially harmful emotionally and mentally, but it can also prevent you from moving on and finding a relationship that is genuinely good. You deserve a relationship that makes your life better and happier, not more dramatic. There comes a point when an old relationship is too worn out or broken to keep trying, but if we keep going back to a broken relationship, we won’t be able to build new ones.

“There have been years of my life when I’ve been holding out hope for someone, going back again and again because it’s comfortable or because I’m hoping something has changed,” says Wilson. “But those relationships never ever panned out, things never did change. And because I was so consumed with the past, my heart was totally unavailable for my present or my future.”

Focusing too much on the past detracts from your potential happiness in the future and just causes emotional distress in the present. Additionally, revisiting an old, comfortable relationship can make going back to school even more difficult, especially if you have been struggling with homesickness already. You won’t be able to feel at home at college if there are mixed emotions and uncertain relationships keeping you tangled up back in your hometown.

Honor the progress you've made

Meg, a sophomore at the University of Kansas, emphasizes the growth you experience during college. Reverting back to an old relationship can ruin a lot of that personal progress.

“College brings a lot of growth and change to your life,” Meg says. “If you’ve grown out of a relationship, you won’t be happy trying to mold back into the person you were when you left by getting back into a past relationship.”

But even if you know you need to move on and you have no intention of backsliding, how can you prevent a slip-up?

Prevent the backslide with reality checks and barriers

Martenson recommends putting your thoughts to paper and journaling about your feelings about the person and relationship. Include the highs, the lows, what made it great, what made it unbearable, and the mediocre in-between. Making a list about why the relationship was not right and how it made you feel will give you a more unbiased perspective on the situation. You can really think and process through the reasons it ended.

“Seeing it in black and white really helps seal it into your brain and keeps it at the forefront,” explains Martenson. “Write down what kind of relationship you would like to be in and why. Does this person fit that description? Remember, you broke up for a reason, trust your gut and intuition.”

Related: 4 Ways to Handle an Unexpected Text from an Ex

In addition, you can set up precautionary boundaries, because even if you think a backslide is unlikely now, you might think differently after a few days bored at home, or after a drink or two.

“Loneliness and a desire for comfort will cause us to do all kinds of things,” says Wilson. “Either way, thinking through it in advance keeps us from making poor decisions when the moment presents itself.”

Take measures to avoid it now, and maybe even enlist some help. Deleting their number might seem extreme, but it will definitely prevent you from texting them. It might also be helpful to go on a social media cleanse and take a break from Snapchat or Instagram for a few days. Not only will this keep you from internet stalking your ex, but it will also help you live in the moment during the holiday season with your friends and family. You can also ask your back home besties, your sister, or even your mom to hold you accountable.

Moving on, moving forward

As tempting as reverting back to an old relationship can be, especially when you’re home for the holidays, it’s important to keep things in perspective. This might include some reflection on your part if you really want to avoid your ex – remember the relationship for what it was, not what you miss right now. Think about how much you have grown and changed as a person in the months or years since the relationship has ended, and honor that progress.

“Remember the growth and change you’ve experienced,” says Meg. “Do what your future self would thank you for doing.”

The sooner you commit to moving on, the sooner you can focus on all the other great aspects of being home for the holidays. Shopping with your friends, watching movies with your siblings, and celebrating holiday traditions with your family are a far better use of your time and energy than thinking about your ex and the drama that inevitably follows a backslide.

“If you ever want to be in a relationship that’s better than this one, if you ever want to find the person who is right for you, you have to start letting go of the person who wasn’t,” advises Wilson. “And that starts by saying, “No, thanks!” when they invite you for drinks over Christmas break.”

Kansas City native with a love for reading, writing, Julie Andrews, and tea.

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