Earlier this summer, Australian couple Rocco and Estelle Dilizio, both in their 70s, made headlines when they announced they planned to tie the knot again more than 38 years after their divorce. But while their story of enduring love captured hearts around the world, this happily-ever-after fairytale struck a special chord with 42-year-old Samantha Downes from London. You see, Samantha knows a thing or two about almost losing the love of your life.
Fifteen years after they first met, she finally married her ex boyfriend Andrew, 42, last year, after spending almost a decade apart. “I first met Andrew on a night out at an 80s-themed disco in 1997,” she says. “I knew he was The One almost immediately. I was in my early 20s, shy and desperately insecure. I was dancing with him for about half an hour, but was too embarrassed to even look him in the eye. When another guy tried to muscle in and dance with me, Andrew put his arm around me and gently turned me round to face him. It wasn’t aggressive, just very protective and sweet. It felt like I was meant to be in his arms. I can still remember that feeling even now.”
The couple dated for two years before Andrew’s reluctance to settle down drove them apart. “Eventually, I called his bluff. I broke up with him because I wanted to see how committed he was,” says Samantha.
It wasn’t until Andrew got back in touch seven years later in 2006, that Samantha agreed to give things another try. Nina Atwood, relationship expert and author of Temptations of the Single Girl (singlescoach.com) says reuniting with an ex can work when, like in Samantha’s case, both people are willing to work on the issues that drove them apart. “The ability to talk, listen, and negotiate your needs is vital to the health of a relationship. Anyone can pick up the phone, or send a text, and ignite a reunion – that takes no real effort. But mature people recognise that they have to figure out how to avoid future break-ups and that is a function of healthy communication.”
For Samantha, it took recognising her own part of the blame in the breakdown of her relationship the first time, as well as Andrew owning up to his own faults. Though she now edits a successful online parenting and lifestyle blog, Ellamag.com, back when they first got together, Samantha was starting out in her journalistic career, and was looking to Andrew for the security she couldn’t find in other areas of her life. “When we first went out I was needy,” says Samantha. “ I was in the early stages of my career and having wobbles about being promoted, and I needed validation from my relationship,” she explains.
For Andrew, it was a change of heart over a major sticking point between the couple: starting a family. “The first time round, he wanted to party and I wanted to learn yoga and have babies. I was all about clean living and dinner parties, where as he wanted go out all the time,” says Samantha. When he got back in touch, party-loving Andrew assured Samantha he’d changed, and immediately started talking about starting a family. “He’d decided he wanted to have children, and said he wanted to get in touch to see if I’d married and had kids,” says Samantha.
Life coach Jayne Morris (www.jaynemorris.com) explains, “Sometimes you meet the right man at the wrong time. Getting back with an ex when certain external circumstances that previously strained your relationship have changed can make all the difference and lead to lasting love.” However, second chance love also involves getting over past hurt. “You need to forgive your ex of past mistakes and decide to love them unconditionally, otherwise you will always be replaying the same cycles of disappointment, pain and frustration.”
For Samantha, this meant forgiving Andrew for the hurt she suffered in the years they were apart. After their initial split, a heartbroken Samantha waited a year for the call from Andrew begging her to reconsider and offering the commitment she craved. But when the call never came, Samantha forced Andrew out of her mind and threw herself into her career. “I didn’t really forget him,” she says. “I thought about him a lot over the years we were apart. I dated other guys but I never had another serious relationship.”
It was another seven years before Samantha heard from Andrew again, when he called her out of the blue in 2006, and she was naturally wary. “He told me he missed me,” says Samantha. “His grandmother had died and he remembered how I used to insist on bringing her chocolates every time we visited her.”
Unsure, Samantha made Andrew wait six months before she agreed to start seeing him again – even though all her family and friends advised against it. According to Nina, this was a savvy move. “The best step you can make to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes is to put off the romantic reunion for a few weeks. During that time, discuss what went wrong and what you can do about it. If you prolong the communication process instead of jumping back into a relationship, you have a good shot at re-setting your relationship on a more positive path. The goal: full understanding of the issues, negotiating your needs, and a mutual declaration of commitment moving forward.”
It’s a strategy that worked for Samantha who says: “The relationship felt different immediately. We were far more equal. We agreed from the outset that if we got back together this was it and we would have children – and Andrew assured me that starting a family was a given,” says Samantha. Three years later, Samantha gave birth to her first daughter, and her second daughter was born in May this year.
Unfortunately, rebound love doesn’t always work out – especially when there is significant hurt involved. Carly Stanes*, 34, a Dubai-based recruitment consultant agreed to give her relationship with her ex Matt* another go, but they split soon after their reconciliation. “I thought I was over the hurt, but I discovered that I just couldn’t trust him anymore. Every time he went out with the boys or was working late, my mind was frantically questioning who he was with or what he was up to until I’d convinced myself he was cheating again. He wasn’t but he couldn’t live with my jealous outbursts. After a year of constant fights and lots of tears, we broke up for good.”
Dr Annie Crookes, head of psychology at Heriot Watt University Dubai Campus says getting back together with someone who has cheated is particularly tricky.
“You need to be realistic and ask yourself if you are ready not only to forgive but to trust him again,” says Dr Crookes. “Getting back together after a break up is not simply erasing the bad stuff and starting over. The relationship has suffered huge damage and there will be a difference the second time around. Just like recovery from physical trauma, mental scars need work, time and commitment to get back normal functioning.”
Looking back, Carly admits that part of the reason she gave it another go with Matt was because the thought of trying to find someone new was too scary. “Getting back with an ex can seem like the easy option,” says Dr Crookes. “Here is someone you already know, so there won’t be the same risk of surprises.”