By Chris Seiter

Published on July 18th, 2022

Today we’re going to talk about why exes always seem to come back into the picture right when you’ve moved on from them and are actually happy.

I’m of the belief that most exes fall victim to the phantom ex concept. So, given enough time where you aren’t threatening their independence they begin to paint you as this great lost love which in turn makes them want to re-explore things with you.

Now, there’s a lot to dive into here so I want to be economical with our time together. Here’s a list of things that this article is going to cover.

  • The Avoidant Nostalgia Loop
  • The Phantom Ex Syndrome
  • The Narcissist Debate

Let’s get down to business.

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The Avoidant Nostalgia Loop

For anyone who knows me you would know that any time I write an article about a topic I like to base it on some form of psychological research or study.

That’s where our recent research on avoidants come into play.

According to a poll in our private facebook group over 70% of our clients say that they believe their exes are avoidants.

Now, where this becomes an interesting phenomenon really revolves around our history of noticing that avoidant exes have a tendency to come back later.

In fact, one of our coaches even mentioned that it’s within an avoidants make up to “come back later.”

You see, according to this article avoidants will go through five distinct stages after a breakup.

  1. Avoiding All Things About The Other Person
  2. Feelings Beginning To Surface
  3. The Pendulum Swing
  4. The Attempt To Move On
  5. Nostalgia Loop

It’s that nostalgia loop that’s of particular interest to our discussion here. I’ve noticed this nostalgia phenomenon as far back as one of our very first podcast episodes in which a listener called in asking why it is that their ex always seemed to come back into the picture when they were happy.

Well, assuming your ex is avoidant they can fall victim to what’s known as a nostalgia loop.

A bit of background on this.

Generally speaking we’ve found that after a breakup someone with an avoidant attachment style won’t begin missing you until a combination of three things happen.

  1. You’ve moved on from a breakup
  2. They’ve moved on from a breakup
  3. A lot of time has passed

It all harkens back to a contradiction that all avoidants seem to be fighting.

They want to fall in love but they refuse to let anyone close enough for that to happen.

In other words, their ideal partner is one that they can fantasize about without the threat of an actual commitment taking place.

And that’s where the foundation of the phantom ex comes from.

The Phantom Ex Syndrome

I’ve talked a lot about the phantom ex syndrome on this site.

In my opinion it’s probably the single best explanation for why an ex will come back when you are happy.

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Quoting from Free To Attach (one of the best websites revolving around avoidants),

An avoidant person often has a story of a perfect ex in a relationship that wasn’t fully realised, the ‘one that got away’ to whom no one else can measure up. In reality the idealised relationship was often lacklustre or insecure and unlikely to be highly functional

So, we have two avoidant makeups combining here.

The nostalgia loop and the phantom ex syndrome. Here’s what I’ve noticed occurs.

  • Time goes by
  • You put forth signals you are moving on from a breakup
  • You find some happiness in the post breakup period
  • Avoidant ex begins to fall victim to nostalgia because it’s safe for them to miss you
  • They cast you in the phantom ex role
  • They reach out to you to try to rekindle things

One of the things you’ll learn about avoidants in general is they are often trapped in a prison of their own making when it comes to relationships.

This is by design. They are natural lone wolves and so they actually prefer to self sabotage their relationships.

Yet, the trickiest part about this is that most of them aren’t aware they are doing this. They just do it.

It actually has a lot in common with the pattern we’ve noticed narcissistic individuals fall in to.

The Avoidant Vs. Narcissist Debate

When researching for what I wanted to talk about with this article I kept coming across individuals stating that exes who came back when you were happy tended to be narcissists.

I want to make one thing very clear.

Narcissists and avoidants are two entirely different things but there is some interesting overlap.

Take a look at this graphic by Sur Thrive Tribe,

This eerily has a lot in common with our avoidant relationship death wheel that I’m so fond of posting all over the place.

If you aren’t familiar with this wheel it basically breaks down the entire life cycle of a relationship from an avoidants perspective.

I thought it would actually be fun to color code the narcissistic chart above into this wheel just to show you how much they overlap.

Almost an identical fit, right?

  1. With stages one and two the avoidant falls victim to the Idealize stage
  2. Stages three and four is the devalue stage
  3. Stages five and six is the discard stage
  4. Stages seven and eight the hoover stage

Now, does that mean all avoidant exes are narcissists?

No, but I think greater consideration needs to be employed when studying them in tandem with narcissists.

It surely seems to me that a lot of avoidants are falling into narcissistic behaviors. I of course, am just hypothesizing out loud and have no proof to back this but other than the aforementioned chart.

What Are Your Chances of Getting Your Ex Boyfriend Back?

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If you want my take on the question right now I think it really revolves around what type of avoidant you are dealing with.

If you aren’t familiar there are two types of avoidants.

  1. The dismissive avoidant
  2. The fearful avoidant

Last week I created this graphic to help explain the major differences between the two in a visual medium.

But I actually think it was one of our previous coaches that put it best,

I think the biggest difference between a dismissive and a fearful is the fact that one has a high self esteem and one doesn’t. It’s the fearful avoidant that has the low self esteem.

So, a dismissive avoidant things so highly of themselves that they convince themselves that they don’t need to get close to anyone.

A fearful avoidant on the other hand will have these bouts of fear and anxiety which causes their self esteem to lower.

We know that narcissists in general view themselves as this image of a grandiose person believing that he or she can do no wrong.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the reason “avoidants” and “narcissists” often get paired together is that dismissive avoidants are the individuals who are most likely to exhibit narcissistic traits because they need to have this insane image of themselves to have the confidence to “be alone.”

The Through Line

So, I guess my main point with having this discussion is to say that when you are trying to understand why exes come back when you’re happy I think it has more to do with their own self image than you.

Notice the common threads with everything we’ve talked about.

  • Avoidant nostalgia (this is a very personal feeling an avoidant holds deep inside.)
  • Phantom Ex (They paint you as this phantom ex)
  • Narcissistic Behavior (Grandiose self image)

The through line is simple. It all has to do with your exes fragile ego. Them potentially not being able to bear you being happy without them.

It’s about them, not you.

Which makes sense because we know in the grand scheme of things human beings are very self interested.

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1 thought on “Why Do Exes Come Back When You’re Happy?”

  1. Noemi

    July 18, 2022 at 9:24 pm

    Hello, I have been on and off with my ex bf. We had a baby together about a year ago and broke up when she was 6 months because we were fighting a lot. We had an ugly breakup for 6 months. Recently I threw my daughter her 1yr birthday party and invited him. He showed and we ended up having sex and he begged for his family back. We tried it for a week and he began acting distant saying he wasn’t sure it was what he wanted. I got angry and told him I was going on a date one day he canceled on me. He got angry as well and said he never wanted to be back with me. The next day I sent him an apology and agreed it was best we forget everything and move on as coparent s. He said he loved me but he wasn’t the right person for me and agreed. I don’t know what to do from now. I have implemented no contact so many times. I don’t think it will work this time. I lost all hope.