Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin just got engaged after splitting years ago. Is it ever a good idea to get back with an ex? A relationship expert weighs in.

JENNA BIRCH July 10, 2018
Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth. Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. And now, mostly recently, Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin. What do all these couples have in common? They’re either engaged or married to their ex.

Hmm, you might be wondering. Are these Hollywood miracles, or is it actually possible to marry someone you’ve already split from once before and see it last?

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I always thought that if a relationship was truly right, you’d never need to break up. And if two people love each other enough, they will make it work. However, after writing a book about dating and relationships and exploring how modern-day couples select mates, I found that it was more common than not to feel unsure about whether a partner was The One. Breaking up and getting back together with an ex turned out to be more common than I realized.
The rise of the on-again, off-again relationship
According to couples researcher Rene Dailey, PhD, an associate professor of communication at the University of Texas, Austin, approximately “65% of individuals have experienced an on-off relationship at some point in their dating history, and 30% to 45% of individuals report their current or most recent relationship has had an on-off nature,” she says. One study published in 2013 showed almost half of young people aged 17 to 24 were breaking up and reconciling with exes.

Confusion about how right a partner is seems to be widespread. A 2017 study showed that roughly half of daters feel extremely ambivalent about their breakups, knowing that there were reasons to stay and reasons to leave. As one of my interviewees put it: “I can usually tell if someone’s wrong for me, but I can’t really tell if she’s right.”

It’s hard to know, of course, if a relationship is going to stick. Bieber, for instance, didn’t know Baldwin wasn’t The One when they initially dated in 2016, and identifying that potential is usually the first step toward something real. He mentioned his feelings for her in an interview with GQ in 2016, right after they dated the first time.

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“I know that in the past I’ve hurt people and said things that I didn’t mean to make them happy in the moment,” he said. “So now I’m just more so looking at the future, making sure I’m not damaging them. What if Hailey ends up being the girl I’m gonna marry, right? If I rush into anything, if I damage her, then it’s always gonna be damaged. It’s really hard to fix wounds like that. It’s so hard.… I just don’t want to hurt her.”