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Navigating the breakup make-up - with her family

Wooing back your ex after an ugly breakup is never an easy task. But when you're Levi Johnston and pretty much famous because of your failed relationship, it's a Herculean undertaking.

Rumoured to be reuniting with his former fiancée Bristol Palin, 19, the mother of his 16-month-old son Tripp, Mr. Johnston has the added challenge of making amends with Ms. Palin's powerful clan.

Like any gripping tabloid tale, the Bristol-Levi saga resonates with anyone who has gone through a messy breakup, only to then, perhaps against good counsel, give it another whirl. But even a seeming far-gone relationship can be saved, say observers.

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In her recent book, A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-first Century, Cristina Nehring embraces a messy, passionate kind of love - one that might be improved by chaos.

"As Leonard Cohen sings: 'There's a crack in everything; that's where the light comes in.'," she says in an e-mail from Los Angeles. "We are not striving for perfection in life or love - perfection is dull as dishwater! - we are striving for strength, individuality, insight and joy. All of which can emerge from crises as readily - or more readily - than from long periods of peace."

Once they've jumped in again, a successful couple will be "100 per cent sure in their hearts that their partner is 'The One' - regardless of friends and family's opinions," says Toronto psychotherapist and counsellor Kimberly Moffit in an e-mail interview.

After that, working on the family is a key part of the process. Particularly, if like in Mr. Johnston's case, one partner committed a major familial infraction. After their breakup, the Playgirl model had aggressively dished about the state of the Palins' marriage and political ambitions on television talk shows and in magazine interviews, including in an explosive one with Vanity Fair. This week, he issued a sober statement to People magazine, retracting.

"Last year, after Bristol and I broke up, I was unhappy and a little angry. Unfortunately, against my better judgment, I publicly said things about the Palins that were not completely true," he told the magazine. "I have already privately apologized to Todd and Sarah. Since my statements were public, I owe it to the Palins to publicly apologize."

It may seem counter-intuitive, but it's not just Mr. Johnston who needs to roll up his sleeves and get to work, says physician and counsellor Michael Finkelstein, who runs a holistic healing and living centre called SunRaven, in Westchester County, N.Y.

"It's very involved. There are, simultaneously, many relationships that are affected," says Dr. Finkelstein.

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The only one who has no work to do is baby Tripp. But he might be the key to everyone being able to shake off their own issues and create a healthy environment.

If everyone can agree to focus on creating a happy environment for the baby, they might be able to proceed, even with lingering bad feelings.

"It's a great growth opportunity for the whole family," says Dr. Finkelstein. "If they have the intention that they will recover, they will."

Wooing a woman's family back can be harder than wooing her, says Ms. Moffit. "Even though she may be 100-per-cent back in, the family is slow-to-warm to this idea. I believe that while Levi and Bristol might have made amends, they will face hardship in the long-term and may never win back the trust of the Palin family."

(Then again, the Palin family may have their own ideas about how to heal. Mr. Johnston's sister Mercede took to her Palin-gossip-heavy new blog this week to say that Mr. Johnston and Bristol Palin left a message for her saying that if she did not take her blog down by Wednesday, that she would never get to see him, or Tripp, again.)

Continuing anger management is another factor, Dr. Finkelstein says. Feelings will continue to bubble to the surface, but if everyone involved pledges not to act out every time they do, the couple has a better chance of sticking it out.

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But, "Levi can't control that in other people. This is the problem. If Sarah or Todd Palin don't want to give up the anger, he won't get very far."

From there, continuing to rebuild trust between partners is key. In her practice, Dr. Moffit says trust is the most important factor in determining how difficult it will be for the couple to patch things up: "How much trust has been broken in the past? Has the partner cheated or abused trust?"

Although many couples she sees do decide to split, she has recently counselled two couples affected by adultery who patched it up.

"Both couples surprised me with their dedication to the relationship and the acceptance that the relationship will never be perfect. For both couples, the process involved accepting the faults of the partner, but realizing that the strength and value of the relationship in their lives was far too good to leave."

Most observers will say, though, that the odds aren't great for Ms. Palin and Mr. Johnston.

"I wonder whether these individuals are motivated by love or narcissism, loyalty or publicity - or if they even know themselves," says Ms. Nehring. "I believe firmly in the repairing of love relationships - but there has to be a love relationship to begin with."

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