Ben Higgins Reveals He and Lauren Bushnell Were 'Looking for an Out' Before Breakup (Exclusive)

Lauren Bushnell and Ben Higgins at Lion King
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The former 'Bachelor' got candid about his split from Bushnell in an interview with ET.

There's something different about Ben Higgins' relationship with his fiancée, Jessica Clarke. The former Bachelor got engaged to Clarke in March, nearly three years after ending his engagement to Lauren Bushnell in May 2017. In an interview with ET's Lauren Zima on Monday, Higgins opened up about how his relationship with Clarke is "stronger" -- and how he and Bushnell were "looking for an out" before eventually calling it quits. 

"I do think Lauren and I very early on were just trying so hard to make it work that it was just pulling pieces of us all the time," the Generous Coffee co-founder said. 

Higgins proposed to Bushnell on his season finale of The Bachelor, which aired in March 2016. The finale was taped months earlier in November 2015, just days after Higgins had told his runner-up, JoJo Fletcher, that he loved both her and Bushnell. 

Still, the 31-year-old and his then-fiancée, Bushnell, moved in together in Colorado, put on happy faces on After the Final Rose and their subsequent reality series, Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? But Higgins said behind the scenes, they were "looking for an out."

"I don't think we wanted to make it work, because I think internally we knew just how unhealthy it probably was to continue to go on. We were just looking for an out, but trying our best to make it last as long as we could to see if maybe we found the secret sauce," Higgins recalled. "At some point, we never did." 

Part of that strain on their relationship came from Higgins' feelings for Fletcher on The Bachelor. The pair were forced to confront that reality and catch up on Fletcher's season of The Bachelorette before appearing on her season finale months later. 

"I do remember those moments of trying to explain myself or thinking, 'Hey, this is all good. We're gonna watch this back because you know I chose you, and this is going to be fine.' It wasn't. It wasn't at all," Higgins told ET. "It hurt deeply and I know I did." 

"The decision I made to overcommunicate ended up hurting the relationship I was in," Higgins said. "And I would not even want to risk doing that again right now." 

Clarke has thus not watched Higgins' season of The Bachelor, which aired in a condensed, three-hour episode on Monday night's The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons -- Ever! However, it wasn't much of a stretch for her, seeing as she wasn't a big fan of the show. 

"I don't see the benefit [of her watching] and I don't think she does either. I think the cons far outweigh the pros. I think there would be a chance where even though I have no fear that it would end our relationship, I think that the small moments of watching me pursue and encourage and kiss other people might be the closest thing to, like, heartbreak that she's felt romantically and I don't want be a part of that and she doesn't want to be a part of that," Higgins explained. "So, no, she's not watching. She doesn't plan on watching ever, and I'm pretty OK with it."

Higgins said even fast-forwarding through his proposal to Bushnell is "not healthy" for him. 

"The ending, the proposal [is tough to watch]," he said. "I don't think it would have been that hard two years ago to watch -- I think I could have done it. But watching it back now, it's just uncomfortable. It's not healthy for me to see, it's not healthy for me to relive."

"I think I've given my focus and my heart and my attention to one woman now, and I'm setting up boundaries in my life to keep that healthy and good. Seeing myself propose to somebody else isn't a part of that healthy boundary, but I did it," Higgins continued. "So that was really hard for me to see, especially the place I am now in life and just how happy I am." 

While Bushnell didn't appear on Monday's episode of The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons -- Ever! she's since moved on romantically as well. She married musician Chris Lane last fall, and is still on good terms with the Bachelor franchise; she and Lane appeared on The Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart in May. 

Higgins, meanwhile, sweetly gave Clarke his "final rose" on Monday's episode of Bachelor: GOAT (as its been nicknamed). They're planning to tie the knot in fall 2021. Higgins hasn't spoken to Bushnell but is glad that they've both moved on into healthier relationships. 

"I do think the fundamentals to my relationship with Jessica are stronger," Higgins said.

"I can't speak for Lauren. I'm sure she feels the same way about Chris, but I'm with Jessica and she just expands everything I do," he shared. "She encourages me. She supports me." 

And though he didn't find lasting love on The Bachelor, Higgins is still grateful for the journey it led him on. 

"It's almost scary for me to think of what my life would've been like. This show has been so good to me, and it's taught me so much about myself," he said. "I don't think [I'd be] with my fiancée now if the show didn't happen, just because of random circumstances." 

"So, yes, it taught me a lot and it's been really good for me and really fun to celebrate that from the show re-airing," Higgins added. "I'm still trying to figure it out, but this was a part of that story and it's been really fun to see that."

See more on Higgins in the video below.