Question: I am having trouble dealing with the amount of time my current partner spends with her ex. Repeatedly in the past he has thwarted her attempts to date other people through physical aggression toward the guy. After their break up, she continued to sleep with him until she started to date me. Even now, she often calls him for rides or has meals with him (even canceling plans with me to do so). He is constantly telling her how lonely he is and how much he misses her. I trust her, but I feel that I deserve to be in a relationship where I do not have to have a previous lover constantly trying to get back together with the person I am dating.
Though it may seem obvious, it’s worth mentioning that most women and men have ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends; nearly everyone has to deal with the issue of how to make a current relationship work in the midst of former relationships.
This is particularly true in recent generations when it is common for men and women to be friends with each other; men and women in your parents generation were rarely “just friends” – there were more clear gender divisions not only in romantic relationships, but in friendships too.
As such, there’s not much history to go by when it comes to figuring out how to manage former partners that now may – or may not be – “just friends” with your current partner. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution that will work for you two.
First, you might find it helpful to seek the support or guidance of an on-campus or community-based counselor. As you work to negotiate your – and their – relationship, it is worth paying attention to your feelings about her, about the relationship and about what you feel that you deserve.
Even if you like your girlfriend as a person, you may not like this relationship – and that may be an important matter when you decide whether to stay together or to part ways.
Is He Over Her? Is She Over Him?
It seems that one issue that you and your girlfriend disagree about pertains to her ex’s feelings for her. You feel like he wants her back; she disagrees, claiming that he is over her. Although his past behavior (trying to prevent her from dating other guys) may bolster your opinion that he wants to ruin your relationship with her too, people can change. He may have changed.
However, neither you nor your girlfriend is likely to understand her ex’s feelings unless he expresses them. In that sense, it may be less productive to speculate about her ex’s feelings and more productive to communicate with your girlfriend about your (and her) feelings.
Talk About Your Needs
If you can talk more about each others’ needs, you may be able to find some clarity in an otherwise confusing situation. You should continue to (respectfully) express your feelings if this – or anything else – bothers you, but you also need to respect her needs.
Rather than ask her to end a friendship with someone who may be important to her, it might be worth asking what she needs from you, and what she needs from other people (friends, family, her ex). It may be that she wants or needs her ex in her life to some degree. That may be fine, as long as it can be done in a way that allows you to feel comfortable too.
You have already expressed your anxiety to her about the amount of time she spends with her ex, given how he may feel about her. Consider taking it a step back and expressing how you feel about her hanging out with her ex, even if he no longer wants to date her.
There may be a balance that you can strike here – after all, though some people cut all ties with their exes, many people maintain close friendships with former partners.
Perhaps the three of you could share an occasional meal together (but still giving her the opportunity to see him without you there) or they could hang out less often than they currently do, or she could call you or another friend for a ride before calling him. You might also find that you’re comfortable with them spending time together, but less often – or that you want to draw lines around her canceling plans with you to spend time with him. Brainstorm together and try tackling this as a couple (rather than you or she dictating the terms).
Reviewed with minor updates on May 7, 2017.