Your partner is friends with an ex and it’s bugging you! Is it OK to be jealous? Can exes really be just friends? How should you approach your partner about your unhappiness? Today I’m answering these questions and more in this Ask Dr. Abby episode of the podcast.
Ask Dr. Abby is the advice segment of the Relationships Made Easy podcast. Submit questions to [email protected]. (I keep it anonymous!)
Dear Dr. Abby,
I just recently discovered your podcasts (suggested to me on Spotify) and I’ve found them so, so, SO helpful! I’ve been lovingly (slightly obsessively) binge-ing episodes and already working on some of the mindfulness and calming anchor tips you provide. So first off, thank you!
Second, I have a question for your #AskDrAbby segment:
I’ve been in a relationship with an amazing man for almost a year now. I think we’re really great together, love each other, and are planning to move in together soon. I’ve dated several emotionally unavailable men in the past and this has not been the case with my current boyfriend at all – so overall, I’m very happy with him.
OK, here’s the “But”:
One of his closest friends is his ex-girlfriend of several years. He told me about her early in our relationship before I met her and asked me how I felt about that. I was honest – I don’t love it, but I tried to keep an open mind. I’m not friends with any of my exes, so I continue to have a hard time understanding their friendship. She’s been married for a few years now, which I thought would make me feel more secure. It doesn’t. (shocker?)
At one point, I brought it up again after she said something that I thought was a little rude. I told him I didn’t like the aggressive/demanding way she talks to him sometimes, and that I thought there need to be more boundaries in place. I also thought they saw each other a little too often for my comfort, though we only talked about this briefly. He agreed with me about her aggressiveness but kind of gave me an “oh well, that’s just how she is” response. He has seen her a lot less often than before, though I’m sure some of that has just been a natural part of dating someone new (he was visiting her every week before he and I started dating. Now we see her and her husband every few months, though they still talk/text often).
I interpret a lot of her comments as passive aggressive whenever we do see her. The smallest things will make me spiral and I’ll think about it and get more and more upset about it days afterwards.
I’ve been asking myself what my “best case scenario” is and it’s that he understands how uncomfortable this situation makes me and just stops seeing her, or they naturally grow apart. I don’t think I can bring myself to ask him to stop being friends with her all together, but that’s what I want. Am I terrible person for wanting that? Am I just a controlling, jealous girlfriend?
I understand I have to be very clear about my boundaries with him, though I’ve honestly always had trouble with that. Any tips on figuring out EXACTLY what your boundaries are, and then communicating it effectively?
Please help! Thank you for being amazing:)
According to some excellent research on this topic, there are four main motivators for staying friends with your ex:
You really don’t want to hurt your ex and see this as a way to ease their hurt feelings
You stay friends because you work together, your families are intertwined in some way, your social circles/friends are the same so it’s good to stay on good terms and avoid any drama
Your ex is someone you trust and they make your life better by being in it. They’re a support and a confidant and you don’t want to lose that.
4. Unresolved romantic desires.
You want to see what’s out there but keep your ex close in case you change your mind.
What does this mean when your partner is friends with an ex?
The research shows that friendships can be very successful when they’re due to the first three motivators but, as you probably guessed, when there are unresolved romantic issues, the outcomes aren’t very good. Relationships based on security had the most positive outcomes, meaning high-quality friendships.
While the LGBTQ community is much more experienced with being friends after a break up since their community is smaller (this has been out of necessity), heterosexual people being friends after a break up is a relatively new thing. It’s only been since the advent of women in the workforce and going to school in a serious way.
What can you do if your partner is friends with an ex and you don’t like it?
1. Ask curious and collaborative questions to find out more about the reasons your partner is friends with their ex.
What is their friendship based on now?
Is it a mutual break up in some way or is someone having romantic feelings still?
Did they or do they both agree that they just don’t work as a romantic couple?
2. Figure out where your jealousy coming from.
Do you trust your partner? Is this a pattern of insecurity for you? Are you sabotaging a good thing?
3. Remember that you’re a catch!!
It might be time to build your self confidence and self-esteem.
4. What is your partner getting from the friendship that they don’t get elsewhere?
Are they clinging to something? Is this a security blanket?
5. Make sure you’re coming from love, not fear.
8 Rules for Giving Great Feedback
Building Trust in Your Relationship
Overcoming Insecurity and Silencing Your Inner Critic
Self-Sabotage in Romantic Relationships
8 Ways to Build Your Confidence and Self-Esteem
Rebecca L. Griffith et al., “Staying Friends with Ex-Romantic Partners: Predictors, Reasons and Outcomes,” Personal Relationships 24, no. 3 (September 2017): 550-584.