Your current partner is friends with one or more of their past partners or hookups, and you don’t like it. You’ve told them you’re uncomfortable, but they say they’re just friends and you’re overreacting. Does it mean you have to break up? Should you push the issue or just grin and bear it? Today, we’ll be talking about the real reason you’re upset and what you can do about it.
Today’s episode was inspired by a DM I received on Instagram. Before I read it, I want to say this. If you email me or DM me a question or leave a question under one of my videos, I’m not going to be answering that question directly. Not only is it unethical because I don’t know the whole story, but I get so many messages like this asking for advice or tips and I simply don’t have the time to write back to everyone. I also want to say that if you’re really struggling with something, seek professional help directly.
However, if you send me a question and are willing to have me “answer” it on the podcast in a very general way (as I will today), then feel free to reach out.
So, here’s the question from someone we’ll call Jack.
Hi Abby. I’ve been dating my girlfriend for almost 3 months that I of course love being with. But I’m dealing with an ex that is one of her roommates where they still talk plenty and have a great relationship. And I also found out that two of my closest friends slept with her while we were all in college. Her friend group consists of guys that want to be with her and my friend group is guys that were already with her.
Constant feeling of being uncomfortable and disrespected when she goes out with her group knowing I am uncomfortable with that. I could go on and on but I’ll try and sum it up… I deeply struggle with this as I already voiced my feelings a while ago to get the answer of “they’re my friends there’s nothing I can do”. I’m afraid to bring it up AGAIN, knowing the answer will be to break up. I feel like I can’t get over the past because it’s present in our lives every day.
There’s just so much I feel I’ll never be able to get away from for the rest of my life as her past is in both of our lives… and most of me thinks I need to move on and break myself from my imaginary jail cell I’ve been putting myself in. Thanks again if you read this. I’ve really been struggling for a guy that has never really dealt with his emotions.
As you might imagine, this is a relatively common question I get asked. You’re uncomfortable with a friendship your partner is having with an ex or a past hookup and you don’t know what to do.
Let me say first that this is about you, not them, because what you’re experiencing is insecurity and insecurity is always about you. No one can make you feel insecure or any other feeling. I know we all like to think that and be the victim in our stories, which enables us not to have to take action, but it’s not the truth and leaves you in a powerless, frustrated position.
Let me repeat. Most people think that their jealousy or insecurity (same thing, really) is because of someone else or some situation where they have no control.
- “I’m feeling insecure because my boyfriend never tells me I’m beautiful.”
- “I’m feeling insecure because I’m in a long-distance relationship.”
- “I’m feeling insecure or jealous because my boyfriend is friends with his ex.”
- “I’m feeling insecure or jealous because my girlfriend is friends with her past hookups.”
- “I’m feeling insecure because my boss never gives me any feedback, and layoffs are coming.”
I’m not saying that other people can’t fan the flames of your insecurity, but I’m here to tell you that your insecurity is about you and your thinking. Don’t blame your insecurity on anyone else or on any outside situation; this is about you.
But let’s take a moment to get specific on this particular question. According to some excellent research on this topic, there are four main motivators for people staying friends with an ex:
- Civility. Someone doesn’t want to hurt their ex and sees this as a way to ease their upset feelings.
- Practicality. This is when someone stays friends with an ex because they work together, their families are intertwined in some way, or their social circles/friends are the same, so it’s good to stay on good terms and avoid any drama.
- Security. In this case, the person’s ex is someone they trust and that person makes their life better by being in it. Their ex is a support and a confidant, and they don’t want to lose that.
- Unresolved romantic desires. In this last case, someone wants to see what’s out there but keeps their ex close in case they change their mind.
Believe it or not, the research shows that friendships can be very successful when they’re due to the first three motivators but, as you probably guessed, when someone is still friends with their ex due to unresolved romantic feelings, the outcomes aren’t very good.
Here’s What You Can Do
First, I’d ask Jack, and you if you’re in this situation, which of these four areas is at the core of your partner’s friendship with their ex or a past hookup? Can they give you clear reasons for why they’re friends?
The biggest issue I actually see here is the fact that Jack told his girlfriend he’s uncomfortable, and her response was, “Too bad. They’re my friends so there’s nothing I can do.” Being dismissed like this is the issue. Now, I’m NOT saying that the girlfriend shouldn’t be friends with her ex partners just because you don’t like it. Again, this jealousy and insecurity is Jack’s issue. However, it is an issue to have your feelings dismissed by your partner no matter what the situation.
I’d like Jack’s girlfriend to have replied something closer to, “These are my friends and I’m not planning to change them, but I also want to hear more about your uncomfortable feelings and what you can do about them. How can I support you? What do you need besides me not speaking to them ever again?”
Resources for What to Do if Your Partner is Friends with Past Partners or Hookups
GRIFFITH, R. L., GILLATH, O., ZHAO, X., & MARTINEZ, R. (2017). Staying friends with ex-romantic partners: Predictors, reasons, and outcomes. Personal Relationships, 24(3), 550-584. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12197