It’s fair to say that most of us have had the conversation with our partners about past relationships. We talk about how things went, why they ended, AND what things look between you and your ex now. On the receiving end of that conversation, we all secretly hope to feel the overwhelming sense of relief when our partner says, “it ended, and we haven’t spoken since.”
So, what happens if you find yourself having to inform your new partner that you maintain a relationship with your ex, and continue to speak/hang out with this person on a regular basis? This is the question I set out to answer today; can you stay friends with your ex and not ruin the relationship with your new partner? And if it is possible, how does one go about balancing both relationships?
Your Partner’s Got a Point
For the person that hears their partner is engaging in a friendship with an ex, you probably have a lot of questions. What do you get out of this friendship? If they are this important to you, why didn’t you just stay together? If I feel uncomfortable, do I have any say in how this friendship affects me and our relationship? Your partner likely has a point in raising some of these concerns. These are all valid and useful questions that deserve to be addressed if they come up on the road to balancing your relationship and a friendship with an ex.
If the friendship you carry on with your ex is an issue now, it will likely remain that way. It does you and your partner no good to retreat to opposite sides of this argument and reach a stalemate. Believe me, it is in your best interest to address the issue now, before it becomes the cyclical argument you and your partner have every time your ex’s name pops up on your phone.
Talk About it
The first course of action is to open the line of communication with your partner and talk about it honestly. You have a big part to play in this discussion. If it is your desire to maintain both relationships, it is advisable to go into this conversation having first done some deep thinking about why maintaining this friendship is so important to you. Only then will you be ready to answer the questions your partner has for you.
Get right to it and address the big issues first. Lay out the details of the changes that have occurred since becoming “exes” with this person and reassure your partner that nothing inappropriate is going on. Remember when I said your partner had a point? Your partner while likely site the potential for lingering feelings. While you may know what your intention is for maintaining this friendship, it is impossible to truly know if your ex does or does not have lingering feelings for you.
With this in mind, be prepared for the feedback that your partner is not ok with this dynamic. Maintaining a friendship with your ex-partner and attempting to keep peace and safety in a new relationship is not always possible. The very real truth is that your partner might not be ok with it, that makes this a very different conversation. If your partner is open to it, the remedy for these concerns is trust and the development of a system that reflects consideration of your partner’s feelings, and a desire to make the health of your relationship top priority.
Develop Necessary Trust
You cannot hope to integrate your ex into the life you are building with your new partner without first making adjustments and exceptions for your partner’s comfort level with the situation. A good deal of trust will need to exist in the relationship if your partner is expected to allow a friendship between you and a person you once carried on a romantic relationship with. Work with your partner to develop some trust in your ability to manage this dynamic which can be scary for them as the person on the outside.
Ask your partner what they need from you in order to develop some safety around the situation. Discover what level and forms of communication and/or visitation with your ex your partner is comfortable with. There may be some “rules” associated with this friendship that you don’t have to follow in others.
Do not make the mistake of writing off your partner’s concerns because you find yourself invested in maintaining this friendship. It is easy to stand off to the side, point the finger, and label them crazy with unfounded jealousy. Who does this really help though? Most people have experienced some form of jealousy. Remember what it is like to feel jealous and scared and afford your partner some grace and empathy as you work together to find a solution you can both live with.
Find the Balance and Avoid Dangerous Behaviors
After having a conversation with your partner, you should have more information on what is ok and not ok in your relationship. The next step looks like communicating the results of this conversation to your ex, so everybody can be on the same page.
If balancing both relationships is possible, it is important to maintain clear and effective boundaries with all parties involved. On the path to setting and keeping clear boundaries, there are several behaviors you should probably avoid at all costs:
- Don’t give your partner a reason to worry that you are blurring lines with your ex. Be firm in your boundaries and resist deepening the connection past the point of platonic friendship.
- Avoid becoming intimate if this has been disallowed by your partner. I mean this in every sense of the word. Physical intimacy is not always the pinnacle of betrayal. For many people, emotional infidelity constitutes real pain and a real reason to end the relationship.
- Don’t open the door for miscommunication or confusion of their current role in your life. That relationship is over and what matters now is building a strong foundation of trust with your new partner.
- Finally, running to your ex with concerns from your current relationship. Sending late night texts complaining to your ex about your partner might send mixed signals and can be immensely damaging if your partner ever finds them.
- This list includes anything you and your partner agreed are unacceptable behaviors between you and your ex!
Lauri Larson is our intern from the University of Northern Colorado studying Marriage and Family Therapy. She enjoys time outdoors and being with her family and three legged rescue dog