The people we love and lose have a huge impact on our lives, whether we like to admit it or not. There are even probably weird ways your ex might be affecting your current relationship. From the ways you communicate to the expectations we set for how we deserve to be treated, it's all shaped by our pasts. An while it's OK to occasionally reminisce or tell tale of your previous relationships, letting them interfere with your current relationship is a recipe for disaster. Or at least, a recipe for annoyance and arguments. Either way, not good.
When I worked with couples as both a former Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I learned that the subject of exes is often a big sore spot. In some cases, it's the source of all kinds of jealousy, resentment, anger, distrust, and a whole host of negative emotions that cause problems. It's important to remember that each love is different. Each love feels different, looks different, affects you differently, and has different needs to keep it healthy. If you're doing any of the below, even if your partner hasn't said anything to you about it, it might be time to change your tune, evaluate your ex's place in your life, and leave that emotional baggage in storage. Or throw it out.
1. You're Comparing
Maybe your ex was the greatest person in the world and you're always saying things like "well my ex always laughed at that joke" or "my ex always made me soup when I was sick." Or maybe your ex was the worst human ever created and you're always saying things like "you sound like my ex when you say that" or "my ex used to do that to me." Either way, you're setting your partner up for failure. Either they can't live up to the comparisons to your ex or they're just as bad as your ex. It's not fair.
What You Can Do Instead: Just skip the comparisons altogether. There are other ways to communicate the same ideas, such as "I feel misunderstood when you don't get my jokes" or "It upsets me when you say that." No ex needed.
2. You're Distrustful
If your ex cheated on you or broke your heart, it's natural to become more careful with your feelings and to make people earn your trust. But you have to give them the opportunity to do so. If you're letting your past hurts keep you trusting your new partner, you're either not ready to move on, or you're moving on in an unhealthy way. Trust is one of the core components of a healthy relationship. Without trust, you can't have a complete, whole relationship, which is probably the point.
What You Can Do Instead: If you're going to be with someone you have to accept the possibility that things could go wrong. You don't have to dwell on it, but you have to accept it. And you have to let yourself trust. You just have to. If you can't, then you need to go to a counselor or therapist to learn the tools you need to move forward. Bottom line. No trust, no relationship.
3. You're Distant
Your new relationship isn't supposed to be something that takes up space in your life. It's supposed to be something meaningful, that brings you happiness, and compliments your already killer existence. It's a common move after being hurt by an ex to remain distant in a new relationship. Part of this is not trusting. Part of it is being afraid to get hurt. Part of it is not wanting to waste the emotional effort on something that isn't going to work. And part of it could be that you just don't have the emotional energy in the first place. Again, it's not fair to your partner if you don't have the same expectations.
What You Can Do Instead: Let yourself love! You're missing out on one of the best parts of a relationship if you're being distant by not participating in the gooey new relationship love stuff. If you're not ready, that's OK, too, just be honest with your partner about where you are and what you need.
4. You're People Pleasing
People pleasing, for the uninitiated, is putting the needs, opinions, feelings (etc) of other people in front of your own to keep the peace or gain approval. A tiny touch of it is sweet in the beginning, when you're trying to get to know each other and learn what makes each other happy. After that, it becomes a dangerous habit that leads to resentment. You might worry that if you don't work harder to please this partner, it won't work out either. But remember that healthy relationships are about equality.
What You Can Do Instead: Voice your needs, opinions, wants, and desires. Let it be about you sometimes. Realize that you deserve someone who loves you just the way you are, without having to stretch yourself to the limit for acceptance.
5. You're Guilty
Do you think about your ex so much that it makes you feel guilty? Do you feel bad that you wish you were still friends? Do you miss them all the time? Do songs still take you back to the happy or sad times? It's OK, this is normal! It just means you're still processing your break up. No need to feel guilty, unless you're hiding things from your current partner or not being honest about your feelings in your new relationship. You'll likely think about your ex on and off for years. It's just how things go.
What You Can Do Instead: Don't dwell. Let the thoughts come and go, but don't sit around and look for reasons to think about your ex. And be super honest about your feelings and needs in your new situation. Otherwise things will be
6. You're Scared
Yep. Relationships are scary! They're even scarier after you got your heart ripped out and danced upon. But every person in the history of love will tell you that it's worth it. That whole "tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all" thing. Even if you take plenty of time, things can still be terrifying, but you can't be afraid to do them. Life goes on, the world keeps spinning, and sometimes love just finds you, whether you're scared or not.
What You Can Do: Accept your fear, take things as slow as you need to, and be honest, but don't be closed off. New love is scary but it's also exciting! Focus on the good. Don't let your ex be the standard for all relationships.
7. You're On Hold
Do you say things like "I don't like labels" or "I don't want to get emotionally involved" to the person you're dating? No matter what you call it, the feelings, expectations, and needs of a relationship are the same. Sure, some people like having meaningless relationships from time to time, but if you're only doing it because you're afraid of getting hurt again, then you're not approaching things from a healthy place. You're letting your ex keep you on hold. That's not cool.
What You Can Do Instead: Don't date until you're ready. Take things slow. But once you're into something, admit it to yourself and don't use avoiding labels as a form of denial.
I mean, we all have those ex feels, whether they're more like love or more like hate. But we don't have to be ruled by them.