Why Being Friends With Exes Isn't A Betrayal

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: your partner being friends with their exes.

Q: “I'm in a relationship with a partner who has had many more sexual partners than me. She is my first. I love her and enjoy spending time with her. She is a very nice person, and has relationships with many of her exes. It bothers me that these people are still in her life. I don't want to tell her to remove these exes from her life because they're her friends. But at the same time, I don’t know if I can be OK with it. I feel like our differences in sexual experience perhaps are a sign that our relationship will fail. Do relationships like this usually fail?”

A: Thanks for the question! First of all, I think you’re talking about two separate issues — 1. whether it’s OK for people to maintain relationships with their exes, and 2. whether having different levels of sexual experience will doom a relationship.

Let me answer your second question first: no, relationships don’t usually fail if the partner have different levels of sexual experience. I’m guessing you’re feeling a bit self-conscious about the fact that she’s your first but you’re not hers. Sure, you might experience some growing pains at the beginning of your relationship, especially since you’ve never had sex before. You’re figuring out how all of this works! You’re learning what you like, what you don’t like, how to move your body, how to touch hers, and so on. But you’ll pick it up soon enough. Keep in mind that there’s always an adjustment period when you sleep with someone brand new. It takes time for both people to figure out what works for them together. Just as you’re learning a lot about your girlfriend, she’s also learning a lot about you. So you’re really not “behind,” if that’s what you’re worried about.

OK, now that that's settled, let's get into the matter of your partner being friends with her exes.

Why It Is OK To Be Friends With Your Exes

So now let’s get to the question of whether or not it’s OK to stay in contact with exes when you’re in a relationship. If you haven’t had a lot of relationship experience, it’s likely that the thought of your girlfriend being friends with her ex seems terrifying to you. It sucks to even imagine your partner being with someone else, much less know that they’re still hanging out with each other.

This is one of the most heated debates in the relationship-advice world, but since you’ve written in to me, I’ll give you my two cents — yes, it’s OK for exes to still be friends.

In my humble opinion, here’s why:

  • Break-ups don’t mean you stop caring about your exes. Sometimes break-ups are wildly spectacular, and couples wind up hating each other’s guts and never speaking to each other again. But that’s not always the case. Relationships end for lots of reasons, but not always because the partners no longer care about each other on a basic human level. I’m not talking about still being in love with your ex — I’m just talking about respecting them as a person and being curious about their life. Sometimes couples realize there’s no romantic spark between them, or that they want totally different things from a relationship, and that they’re better off as friends. Break-ups are always rough, but many times, both parties understand that it’s for the best. You might want to still be friendly with someone, even though you realize you’re not meant to be together in the long-run.
  • You might want to be friends with your girlfriend if you were to break up. Here’s another way to think about it — if you and your girlfriend broke up, would you still want her in your life? It might feel too painful at first, but I’m guessing there’s a fair chance you would want to at least keep in touch with your girlfriend were she to become your ex. If you liked her enough to want to be in a relationship with her — and lose your virginity to her — there’s probably enough good stuff there between the two of you to want a friendship. Or think about is this way: would you want your girlfriend to completely sever all contact with you and never speak to you again? You said in your question that she’s a nice person, and it sounds like that’s one of the qualities you admire about her. So wouldn’t you want her to extend that same kindness towards you, even if the two of you broke up?
  • People change. It’s also important to remember that people — and their feelings — change. A lot of people get nervous about their partner’s exes because they assume there’s still a chemistry between the old flames. But that’s rarely the case. Break-ups are awful, and many people go to great lengths to avoid them. Your partner’s exes are exes for a reason. They’re not necessarily still holding torches for each other, and they’re not going to get back together.
  • Your partner is still their own person. Even though you’re in a relationship with your girlfriend, she still gets to have her own life and be her own person. You don’t get to control her and her actions. Of course, we all have boundaries and limits (more on this below). But ultimately, it’s not your right to decide who she can and can’t be friends with.
  • You have to trust your partner. At the end of the day, what this question really boils down to is whether or not you can trust your partner. There’s no denying that it stings to see your partner interacting with their exes. It’s natural to feel a little scared, hurt, worried, or jealous. But the trick is what you do with those feelings. Can you allow yourself to feel your feelings, but also trust your girlfriend not to betray you? Or will you allow your fears to get the best of you, and turn you into a controlling partner?

There Are Limits, Of Course

Obviously, my opinion is that it’s OK to be friends with your exes. But it’s not a completely all-or-nothing issue. It’s OK to have your limits. Here are some examples:

  • No sexually-suggestive contact. You might decide it's not cool to reminisce with an ex about sexy-times that you shared in the past. Ditto to sending naughty pictures.
  • Being friends with someone who is still in love with you. If your girlfriend knows that any of her exes still have feelings for her, or are actively trying to get her back, she should cut off contact.
  • Keeping secrets. If you found out your girlfriend was lying about the fact that she’s in contact with an ex, you have every right to be upset. If your girlfriend wants you to trust her, she has to earn that trust.

If you suspect any of the above might be happening, have a discussion with your girlfriend and let her know what your limits are. But unless you have evidence of wrongdoing, or a really strong gut feeling, I’d avoid accusing her of anything.

Wishing you the best of luck!

Images: Bustle; Giphy