11 Signs Your Partner Is Downplaying A Relationship They Have With Their Ex
While it's perfectly fine to be friends with an ex, there's a big difference between staying in contact, and staying in contact because you still have feelings. If your partner is doing the latter, your partner's relationship with their ex may be something they're downplaying, possibly by swearing nothing's going on, getting defensive, or acting surprised whenever an ex calls — among other things.
It's important to have trust in your relationship and take your partner at their word. But if the whole ex thing begins to seem suspicious — and you can't shake the feeling that something's going on behind your back — definitely talk about it.
"Keep in mind that having a friendly relationship with an ex can be healthy and a sign your partner is mature. But, if you feel it crosses a line, you should ... have a conversation about it," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "Approach it as a conversation and focus on your feelings."
Let your partner know that you're uncomfortable, as well as what you're worried about. Then, start a conversation about boundaries and how you'd like to proceed going forward. It's possible for your partner to be pals with an ex, as long everyone's on board. But if they still have feelings for each other, or are crossing lines, that's not a healthy situation for anyone. Here are a few signs your partner might be downplaying their relationship with their ex, according to experts.
1. They Get Super Defensive
If your partner has a healthy relationship with their ex, they won't be ashamed to talk about it. They'll be open about their friendship, and might even introduce you to their ex. And as a result, you'll know exactly where everybody stands.
If they're more involved with each other than they're letting on, however, you might notice that your partner gets defensive or secretive whenever the topic of their ex comes up. "Someone who doesn’t still have feelings for an ex can talk about that person calmly and rationally," Bennett says. "If the ex comes up in conversation and your partner gets unusually angry or defensive, it’s a strong sign there are still feelings present."
Sure, they may still be recovering from the breakup, or acting a bit touchy as a result. But if you try to talk about their ex, or want to meet them and your partner angrily refuses, it may be a red flag.
2. They Seem Very Attached To Memories & Mementos
While it's fine to hold onto good memories from past relationships, it'll likely put you on edge if your partner becomes wistful whenever they talk about their ex. And for good reason.
"If your partner frequently brings up old memories related to the ex or keeps a lot of mementos around (photos, clothing, etc.), it’s a sign that [they have] feelings," Bennett says. "While some of this is normal and healthy, look for excessive examples of still being attached to the memory of an ex."
You know your partner best, so it'll be up to you to decide what's healthy, and what's over the top. For example, it's probably fine if they want to keep an old photo in a box somewhere, but if they sleep in their ex's T-shirt every night, you might want to ask them about it.
3. They're Very Connected On Social Media
If your partner is still friends with their ex, they may chat with them on social media, like their photos, or occasionally comment on their posts. But it shouldn't be done secretively, or to a degree that makes you feel uncomfortable.
As Bennett says, "While it’s normal to occasionally see what an ex is up to, constant 'checking up' is a red flag." This is especially true if you ask about it, and your partner becomes defensive.
Before jumping to conclusions, however, check in with yourself. Are you overplaying this in your mind, or does it truly seem like a problem?
If it seems strange, be sure to talk with your partner — especially since they might not view this type of communication as a breach of trust. From there, you can decide together how much communication is healthy, so that you both feel comfortable.
4. They Don't Share Details About Their Ex
If your partner talks about their ex freely and openly, you can rest assured they've officially moved on, no longer have feelings, and are having a healthy friendship.
If your partner doesn't talk about their ex, or hangs out with them and then won't tell you about it, more may be going on than meets the eye.
"It’s more about what they’re not saying than what they are saying," psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee tells Bustle. "For example, if when talking about their ex, who they are still friends with, they do not give detail or speak freely about the current nature of their relationship (what they discuss, what activities they do together, etc.)," it may be a sign that they're hiding something.
5. They Don't Talk About Them At All
As Dr. Forshee says, it may be a red flag "if they tend not to initiate conversation about their ex (who they’re friends with), yet they initiate conversations about other friends in their life more freely and frequently." Again, this is especially true if you try to talk about their ex or ask a few questions, and they get super defensive.
"Defensiveness is a means of avoiding," Dr. Forshee says. "If defensiveness is a problem, it will be important to try to not jump to conclusions and point out what you notice about their defensiveness. This may open a window of opportunity to explore what the defensiveness may be about."
6. They Make Random Excuses
It's not uncommon for a partner to make up excuses for why they talk to their ex or why they need to hang out, as a way of downplaying the relationship. "They [may] say they only talk to them because they feel bad for them," therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle. Or that they're only stopping by their apartment to help out with something.
And that very well may be true. But if it feels like something more is going on, feel free to ask about it. "You should communicate your feelings and discuss what you are seeing as well as what you need from them," Hershenson says. While you don't want to form a relationship of distrust, or create a situation of control, it is OK to ask for more details and create healthier boundaries.
7. They Only Talk When You're Not Around
If your partner's relationship with their ex is healthy and chock full of firm boundaries, there'd be no reason for them to hide it. So it may be a sign of a problem if they only chat with their ex when you're not around.
"They may start to get very secretive [or] leave the room with their cell phone and not let you see or hear what they are up to [or] who they are talking to," Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle.
While everyone's entitled to privacy, excessive secretiveness should prompt a conversation about exes, boundaries, and where you both stand.
8. They Act Surprised When Their Ex Calls
As Hershenson says, "if their ex calls and they say they don’t know why they are calling," it may be a sign your partner is downplaying the relationship.
If it happens once in a blue moon, they may truly not know. But if the ex's name keeps popping up on their phone, or they keep taking calls they claim they know nothing about, it may mean your partner is trying to keep that relationship on the DL.
9. They Keep You Separate
If your partner is still friends with their ex, it would stand to reason that you'd eventually run into each other around town, or at a party. But if it never happens, it may be because your partner is taking great pains to keep you both separate, so they can keep downplaying their relationship with their ex — as well as their relationship with you.
"If your partner doesn’t introduce you to their ex or have you both cross paths for birthdays/special events, it may be because the ex is more important than they are letting on," licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry, PhD, LMFT tells Bustle. So be sure to talk about it, ASAP, to find out what's up. It may just be a misunderstanding, but if your partner was being 100 percent honest about their ex, they wouldn't feel the need to live two separate lives.
10. They Still Have Photos Online
One of the best ways to move on from an old relationship is to dismantle all signs of it, such as removing couple-y photos from social media. It's not necessary to delete everything, obviously, but it can help both parties heal to not have to see the evidence every single day.
But that's why, if you partner and their ex have yet to take these photos down, it may be a sign they're still connected in a secretive, unhealthy way. As Dr. Henry says, "There is no reason to have pictures on display of their previous relationship or partner. Letting go and moving on is just that."
11. They're Difficult To Reach
Let's say your partner wants to hang out with their ex — maybe with a group of mutual friends — or they'd like to grab a quick cup of coffee to catch up. No worries. That's fine.
But let's say they go out with their ex and can't be reached the entire time. As Hershenson says, "If you call or text and don’t hear back within a reasonable amount of time," it may be a sign something's going on. This is especially true if you talk to your partner about it, and it keeps happening.
While situations like these can be stressful, do keep two things in mind. First, that it is 100 percent OK for your partner to be friends with their ex. And second, that you should trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right, or you think your partner might be downplaying how much their ex means to them, have a conversation about it. There may be a healthier way for you all to go about this, with no one's feelings getting hurt.