Whether or not exes can be friends is a pretty controversial topic. But whatever your opinion on the matter, this situation is common enough that many new couples have to navigate the reality of exes hanging out. If your
partner is friends with their ex, you may have some questions. And there are a few that are really important to ask.
The fact that navigating a relationship with someone who's
friends with their ex can be difficult doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. "I think being friends with an ex can be positive under the right circumstances," David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "If your partner has a cordial, friendly relationship with them, that shows the person you're dating is mature, especially if there are children involved. However, if your partner is really good friends with their ex, I would definitely look into the circumstances." It is important, however, to navigate the situation by prioritizing your own feelings, and to not place blame on your partner.
"My first tip is to be honest," licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT)
Amy McManus, tells Bustle. "Let your partner know that [their] relationship with [their] ex makes you uncomfortable, and you would like to know more about their [current] relationship in order to understand." Focus on the fact that your worries are a personal concern, not an accusation, and a trusting partner will likely understand. And even if you aren't particularly concerned, some of these questions might be worth bringing up.
Here are seven important questions to ask if you're dating someone who's friends with an ex.
"Does Your Ex Know About Me?"
Even if you don't have any qualms about your partner being friends with their ex, this little question can be a good one to raise to confirm that things aren't shady. Ask them — again, in non-accusatory way — if their ex knows about you.
"A 'no' to this question is a big red flag," McManus says. "Sometimes our partner will make all kinds of excuses why they haven’t told their ex about [you]. Sometimes they even sound pretty reasonable. Again, [this is a] big red flag." If their ex (and now friend) knows about you, it's a step towards confirming that things are in safe territory.
"Who Broke Up With Whom?"
The answer to this question won't tell you the whole story, but understanding more about the history of your partner and their ex-turned-friend is an important step towards clarifying things.
How they answer this question will lead the way to further conversation. "If your partner ended it, I would feel more comfortable than if your partner's ex ended it," Bennett says. "In many cases the person ending it is over the relationship and ready to move on, whereas that may not be the case if the relationship was ended 'for them.'" Someone always has to end the relationship, so this rule isn't necessarily hard and fast, but it can provide a look into how your partner has approached this friendship.
"How 'Complicated' Have Things Been?"
It's one thing if your partner and their ex have maintained a strictly-platonic friendship post-breakup. It's another if they've been on-again-off-again and haven't told you.
"It's a fair question to ask about any sexual or romantic connections since the breakup," Bennett says. "If their post breakup 'friendship' has been an on-and-off again series of dates, hook-ups, or short periods of dating, I would be concerned." This, like most issues, can be worked through, but asking this question can lead you to some new understanding.
"How Does Your Ex Feel About You?"
Even if your partner no longer has any feelings for their ex, things can still be tricky if their ex has feelings for them. And an honest partner will be forthcoming if you ask about whether there are any feelings more than friendship between the two of them.
"You will probably want to know if their ex wants to get back together or not," McManus says. "If they might, then your partner will have to be very clear about boundaries. Ask them to explain these boundaries to you. If they can’t do it, then they may not be clear on their boundaries, either. [This is] not necessarily a red flag, but certainly an issue that should be addressed by them." Being clear with your partner about how you're feeling throughout is also important.
"What Is Your Objective In Remaining Friends With Your Ex?"
This may seem like an awkward question to ask, since you wouldn't ask it of a friend who'd never been romantically involved with your partner, but it actually serves a really practical purpose.
"This question is attempting to accesses the intent your partner has in including their ex in their life currently," therapist
Dr. Danielle Forshee, tells Bustle. "This question will help you understand their thought process, and, their lack of thought process. Their response will help you understand whether or not there is a functional or practical reason to keeping their ex in their life versus an emotional reason." You might find out that they share financial assets, or learn more about their co-parenting, or that your ex hasn't really thought about the future of their friendship.
"How Does Remaining Friends With Your Ex Benefit Your Life?"
Again, this question does not need to be an accusation. You may learn, from asking how their friendship with an ex benefits their life, how many good things they actually get from the continued relationship. As a result, you may understand your partner better after asking this.
"Sometimes, ex’s remain friends in situations where they have a long history of attachment, such as growing up together, having the same group of friends, [or] family knowing each other," Dr. Forshee says. If, however, they can't answer this question, Dr. Forshee notes that they may be leaning on an emotional benefit of this friendship that could be a red flag for your relationship.
If your partner genuinely has a positive friendship with their ex and enjoys spending time with them, then it would be natural to ask to be involved in this aspect of their social life, just as you may want to hang out with their other friends.
Plus, a "no" to this question might be a big red flag. "You should be able to meet them at some point, but not need to always be present whenever they get together," McManus says. If your partner understands this, and really has nothing to hide, you three should be able to at least meet once or twice. And if you are dealing with any concerns around trust, it's valid to ask your partner to tell you when they're seeing their ex, McManus says.
Having a partner who's friends with an ex does not have to be a roadblock in your relationship. If, however, you have concerns or have noticed any red flags, it is valid to want to follow through on that. "If your ex is sympathetic to your feelings, but wants to still be friends with their ex, then it is up to you to learn to manage your feelings around this," McManus says. "A good therapist will be able to help you unpack your feelings and learn to manage them so that you can be comfortable when your partner sees their ex." Open conversation about your feelings will help the relationship thrive.