Recovering from a toxic relationship can be a slow, painful process. But as the person who's been hurt moves on, and starts a relationship, the person on the other side has some navigating to do as well.
Dating someone with a toxic ex is totally doable, however, you just need to make sure there's an open and honest line of communication.
It's important to let your partner know you're willing to work on building your relationship from a place of growth if you believe their last partner
was toxic. And you can spot a lot of these signs from the way they navigate your relationship. "Chances are if your partner was in a toxic relationship in the past, their actions in this partnership will reflect that," Bethany Ricciardi, Sex and Relationship Expert with TooTimid tells Bustle. Things like over-apologizing, evading arguments, and even getting upset easily can be signs.
Still, you have to approach them from a place of love and respect in order for these conversations to be productive. "It's important to encourage your partner to discuss issues, especially if the
past relationship had been toxic or emotionally abusive, but be careful not to push them where they are not prepared yet to go," Dr Nikki Goldstein, Sexologist and Relationship Expert, tells Bustle. "It's [essential] to create a safe space so they feel comfortable to discuss this and be respectful that this is their past and if they wish to keep it private, they have every right to." So before you ask the below questions, make sure you've also had a conversation about whether they're ready to explore these issues.
Here are seven relationship-strengthening questions to ask your partner if you believe their ex was toxic, according to experts.
1 "How Did Your Relationship End?"
If you're just beginning to uncover the truth about your partner's last relationship, this question is a solid jumping-off-point for other
conversations about its nature. What your partner says about the way it ended, if they're comfortable opening up, will provide some insight into the relationship as a whole.
"Chances are if they were emotionally abused, if you hear how the relationship ends you might be able to tell how toxic their ex was," Ricciardi says. "It might also reveal some fears of theirs on losing people and relationships ending." If they fear abandonment, some of your partner's worries might begin to be assuaged by this conversation, or by you assuring them with things like "I would never leave you over text," or "I'm in this for the long-run."
2 "What Habits Do I Have That Trigger You To Think About Your Ex?"
If you sense your partner has lingering
trauma from a past relationship, it's quite important to deal with that carefully, perhaps by supporting them in seeking professional help. You can also talk to them about how they're feeling in a way that makes them feel safe.
"Triggers are very serious when it comes to emotional trauma, so try and ask your partner if they recognize anything in you, that they didn’t like in their partner," Ricciardi says, "... It will help them during their healing process. You don’t want to tippy toe around them, but if they’re open with you about what really triggers them and they tell you what gets them upset and makes them want to run away from relationships, then make a compromise and work to avoid those habits." The support of a
relationship counselor might help you navigate this territory as well, but starting the conversation is a good step to take in the mean time. 3 "Has Your Ex Changed The Way You Look At Having A Partnership?"
When you're establishing whether you're
on the same page in a relationship, asking questions of one another is important regardless. When you add possible issues lingering from a toxic ex, this gets more complicated. So, sometimes, addressing this issue head-on is reasonable.
"If their partner was toxic, the chances are the answer to this question will be yes," Ricciardi says. "A lot of times bad relationships will create a poor filter over what sharing a partnership with someone is ... Talk to your partner and see in what ways their ex changed the way they want to love and be loved ... Hopefully you can provide the ideal relationship for them and show them not all relationships are unhealthy and with a toxic partner." Beginning to talk about everyday feelings can strengthen the relationship on a macro-level, too.
4 "What Damage Did They Do That Still Lingers?"
If you're struggling to explore the causes behind your partner's behavior, but have a strong feeling they're still hurting from their ex, it might be a good move to just ask them.
"Ask them to be vulnerable with you so you can understand their [relationship] with the ex," Ricciardi says. "It will give you peace to know this isn’t the way your partner always was or always will be. If
something abusive happened, you want to work through that with them. You want to help them, so just ask them to be honest with you on what happened in their last relationship." If you end up in over your head, however, remember it's valid and reasonable to seek outside help if you need it. And if your partner isn't ready to discuss these things, don't prod. 5 "What Can I Do To Show You I Won't Do The Same Thing To You?"
Rebuilding trust after a toxic relationship can be difficult. So actively showing your partner that you have their best interests in mind is important. And if you don't know how to do this, you can ask.
"It might not be a simple list of things to do, but chances are there’s things you can do to provide your partner with security in the relationship," Ricciardi says. "They might ask for constant reassurance in the beginning, or ask you to be patient with them and take things slow. Let the relationship go at their pace, but make sure your needs are always also being met. It’s more work. It’s a sacrifice you’re making dating a damaged heart, but chances are it’ll be worth it.” Having been through a bad relationship doesn't make anyone less worthy, and your commitment to them as a partner will show them that.
6 "What Did You Learn From The Experience That Might Help Us Not Repeat It?"
One of the worst-case scenarios either you or your partner might worry about after a toxic ex is repeating any of those negative behaviors. Asking this question can help you outline concrete ways to make sure that doesn't happen.
"In therapy, there is a saying: what we resist, persists," Rob Weiss, MSW and CEO of
Seeking Integrity tells Bustle. "What that means is that it doesn’t matter how much we complain about something, we’re going to keep doing it until we address it." So if you find yourself constantly talking about the past relationship, but not doing much to address the lingering issues, this question might be right for you. 7 "What Positive Aspect Did You Gain From This Relationship?"
Making sure you don't fall into a habit of constantly wallowing in the painful aspects of your partner's past relationship can be difficult, but worthwhile. "You don’t want to be always so negative,” relationship expert and
Platinum Poire CEO Rori Sassoon tells Bustle.
So ask them this question, and see if they have any takeaways that aren't just ways they were hurt. Together, you can learn what ways your partner grew, or even learned to love themselves, through their past relationship. You will also be able to restore a bit of balance in terms of talking about your exes.
In all, talking about your partner's past relationship is crucial, but showing them you love them in active ways is just as important. "Actions speak louder than words at the end of the day," Sassoon says. "The truth will come out and will help you navigate the relationship." So ask your partner what they need, but also allow them to feel vulnerable and safe with you by showing up and showing that you care in your everyday life as well.