Regardless of how deeply you feel for your current partner, you may find yourself thinking about your ex every now and then. It happens to the best of us and usually, there's really nothing to worry about. But it can become a problem if you start questioning your feelings for your partner and your relationship, without really having a solid reason as to why. According to experts, you may be comparing your partner to your ex without you even realizing it.
"There is a level of intimacy and comfort that comes over time in relationships," Lauren Gentile, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and owner of Psych Wellness, tells Bustle. When you've been in a relationship with someone for some time, you've more than likely developed a level of closeness that's not typically there in the beginning stage of a new relationship.
When something triggers a memory of something that made you feel really happy and loved, it's not uncommon to dwell in those feelings. That's why thinking of your ex while you're with someone new happens even if you don't intend to. "People can get stuck comparing the feeling of comfort and closeness they experienced with an ex to their current partner, and feeling like the new relationship doesn't measure up," she says. It's important to recognize that it takes time to develop a certain level of intimacy. You can't really compare a new relationship to one that already had the chance to develop things like closeness and comfort over time.
So how do you know if you're comparing your partner to your ex? Here are subtle signs to look out for, according to experts.
1. You Get Upset Over Small Things Your Partner Does
If you have an exaggerated response to a seemingly small situation, couples theapist, Anna Osborn, LMFT, tells Bustle, that could be a sign that your reaction is based on a past situation with your ex. "When you're response doesn't match the situation at hand it's usually because the situation reminds you of something from your past and your response is bigger and more intense than necessary," Osborn says. For instance, if your partner apologetically arrives five minutes late for dinner plans and that aggravates you to the extreme, "odds are you're comparing your current partner to some injury or wound from your ex," she says.
2. You Have A Checklist Of Things Your Partner Should Be
If you have a list of "shoulds" in your head that come out in the form of unrealistic expectations, that's a sign to watch out for. As Osborn says, you may be holding your partner to a high standard because you are comparing your behavior to your ex's behavior. If this is happening, she says it's important to verbalize your needs in a "productive manner." If you want your needs to be met, and to establish boundaries, tell your partner calmly, while also being cognizant of demanding too much of them, too quickly.
3. You Think You Know How Your Partner Is Going To React Without Giving Them A Chance To
If you anticipate your new partner's response or answer to something without giving them the opportunity to speak for themselves, that can be a sign that you're comparing your current relationship to your ex. For example, if you used to be ignored by your ex when you asked for help or support, instead of asking your new partner for the same request, you assume they'll ignore you as well so you won't even bother.
"This type of behavior, comparing your current partner to your ex is typically a result of hurt or betrayal from your previous relationship," Osborn says. "When you've been hurt or trust has been broken in a previous relationship, it is hard to stop the the ghosts of your ex enter into your new relationship. Comparing your current partner to your ex is usually a way to protect against being hurt again." The best way to stop it is to look for all the reasons that your new partner is different than your ex and let those reasons be the bridge to learning to trust again.
4. You Sometimes Find Yourself Feeling Lonely Or Disconnected
"Humans are wired to connect as we need the care of others to survive," Dr. Carolina Castaños, relationship expert and founder of MovingOn, tells Bustle. "This need is true from our cradle to our grave." When we're abandoned or rejected in the past, we subconsciously train ourselves to be alert and go into a panic mode. Sometimes you'll feel lonely or rejected in your relationship if your partner says something slightly wrong because it will remind you of the past. If you want this to stop affecting you, she says letting go is key. "Truly moving on involves a process of self-exploration and awareness," Castaños says. "We need to be aware of what is being touched inside of us as we break up. We need to learn about past painful experiences of rejection and/or abandonment that have not been healed, we have to learn how to connect with our emotions, how to allow ourselves to feel our emotions in a kind and compassionate way. We need to learn to love ourselves and take care of ourselves." In doing so, you'll be able to reach a point where you can truly let go and bring happiness into your life and relationship.
5. You Keep Hoping That You’ll Run Into Your Ex Someday
For some, it just happens. But as Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle, "One of the most common signs of this is the fantasy of bumping into your ex." In this case, you're not comparing your partner to your ex to find something lacking. Instead, Backe says you may be doing this to prove you're better off with a partner who's not like them. "If your partner catches on to this, it can be extremely hurtful and make them feel cheap and used," he says. So try to focus on the present, instead of what was in the past.
6. You Feel Distant When Your Partner Attempts To Get Closer
Even though it takes time to build the trust necessary to forge a meaningful bond with your partner, you may be subconsciously keeping distant for other reasons, Backe says. If you find that you're not giving your partner a fair chance to get to know you, try to figure out why. Are you really not that interested in the relationship? Are you just not ready to be in a new relationship at all? Figuring it out sooner rather than later can prevent further hurt.
7. You Feel Like Nobody Can Ever Understand You Like Your Ex Could
"People find it hard to stop thinking about an ex even when they are in a new relationship, because no matter how the relationship with the ex ended, they have still formed lasting long-held positive memories with their ex," therapist, Katie Leikam, LCSW, DCC, tells Bustle. You may feel like your ex understood you better and you'll never have a deep connection like that ever again.
To let your relationship with your ex go, Leikam says you need to be authentic with yourself and your new partner. "Recognize you had special moments with your ex, but open yourself up to creating new memories and experiences with your new partner or your next partner," she says. That means, plan and think of places to go together that are new and exciting. "Or, think of things about yourself that are important for your partner to know about you and practice opening up to your partner."
If you do find yourself comparing your partner to your ex, there are ways to stop. Be sure to recognize that memories are memories and you shouldn't let it affect your relationship that much. Your partner and your ex are two totally different people. No amount of comparison will ever make them the same.