No matter how much time has gone by, past relationships can still have a way of creating problems in your current one. That's especially true if one or both partners were in a toxic relationship before. And if your partner's ex was toxic, you're likely to see the effects of that in your relationship now.
Whether it's awful fights, constant cheating and lying, dependency issues, or abuse, a toxic relationship is basically an unhealthy situation that can damage the well-being of one or both partners. When someone has a history of being in a toxic relationship, the types of behaviors you might see in your current one can vary greatly, doctor of clinical psychology, Dr. Julie Gurner, tells Bustle. "Both the type of toxicity vary as well as the way each person copes with it," she says. For instance, people who've developed trust issues may become accusatory in their next relationship, some may become smothering, and others may put up a wall so they don't get hurt again.
Keep in mind, some of these things, like being guarded and trust issues, can stem from elsewhere, and not necessarily a past relationship. Although it's difficult to know for sure if your partner has a toxic ex unless they actually tell you, experts say these are some signs you can look out for:
1. They Have Strong Negative Reactions To Innocent Things You Do
If your partner has a strong negative reaction to something you do that seems out of sync with reality, Dr. Gurner says, they may have had a toxic ex. For instance, you might meet friends for drinks after work and then come home to your partner who subtly accuses you of flirting with a bunch of people. Sure, that can be super annoying if you've done absolutely nothing wrong. But if your partner's ex constantly cheated and lied, they may react that way out of habit.
"If you have a partner who had a toxic ex, you may be spending some significant time up front changing their mindset about how healthy relationships operate, especially around areas of trust," she says. "For those who have been particularly damaged, it can take a while before your current partner realizes that you are not their ex." If you're willing to be patient, you can work together to build a solid foundation of trust.
2. They Have A Habit Of Saying Unnecessary Apologies
"If they say sorry a hundred times for not answering your text fast enough, it’s probably because their used to getting yelled at all the time," she says.
If this gets to you, Ricciardi says to try appreciating their efforts, but also show that you're patient and understanding. "Let them know you aren't subjecting them to fail before they even tried," she says.
3. They Seem Surprised By How Good A Relationship Can Be
If your partner wasn't treated with love and respect before, they may be surprised by how good a relationship can actually be. According to Ricciardi, some people who think this way may not feel like they deserve all the things you do for them and may get into a self-sabotaging mode.
"Tell your partner that they do deserve happiness and that they don't have to feel bad for receiving it," she says. If their last relationship made them feel like their efforts weren't enough, make sure to assure them that you're grateful to have them in your life, and that both of your needs should be met without anyone feeling bad about it.
4. It Takes Them Some Time To Show You Their True Self
If your partner is used to being made fun of or constantly being put down by their ex, they may struggle to show you their true self.
"It can be scarring and they may have trouble coming out of their shell in fear you'll react the same way," Ricciardi says. If you notice any signs of self-esteem issues in your partner, do what you can to lift them up. You can't make them change the way they feel about themselves right away. But you can make your relationship a safe and judgement-free zone so they can feel comfortable being themselves.
5. They Get Noticeably Agitated When They Talk About Their Last Relationship
If you're talking to your partner about your exes and they seem very agitated talking about the breakup and the relationship itself, relationship expert Alex DiBacco, tells Bustle they may have had a toxic ex.
"Any other information such as the ex leaving and then coming back multiple times or having a habit of continuous lies, will probably indicate some toxicity in the relationship," DiBacco says. If your partner lists out everything that went wrong, you can be sure they don't want to experience that in your relationship now. So be sure to keep those things in mind. While getting over a past negative situation is ultimately your partner's battle, you can help by being supportive.
"Don't let the ex take over your relationship," DiBacco says. "Make your own memories and encourage your partner to focus on himself or herself. Ultimately, you should make sure that you're not getting sucked into a toxic relationship yourself if the ex's presence is overwhelming." DiBacco says.
6. They Expect That Arguments And Fights Will Automatically Lead To A Breakup
When you're in a toxic relationship, the fights can get pretty ugly. If your partner seems to think any fights or arguments you have may automatically lead to a breakup, their ex was likely toxic.
"They may even get confused and shocked when you don't react at little outbursts," Ricciardi says. "If your partner gets upset and is on edge (because let's face it they're constantly emotionally protecting themselves), be patient with them. Don't get mad at them back." If they're used to toxic fights, they may be expecting you to bite back and get even more upset. Instead, don't get angry right away and approach them from a place of understanding. In doing so, you can help them see that there are healthier and more productive ways to fight.
7. Their Ex Will Do All They Can To Stay In The Picture
"Toxic people can be insidious," Dr. Gurner says. "Sometimes, these types of exes can find ways of disrupting your current relationship intentionally but with some plausible deniability." Your partner's ex may comment on their Instagram in inappropriate ways, message them "just to be friendly," or confide in them.
While Dr. Gurner recognizes that this isn't a popular thing to say, "it's often better to cut toxic people from your life entirely." But in this case, this isn't something you can do. It has to come from your partner. Hopefully they can recognize that their toxic ex is causing unnecessary issues between the two of you.
Being with someone who had a toxic relationship in the past can be challenging at times, but it doesn't have to damage your relationship. You can't force someone to trust you or try to convince them that you're not like their ex. As Dr. Gurner says, "They need to be willing to examine their own patterns, emotions and beliefs."
What you can do is continue to be a loving and supportive partner. It may require patience on your part. But if you can give your partner the time and space they need to get used to a healthier relationship dynamic, their toxic ex should no longer be a problem.