How To Accept Your Partner's Past, According To Experts
One of the keys to living a happy and healthy life is to leave the past behind. It's a piece of advice you probably hear a lot. That's especially true when it comes to relationships. When you start dating someone new, you know they're going to come along with some kind of baggage. While it's so common to fixate on things from your partner's past, experts say, there are some things you really shouldn't worry about.
"It is very important to remember, that each new relationship should be given a new start," Dr. Ronica Arnold Branson, licensed therapist and relationship coach, tells Bustle. "When individuals initially connect, the relationship begins with much anticipation and excitement. After time, thoughts of the past may begin to set in and problems can start to arise if these unhealthy thoughts continue to run rampart"
Everyone has a past, even you. There are some things you should obviously be careful of like patterns of abusive or toxic behavior. But if you're fixated on your partner's ex or their past mistakes, it's important to ask yourself what is this really going to do for you?
"Everyone has skeletons in their closet, and no one is perfect," Branson says. "Even though you may have had bad experiences in the past, use these experiences as opportunities for growth and improvement, not as opportunities to judge your new partner."
So here are some things from your partner's past that you shouldn't worry about, according to experts.
1. One-Time Cheating
Infidelity is a major deal breaker for many people. If you find out that your partner cheated in a past relationship, it can raise a big red flag. But every situation is different, so you shouldn't jump to conclusions too soon. "If the person demonstrated genuine remorse, regret, empathy, and apologized to their partner, and never cheated again, they just might be a one-time cheater," Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author, tells Bustle. If they had a full-blown affair or have a history of cheating on all their past partners and haven't gone to therapy to work out any underlying issues, then that may be cause for concern. You may be dealing with a serial cheater.
2. Their Education Level
Research has found that college-educated couples typically have longer lasting marriages. But as Adina Mahalli, MCT, a certified relationship expert and mental health consultant, tells Bustle, whether or not a person finished college doesn't have to be a problem. "Many people see this as a red flag, partly because it’s just an easy-to-spot warning sign of some sort of instability," Mahalli says. "But the truth is that your education level is rarely an indication of who you are as a person. The fact that your partner never graduated or used to play hooky on a daily basis doesn’t reflect their current intellect or responsibility levels."
3. Immature Behavior In Past Relationships
It's so easy to start obsessing over your partner's past relationships. But what they did in the past with other people shouldn't really matter to you now.
"If we held ourselves accountable for the way we behaved in every past relationship, some of us would be classified as 'undateable,'" Mahalli says.
If you hear negative things about how your partner was before they met you, it's OK to keep that information in the back of your mind. But don't let that influence how you view them today, especially if there are no red flags. Every relationship dynamic is different, so yours may not be the same as your partner's past situations. Also, people change all the time.
"If you’re dating a healthy individual, then chances are that past relationships were learning curves to help them refine their dating choices," Mahalli says.
4. Their Sexual History
If there's one thing that you don't really need to worry about from your partner's past it's their sexual history. You should talk about your sexual history, especially for health reasons. But specifics like how many people they slept with, or the things they did with other people, shouldn't trouble you.
"If anything, one ought to be thrilled that their partner has had an elaborate, exciting, experimental sex life prior to meeting you," Dr. Mark Borg Jr., Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst and author who specializes in relationships, tells Bustle. "Having a partner with an interesting sex life in their history can result in you two joining each other in an ongoing sexual adventure now."
If you really want to know details about their past, don't use it as something to compare yourself to.
5. Specific Exes
Obsessing over a specific ex won't do any good for you. Your partner may have been in a relationship with that person for many years. But there's a reason why they're not together now. The last thing you should do is worry about how you measure up to someone else.
"Life can’t be lived comparing yourself to someone else," Branson says. "You can’t be successful based on what someone else has done. Know that you are uniquely you and that your partner likes you for who you are, not for what they had."
6. Money Mistakes They Made
Money can be a major source of problems for couples. But the reality is, not everyone is responsible with their spending right off the bat. When you're younger and not really thinking about buying a house, starting a family, and so on, it's easy to put a bunch of charges on a credit card and not think anything of it. It's an obvious problem if they're still spending like there's no tomorrow. But if they've learned from their mistakes, and are making choices that reflect that, you don't really need to worry.
"If they are now successful, moving ahead toward success in measurable ways, and feeling confident about their future, then the mistakes made served a purpose," dating and relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca, CLC, tells Bustle.
If, on the other hand, your partner is caught in a "victim mindset" and isn't doing anything about it, that can be a problem long-term.
7. Their Previous "Type"
Many people have preferences or specific "types" they go for. If your partner used to date people with certain traits and features, and you don't exactly fit that type, there's no need to worry.
"Realize that people change," Branson says. "What they once thought was a quality that they had to have, they might now realize that these things may not be as important. It’s important not to put limits on love and realize that happiness is not pre-packaged."
While these are some things from your partner's past that you shouldn't worry about, there are some things you should always look out for. These are things like patterns of abuse, and controlling behavior.
"People can change, but they have to first want to change," Branson says. "If you see these unhealthy behaviors, it may be a sign that your partner needs help."
If none of that is present in your current relationship, it's just best to leave the past behind.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.