Although I’ve personally found that cutting off contact with exes who treated me poorly is the healthiest option for me, I still have love for all of my exes. Past lovers are an important part of many people’s lives, and that’s not always a bad thing. (I have one ex in particular who I will probably always consider family.) Still, no matter how much you might care about your own exes, it can be difficult not to become jealous when your partner is close with an ex.
I know that's how I feel sometimes, so just in case my next long-term partner is still close friends with their ex, I wanted to find out how to be OK with that. I reached out to NYC-based relationship coach, Effy Blue, who agreed to speak with Bustle about exactly what to do when when your partner is still friends with their ex. Blue, who coaches both monogamous and non-monogamous couples on “relationship by design,” feels that friendships with exes aren’t automatically a threat to anyone’s relationship. Rather, Blue believes that despising any person who cares about the same person you love is as counterintuitive as it gets. (It's true, when you think about it.)
On that note, here are the signs you don't have to worry about your partner's ex.
Your Partner Is Upfront With You About Details
While your partner shouldn't feel like they have to get your "permission" to stay friends with an ex, it is important that they're voluntarily open and honest with you about their friendships with past lovers. If they want to stay friends with an ex, your partner "needs to define that relationship, and communicate it to you," Blue says.
Whether they see their ex once a month to catch up over coffee, or they keep in touch with their ex over social media, your partner should be straight-forward with you about what that relationship entails. Clarity is key — so if your partner respectfully initiates a dialogue with you about why they want to remain friends with an ex, and they're happy to tell you exactly what that friendship looks like, then you've probably got nothing to worry about.
You're All Communicating Honestly & Openly
Instead of charging by the hour for my coaching, I'm going to start charging by the number of times I say #useyourwords.— Effy Blue (@CoachEffyBlue) February 12, 2016
If you, your partner, and your partner's ex are maintaining a direct line of respectful communication with one another, that's a pretty clear indicator that none of you need to feel threatened. However, it's important that you're all taking the time and initiative to speak specifically about your relationships with each other. If the three of you are sticking to easy topics, (like Game of Thrones or work) that's not the same thing as successfully communicating with one another. As Blue puts it, "there's a difference between conversing and communicating ... When you're communicating, it sort of needs to be with intention."
Instead of simply not lying to you, your partner should be giving you enough information about the dynamics of their relationship with their ex that you can make an informed decision about it for yourself. The same goes for you and your partner's ex, too (that is, if you're interested in having a relationship with them — more on that in a bit).
Their Ex Is Supportive Of Your Relationship
"If your partner is good friends with their ex, in an ideal situation, their ex respects your relationship," Blue says. So if your partner's ex has failed to show respect for you and your relationship with your partner, then it's possible that they have ulterior motives for staying friends with them. If this is the case, Blue says your partner's ex could become a threat (or a burden) to your relationship.
On the other hand, if your partner's ex has been nothing but supportive of you and your relationship with your partner, then you can probably trust that they're not trying to come between the two of you in any way. What's more is, according to Blue, a supportive relationship with your partner's ex could potentially make your relationship with your partner even more solid.
Everyone's Clear On Boundaries
OK, so short of snooping on your partner, (which experts agree is just a terrible idea) you're going to have to trust them and their ex to not be shady. This doesn't mean you can't ask them questions or set clear boundaries, but ultimately, none of you can know for sure what's going on when you're not around. What all three of you can (and should) do, however, is make sure that your relationships with each other are clearly defined and communicated. "Making sure that everyone involved, first of all, understands integrity," Blue says, is key. "You'll do what you say and say what you'll do."
So basically, while it's important to speak your mind in a situation like this, there's always going to be an element of trust involved. But if your partner has proven themselves to be a person of integrity, and their ex hasn't given you any reason to doubt their integrity, then trusting them both to do the right thing should become easier and easier over time.
Their Ex Is Open To Getting To Know You Better
If your partner's ex is open to being friends with you, then they're probably A-OK. In fact, Blue says she thinks getting to know your partner's ex is almost always a good idea. "If it's available to you, I would definitely encourage anyone who's willing to have a relationship with their partner's ex," Blue tells Bustle. "I think if you can have a relationship with that person, it's beneficial because then it will humanize that person. It's not some scary person that you know nothing about, if you actually get to know them."
So if it's possible and your comfortable with it, you should try spending some one-on-one time with your partner's ex. It will probably be a little bit awkward at first (for everyone involved) — but it could also leave you feeling more confident about your relationship with your partner, while simultaneously reassuring you about your partner's relationship with their ex. Plus, you and The Ex could end up really hitting off. Assuming you and your partner have a lot in common, there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy being around their ex as much as they do. And if you don't, maybe that's OK, too.
The Bottom Line
If your partner is friends with their ex, Blue says it's crucial to "have an internal understanding that you're not replaceable." Remind yourself that people aren't interchangeable, and your relationship with your partner is unique. Also, remember that your relationships don't have to stick to society's default settings. While having exes in your life can be unhealthy under certain circumstances, getting to know your partner's exes isn't necessarily a bad move. This is especially true if they're going to be an ongoing part of your life.
That said, it's never OK for your partner or their ex to be disrespectful or dishonest with you, so you should feel free to set clear boundaries and expectations with both of them. Further, there are times when being friends with your partner's ex isn't the healthiest choice — so maybe check out this article on the topic before you rush off to make brunch plans.