A couple speak across a table but the woman is distracted

How to deal with exes

by Eharmony Editorial Team - November 24, 2011

Your new love’s relationship with their ex can bring up difficult feelings. Here are some good ways of negotiating your way through this tricky minefield of emotions.

A lot of people who are on dating websites have been in long-term committed relationships before and depending on how, and why, their relationship ended the legacy that remains for a new partner will vary. All of them can be emotional hotspots so here are some areas to be aware of in the most common situations.

The deceased ex

In some ways this is the most difficult ex to deal with because there was no decision by either partner to end the relationship; if their partner hadn’t died they would probably still be together. As a new partner you are dealing with the memory of someone who was loved and lost. Sometimes when people die their loved one’s memory of them becomes idealised. This can make a new partner feel as though they are in competition with the ghost of a saint. If there are also children from the relationship the pressure on you to fill their shoes can make you feel inadequate and even jealous.

The important thing to remember in this situation is that you are dealing with grief. The deceased partner has gone forever and your new mate has chosen to be with you. This is a clear indication that they are ready to let go and move on with their life but that doesn’t mean they have finished grieving for the person they have lost. Be supportive and let them talk about their past when they need to. Try not to compare yourself with their old partner or ask them to compare you. If you feel that your new partner is still deeply distressed suggest they get some bereavement counselling. Most important of all be patient and talk to someone outside the relationship if you feel you need extra support yourself.

The angry ex

Many relationships don’t end well and when you come on the scene there could still be an old war raging which would be easy to get sucked into. You are naturally going to feel protective towards your partner but remember you are only hearing one side of the story and won’t ever really know the full history between them. Your role should be one of supportive ally to your partner. Love and support them. Give advice if they ask for it but don’t add to their difficulties by making it all about you.

The ex who is still a friend

Not all relationships end badly, sometimes people decide they aren’t suited as partners but remain good friends. If there are children involved it is obviously better for them if their parents aren’t at war but even without children there are many people who stay close even if it didn’t work out romantically for them.

The biggest problem for a new person coming into a setup like this is jealousy. You know they aren’t together now but they have been in the past and it can be hard to not feel a little bit jealous if they are still very close.

The impact on your relationship depends very much on how close friends they are. If your partner still has a deep emotional connection with their ex e.g. talking to them about everything, seeing them regularly, depending on them for support – this may make you feel that many of their needs for intimacy are already being met and you are unsure as to where you fit in. A friendship that is much lighter e.g. they are still on friendly terms at social gatherings, share some of the same social circle – may feel like far less of a threat but can still be very difficult.

In this situation it is best to talk things through as honestly as possible. You need to know your place and that any romantic feelings your partner had for their ex are well and truly in the past. Ask for some history. Who ended the relationship? Is your partner dating you hoping their friend will realise that they do want to be with them after all? Don’t be a pawn in anyone else’s game of love, if you suspect that this is the case, leave.

In all situations establish your new relationship before you try to deal with any ghosts from the past. Give yourself lots of time to get to know each other and to feel that there is a strong bond and commitment, for some couples this may be a few weeks for others a few months. You want to get to a position that when you meet the ex, or the kids, you are entering the situation as a couple. That will give you the confidence in your relationship to deal with any problems from past as you will be united rather than like a spare part in someone else’s life.