Do you ever ask, “should you stay friends with your ex?” It’s a tricky question for many of us, especially if we haven’t truly identified our own intentions or feelings.
Most modern relationships start with two people having a relationship history. Whether it’s extensive, short or eclectic, our relationship past is usually complicated and sometimes hard to understand.
When starting a new relationship, I have found that some couples struggle with how to approach the topic of their ex-partners. Some clients find themselves sustaining relationships with their ex’s, while others are completely against it. Some clients find themselves worried about boundaries with ex-relationships and have an internal conflict with compromising this previous connection.
When is it inappropriate to stay connected to an ex? In what capacity is it acceptable to remain “connected” to an ex? When are you compromising yourself and your own values when starting a new relationship that has a different philosophy? When is it time to full end your relationship with an ex?
In my professional opinion, I am going to give you a rather vague answer to these questions. It depends. I used to hate when my professors in grad school would say that, but sometimes that’s all you can say. Although this answer is ambiguous, I have learned as a therapist how to appreciate that simplistic, yet confusing answer. It really does depend. Every person is different, every relationship is different, every scenario has its own complications and complexities. All I ask, do your own homework.
If you find it is important to maintain relationships with your ex’s, please take a moment to reflect and ask yourself why. Are there any subconscious possibilities that have caused you to want to leave the door slightly open just in case? Do you worry about having enemies or anyone from your past having a negative perspective about you? Did you have a ex or two that weren’t good romantic partners, but still show up for you as a friend?
Regardless of your scenario, I think it is important that you be extremely honest with yourself when asking why you maintain relationship(s) with your ex(s). The first two examples may have the tendency to lead you in some relational trouble in the future, (if it hasn’t already).
Across the board, I feel the following is a good rule of thumb when attempting to establish healthy boundaries and appropriate scenarios with your new partner, as well as with your ex’s:
- Skip the Short Cut
- When initiating a new relationship, limit your conversations about your ex-partners. When having the urge to talk about your ex’s, ask yourself ”why do I want to talk about them?” If you find yourself wanting to talk about them because, A) you miss them or B) you want to make your new partner jealous, my advice is to stop and do some work immediately on yourself. These two examples aren’t necessarily negative, but it does require some hard reflection and possibly some difficult work on yourself before you are fully capable of starting a new (healthy) relationship. Starting a new relationship with someone when you are either A) not over your ex, or B) are playing games to mask insecurities, are not the best foundational blocks to start your new connection on. Understanding your intentions, giving yourself the proper time to grieve ex-relationships and work on self-esteem, will help you on so many levels. Skipping these, are a short cut you do not want to take. Trust me.
- Keep Perspective
- Most often we forget how much our ex’s drove us crazy. Or how incompatible we were together. When starting a new relationship, we have the tendency to compare our ex with our new partner and new red flags may be solely based on our own skewed memory. If we find ourselves holding onto an ex-partner because “they are so great,” we may find ourselves never able to accept our new partner completely and may always have unfair expectations. If your ex is in your life only to subconsciously taunt and confuse you, maybe you should cut ties with them completely so you can officially move on and stop comparing apples to oranges.
- Be Equitable
- If you find yourself not wanting to cut off ties with your ex (for whatever reason), be fair and hold the same rule for your new partner. Ask yourself, “How would I feel about this?” Be sure your new partner understands the capacity of your relationship with your ex and try not to be defensive about it, but rather understanding and allowing of them to have their own reaction to it. Together, you may be able to establish a compromise with comfortable boundaries for all.
- Keep Boundaries EXTREMELY Clear
- It is not appropriate to maintain a “friend with benefits” relationship with an ex when you are starting a new relationship with someone else. It suggests you do not take your new relationship seriously and insecurities will most likely cause ruptures in your new relationship. When engaging in a “friends with benefits” relationship with an ex, be sure to be extremely clear about what your relationship is and isn’t.
Of course there are many more scenarios, as well as other complications I did not discuss. With that being said, just try to remember that not all relationships with ex’s are “bad” or “disrespectful” to your new partner, but they can (and will) cause issues within yourself and/or in your new relationship if you aren’t reflecting and understanding of your own intentions.