When Maintaining Contact With An Ex-Lover Threatens A Relationship

Dear Neil: I am interested in your views of people staying in contact with their ex’s while in a new relationship. I have been dating a man for 5 months, and he believes it is fine to stay in contact and visit occasionally with his ex-partners. He says they are now “friends.”

I feel that once people have had an intimate/sexual relationship with each other, there will always be that “special” connection, and it has no place in a new relationship. I do not consider myself a jealous person, but I feel hurt and insecure knowing that he would like to spend time with someone he was obviously attracted to before. Am I wrong?

Feeling Insecure in New Zealand

Dear Insecure: There is nothing wrong with staying in contact with an ex-partner/spouse/lover. Some people are lucky enough to remain friends with someone who they were once emotionally and sexually involved with, but who now are counted as non-romantic friends that they share a past with. Keeping such friends can ground us, because they remind us of who we once were, and ex-partner’s of ours may have some keen insights into our personalities, abilities, tendencies and temperament.

But threatening a current relationship is not wise if the goal is to explore a possible future together. A relationship cannot stabilize if it is always feeling insecure, and it will never get to feeling “normal” if you can’t trust that he will give up other romantic possibilities in order to keep you. And that’s what it sounds like you are fearful of—that he will keep all his romantic/sexual options open, and therefore will not commit to you.

So although it is not wrong to stay in contact with previous lovers, it can also threaten a new relationship. On the one hand, your boyfriend may not want to lose contact with ex-lovers he still feels a connection with. But on the other hand, you don’t feel safe and secure with him, knowing that he is maintaining these previous relationships. Such a dilemma, if not resolved, could easily turn into a trust issue that could sabotage trust and goodwill in your relationship.

I could see you asking him to take a break from his ex-lovers while the two of you are exploring a possible deeper relationship with each other. For arguments sake, let’s say you ask him to discontinue those other relationships for a year. At the end of that year, assuming the two of you are more stable, perhaps he could invite his ex’s and you to all get together so that you could meet each other. The goal would be to give your new relationship some time to gain stability and security before his ex’s are put in the mix.

It is not unreasonable for you to ask for what you need in order to feel safe and secure, and the man who refuses such a request might be saying that he doesn’t foresee a future with you, or that he feels more connected with his ex’s than he does with you. It is also reasonable for him to want to keep long-standing friends even though he has entered a relationship with you.

It speaks volumes about how attached and committed we are when we are willing to make important to us what is important to our partners. Perhaps both of you can do so for each other. He could assist your relationship in stabilizing and feeling secure and committed, and you could then allow him his old “friends.”

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