It's a simple fact of living: Once you're past the age of 20 or so, the love of your life is likely to have an ex-love. That means that a lot of your beloved's "firsts" happened with someone else. First kiss, first weekend trip, and yes, first time having sex.
It can begin innocently. You're human and therefore curious about your partner's ex. We learn from the stories and anecdotes of others, so you want to figure out what attracted them to each other. And, naturally, why they broke up. Curiosity is a natural part of being human, but what happens when curiosity becomes obsession?
Sometimes, it's hard to not feel a tinge of jealousy when you think about all the firsts you've missed with your new partner so you want to hear all about it. My client Will told me he caught his girlfriend Tracy checking his phone history and then demanded he delete his ex-wife after seeing a couple of recent phone calls. Though a lot of our coaching that day was around the lack of boundaries Tracy showed, when we began to unravel the whys behind the behavior, it came down to vulnerability and fear. She was afraid that she'd lose Will and he'd get back with his ex-wife.
When someone is feeling vulnerable and fearful that their partner will go back to their ex, it's easier to focus that insecurity, jealousy or even angry obsession toward the "other woman" — even if she's not a threat.
Here's the deal: Crossing boundaries (like looking at your partner's phone history) or bringing up drama around a past relationship (like demanding an ex be deleted or never contacted) will make your love push you away.
What to do instead: Confess that you're feeling insecure will do wonders, because being vulnerable with your partner will actually strengthen your relationship.
You're Worried They'll Get Back Together
My client Tammy was worried that her boyfriend, Gary, was going to get back with his ex-wife when she realized he talked about her, the things they did together, and how Tammy does things differently. Tammy became almost paranoid that Gary was still seeing his ex and started stalking her on Facebook and Instagram.
Here's the deal: Sound familiar? Even a little bit? Sometimes our anxieties around this are based on a gut feeling, and other times they're borne out of insecurity. Obsessing over a possibility is focusing on the past, instead of being present and enjoying what's going on with your fantastic current partner!
What to do instead: Have an honest conversation about your fears and bring up specific examples. If your gut tells you he's still in love with his ex-wife, then, baby, move along. But most likely, the only reason he's bringing her up is that it's the only serious relationship he had, they co-parent their children so he still interacts with her, or is trying to see if you're into him enough to be a little jealous. Put the kabash on him needing to make you jealous and decide if it's worth staying or going.
You deserve to be with someone who is crazy about you.
What Went Wrong?
We all learn from the stories of others. When we fall in love, we are risking getting our hearts broken and a defense mechanisms of investigation of what went wrong in the past seems like a logical way to figure out how not to end up the same way.
Here's the deal: When you become obsessed and examine things on your own, you are making a judgment around what you thought went wrong. Then, you begin focusing on what could be wrong in your own relationship instead of what's going right.
What to do instead: Ask your partner what went wrong and how you can better support each other in the future. This is why I recommend couples create a joint vision to be clear around what they desire and what they need in a relationship.
Comparison & Competition
My client Mary become obsessed with her boyfriend's ex-wife Gloria. Gloria was a classic American beauty: tall, blonde, leggy and ran a successful salon. Mary was a succeesful attorney and saw herself as smarter than Gloria, but believed she didn't compare when it came to looks as she was a shorter brunette and was a little overweight. She felt she could never measure up to Gloria's beauty and went as far as to make regular appointments in Gloria's salon to try and emulate some of her beauty tips — and look for clues that maybe Gloria wasn't always picture perfect.
Here's the deal: We are wired — thanks to our societal expectations — to be the winner, and often the prize is a life partner. Part of competition is to be seen as better (prettier, smarter, richer, thinner, etc). But let's be frank about what comparison is really about: It's about conforming and competition. While seemingly opposite ideas, the result of comparison is that we want to conform within a set norm, while standing out as the best of the norm. We don't want to be that pink house at the end of the block or be dressed completely different from a group of friends out for lunch ... but we do want to be the best.
And where does that put us? Trying for the perfection, which we've already acknowledged is just exhausting. What comparison does is move us further away from being real and being authentic and being creative. Because, honestly, how can we always be sure that we are "fitting in" while "standing out" at the same time.
What to do instead: We all want to be loved and belong to something larger than ourselves. But constantly trying to mold ourselves ourselves into the ways others look or behave isn't the way to win your honey's heart. The way to be loved and stop the comparison game? The way to be the winner? It's simple: Just be yourself.
The number one thing to remind yourself of is that your partner's ex is an ex for a reason and whatever the reason, there's no need to obsess over her. You are the main squeeze in your love's life now, and if you don't feel like you're the priority, then choose yourself. Always. Focus on how fabulous you are instead of the ex!
More on effective communication from YourTango: