How to deal with insecurity over exes in a new relationship
November 22, 2015 1:35 PM   Subscribe

My new boyfriend's recent ex still contacts him. I don't think there is anything inappropriate going on, but the fact that they still have an emotional connection makes me uneasy. Can you give me a reality check on whether I'm being reasonable, and how to address it?

The boyfriend and I have only been dating a few months, but we got serious pretty quickly and have been spending a lot of time together (we're in our thirties and both are relationshippy types). He told me about his breakup with his ex early on, and it was clear that it was still pretty fresh, maybe a month before we met, and that it was very rough on him. It sounds like they had a lot of drama and probably weren't great for each other, but that kind of drama can make for high emotion sometimes too.

She's been contacting him here and there via text, maybe weekly. I only know about this because he mentions it, or because I've seen her name in his recent texts when he's had his phone out to show me something - I've never looked at their conversations or snooped, nor would I ever. When it happens, I know he responds, but not right away, and I don't get the impression that he initiates or continues the conversation.

I've asked him about it a couple times (very briefly) when it's come up, and he's told me what she texted about. He's been honest about the fact that he's still sad about their breakup, but he also says that he loves me and is invested in our relationship, and his actions have supported that.

The dilemma is that I completely understand how he's feeling - breakups are always emotional even if they are for the best - but I also feel insecure because our few months can't compare with the history he has with his ex. Logically, I know I should be focusing on our current relationship - which has been really great and healthy and generally drama-free - but every time I am reminded of his ex, my gut reaction is "run away so you don't get hurt!" I don't want to do that, but I'm also not sure how to go about having a conversation about it. I don't want to make him feel guilty about what is probably an innocent and brief interaction, because that will just make me look insecure and might make him feel like he needs to hide things from me in the future. But I also AM insecure, and that's not a great feeling, so if there's a way to allay that, I'd like to do it.

So for those of you with more experience - is this something I should bring up? What kind of information is reasonable to ask for? Or is this something I should just allow to be part of his history and try to forget about?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How would you feel about the relationship if you didn't know about her?

Look, here's the thing. No relationship has a guarantee that you won't get hurt. NO relationship. If yours is going well, I would concentrate on that. None of us knows whether or not this woman is a threat to this one, but then again, no guarantee that something else wouldn't affect this relationship down the road either, on either your side or his.

On the other hand if there is something specific you can bring up that is bothering you, if he is a good guy he will address it with you. If not.....well, like I said, there are no guarantees.

I would just relax and enjoy the relationship I had if I were you. If they were meant to be they would be being right now. And they aren't. YOU are.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:42 PM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hi! This is a tough one. I agree with you on that. I believe you that nothing untoward is going on between them.

If he says he loves you and he's invested in your relationship, I think you are going to have to trust that you can talk about this with him. I like everything you said here! It was perfect!!

"Every time I am reminded of your ex, my gut reaction is "run away so you don't get hurt!" I don't want to do that, but I'm also not sure how to go about having a conversation about this. I don't want to make you feel guilty about what is probably an innocent and brief interaction, because that will just make me look insecure and might make you feel like you need to hide things from me in the future."

You could also tough it out and just let it go every time she comes up, like breathe through it and mentally change your focus on to something pleasant.
posted by jbenben at 1:46 PM on November 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds as if he and his ex have only been separated a little over three months and you met shortly after his break up. The first question I would have (and perhaps I missed it) is the duration of his involvement with his ex. If they had been friends/a couple for a substantial length of time one might expect some on going communication--and it might even reflect a reasonableness on their part. The bottom line--as recommended--focus on the present and what is working in the relationship. Any new relationship occurring within a month of a breakup is likely to have an element of uncertainty and sorting out. wishing you the best
posted by rmhsinc at 2:21 PM on November 22, 2015

When I met the woman who is now my wife, I had a friendly relationship with my ex (I still do, although we have less contact these days). It took me a while to really be over her—it was a gradual process, and being in a new relationship was part of what got me over the previous one.

You can tell your guy what you've told all of us Internet strangers. But it sounds like you know intellectually that this is not something you want to make a big deal out of, and your intellectual side is right. I'd recommend against it.

After a certain age, everyone comes with a past. Let him have his.
posted by adamrice at 2:29 PM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

It sounds like how you are feeling has very little to do with the ex and everything to do with the situation you are in. You were a rebound for a man who likes relationships. You both moved too quickly and are now using the L word after only a few months. It all sounds sort of fake to me, almost like he's one of those 'insert woman here' kind of guys, as if you could have been anyone, and you just happened to be the one in front of him, so he ended up with you. If this hits anywhere on the mark then get away, and get away fast. Guys like that suck. They are the ones who have to number their wives because they divorce and remarry so often. If you are reading this and thinking, no, this woman is crazy, he and I are meant to be together, then, ignore the ex and enjoy your guy. Some men do stay friendly with their ex girlfriends in a healthy way. If ever he puts her needs or feeling above yours then it is unhealthy but, if he is simply responding to her texts and not putting drama behind it, you may be fine.
posted by myselfasme at 2:32 PM on November 22, 2015 [9 favorites]

Some people like to stay friendly with their exes; some people have ties to their exes that aren't easily broken. Some people don't do or have either of those things. I think it's okay to ask your boyfriend where he sits on that spectrum and then think about whether you're comfortable with his answer.
posted by sm1tten at 2:55 PM on November 22, 2015

I think there's a reason that "no contact" is overwhelmingly the advice for people in the wake of a fresh breakup. Even if they want to be friends eventually, it generally requires a break first.

You should brace yourself to be his rebound girlfriend. And you should keep an eye sharp for signs that his need to not be alone are a higher priority than who he's actually with. You may want to spend some time deciding what, for you, is not okay - where your line is drawn. People in this situation can end up frogboiling for a long time, sometimes waiting for the effort they've put in to pay off.

It might be fine, of course, but one of my bigger regrets of my single life was the time I wasted in relationships where one of us wasn't really feeling it or willing to make decisions for the good of the current relationship rather than the former.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:27 PM on November 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Relationship KILLERS:

Lack of Communication
Lack of Respect

I've said this for years and now I'm saying it here: You can't steal what doesn't want to be stolen.

That doesn't solve your problem of the insecurity, and you asked if it's reasonable to feel insecure in the situation. I am the Queen of Trying to be Reasonable, and I say your feelings are very, very reasonable. Are they justified? Yes, to a degree. Is he giving you a reason to be suspicious? I don't think so. Insecurity sends the subtext message of "I don't trust you" which is deeply insulting to a trustworthy person. This is why and how insecurity kills an otherwise decent relationship.

Work on your own self-esteem like it's a job. Continue to cultivate all of your interests. Do stuff that makes you feel really good. Pamper yourself as much as you can. Make your living space beautiful. BE AUTHENTICALLY YOU AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. If he's really him, Him with a capital H, then she couldn't steal him away if she showed up naked with a whipped-cream bikini. Do you, be you. If he's right, there is literally nothing she could do to make him go back to her.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 4:02 PM on November 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

You're concerning yourself with the wrong person. I get it - you don't know her, she's some mystery person so it's easy to see her as the problem. She's not the person you need to focus on, your boyfriend is.

You see, the thing is, you're dating him. You're not dating her. He moved too fast, and he didn't allow himself to get over her, so now he's loving two people, even if he's decided to be committed to you. I don't doubt his feelings for you, and I don't think he's going to cheat necessarily, and you could be a controlling person and tell him he's not allowed to contact her...but none of those things change the underlying problem.

He is still grieving that relationship. This isn't necessarily a death sentence, but I think you need to evaluate what it is you want, and what he wants, and if those two things are compatible at this time. It doesn't mean he doesn't love you, but it also doesn't mean he can give you all of himself right now.
posted by Aranquis at 5:27 PM on November 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't want to make him feel guilty about what is probably an innocent and brief interaction, because that will just make me look insecure and might make him feel like he needs to hide things from me in the future. But I also AM insecure, and that's not a great feeling, so if there's a way to allay that, I'd like to do it.

This seems like a totally reasonable set of things for one adult to be able to tell another adult, and one that shouldn't require much sugar-coating. "I'm feeling insecure about XYZ. I know it's probably fine, I'm coping with it myself, I'm not demanding you change XYZ or hide XYZ from me. I just wanted to let you know XYZ is giving me some feelings, and I'd appreciate an extra hug now and then when it comes up."

And for what it's worth, his reaction to a request like that will probably give you some useful information about him as a person and y'all's relationship.

Like, the ideal would be for him to say "Yeah, that's reasonable, thanks for letting him know" and then provide extra hugs as required. You can't actually guarantee that he'll live up to that ideal. But if he's going to fail to live up to it in some drastic way — if he's going to freak out at you about it, or get mad, or get into some weird shame-and-anxiety-spiral, or whatever — then that reflects on him and his emotional maturity at least as much as it reflects on you and your communication skills.

I guess what I'm saying is, tell him how you feel, hope for the best as far as his reaction — and if he does react really terribly, be prepared to take that as a sign that he wasn't the right guy for you (at least, not at this particular moment in his life) rather than blaming yourself for "looking insecure" or "making him feel" a certain way or whatever.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:00 PM on November 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is he over their relationship? People can have unfinished emotional business with their exes even if they are in a new relationship.

They may never get back together, but he's still investing emotional energy with her and that ain't good.

It's not that she's a threat to your relationship because they might get back together, it's that he's having two relationships simultaneously. He's deconstructing the old relationship, and trying to keep you around too.

He's in transition. That means he still having stuff out with her. If they are on goid terms, and they're trying to stay friends, then at some point you'll meet her and you may be friendly with her.

I alwsys say, if you're uncomfortable, you already know that there's an issue, you think it's her, but it's not, it's him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:02 PM on November 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I agree with adamrice that getting over an ex is a gradual process and the healing process can occur even when you've started dating someone new. It doesn't have to be a rebound I'm-doing-this-to-make-my-ex-jealous relationship. It's great that you've asked your boyfriend about the texts and that he's answered openly and that's not prioritizing her over you—it sounds like he'd respond positively to a conversation where you give him a head's up that you're grappling with him remaining friends with a recent ex. It won't make you look insecure, it's actually an awesome opportunity to make sure that you and your boyfriend can communicate needs and boundaries going forward.

My current girlfriend had a lot of Feelings about me remaining friends with my ex. We started seeing each other a few months after I had broken up with my partner of five years. I was very much mourning the loss of my relationship but I was also ready to start dating. I was up front with her about that mourning process; I had planned a future with this woman and now that future was gone, but we didn't work together and I had no hesitation about whether it was the right move. It lead to some really good talks about what didn't work in my past relationship and the things that did, so talking about it with my current girlfriend was something I was happy to do. Your boyfriend should be happy to do it, too. If he's not, that's a red flag.

I don't know his situation, but I wanted to remain friends with my ex because she's a lovely, amazing person who understands me while still being horribly wrong for me. One month isn't very long for your boyfriend to go before dating someone, so you're not unreasonable to worry. On the other hand, one of the things I told my girlfriend about my ex is that we had been breaking up for years, so I didn't need a lot of time before I moved on. Best of luck!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:45 PM on November 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

When it happens, I know he responds, but not right away, and I don't get the impression that he initiates or continues the conversation.

If this is true, then I don't think you need to read this as his inappropriate emotional investment in his ex.
What should he do when she texts him, other than reply somewhat briefly and after a pause -- should he just not respond at all? Block her from all contact? All that would be overkill in most break-ups.

I don't think you should be insecure if this is all you're seeing, and if you trust your connection with him. I've had, and known of friends', break-ups where we didn't want to feel permanently estranged from the ex right away, even though we were no longer in love , even when we loved other people. It can take a while to fade without it being a threat and people can "check in" for a while without being inappropriate. It sounds as if the girlfriend may feel that way more strongly than your guy, but that he sees no reason to slam the door in the face of someone who isn't stalking him or being really invasive and who was, and to some degree is, important to him -- and yes, exes can matter to people in good new relationships, even if not romantically. They're a part of your life story and for lots of us they don't just get erased.
posted by flourpot at 2:27 AM on November 23, 2015

He's been honest about the fact that he's still sad about their breakup, but he also says that he loves me and is invested in our relationship, and his actions have supported that.

Trust him. Build your relationship one day at a time. Just for today, trust him and stay with him. Enjoy the time you two are together.

And, just like that, day by day, brick by brick, you'll build a relationship with this man.

His ex will probably start dating someone soon and the problem will take care of itself.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 2:59 AM on November 23, 2015

A few of the responses you've gotten think that as nice as your relationship is with this person, it's happened too quickly for him, and it's likely you're his rebound. I think it's a possibility as well and if I were you, I'd just talk to the guy. His being sad about the breakup may mean he's dating you too quickly because he may hold out hope to be with this ex.

Tell him you think he's the cat's pajamas, but also that the timing of your relationship combined with him remaining in contact with his ex makes you wonder if on some level, he's trying to have two relationships. One is this great new one with you and the other is trying to keep something going with his ex. Even if it's a simple ego boost in that she reaches out to him occasionally, there's still something there. That's what you don't like, and I don't think I'd like it either.

I get that you don't want to be painted as insecure or jealous, and you're not. What you are doing is recognizing that while he's with you, he is also hanging on to his last relationship. I'd talk to him and couch it not as, "Here's my problem and we need a solution," but "Hey, the timing of our thing combined with this contact are often signs of people who aren't over their last relationship and are rebounding which is not something I want and I want to get it on your radar," and then proceed with this guy.
posted by kinetic at 3:13 AM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your boyfriend sounds like he is being awesome about this. Unless you have reason to believe that he isn't trustworthy (in which case, break up; two people who do not trust each other have no business being in a relationship) I would believe him when he says he is fully invested in your relationship. I think you want to focus on yourself here, and work on your anxiety by coming up with responses to tell yourself whenever you have an anxious thought about their relationship. I don't think it is a good idea to make him responsible for managing your anxiety by reassuring you every time you feel anxious, or rehashing and going over the relationship with his ex in ways that will probably give you a million more things to be insecure about.

For instance if you find yourself thinking I also feel insecure because our few months can't compare with the history he has with his ex, you can acknowledge to yourself, "yep, I am feeling insecure, and that's fine! It's a normal feeling," but then respond to yourself, "and well, it's true we've only been together a few months, but why compare two relationships? This is a totally different relationship and it's been great so far. That change is probably refreshing for him. Falling in love with someone new is exciting and fun." then move on to a new thought. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And then instead of relying on him to give you the tools to manage your anxiety, you have them within yourself and can take them wherever you go.

Now, one caveat; I think that while it's inappropriate for you to decide whether he is allowed to talk to her (to me, that always seemed overly "parenting" for a relationship that should be between people of equal standing), I think if the two of them are talking about their relationship when they text, it would not be unreasonable for you to ask him not to do that. i.e. if she brings it up, he says "hey, I'd rather not talk about this, let's talk about something else".
posted by capricorn at 5:19 AM on November 23, 2015

It's not that she's a threat to your relationship because they might get back together, it's that he's having two relationships simultaneously. He's deconstructing the old relationship, and trying to keep you around too.

I agree with the others that I don't think he's having a physical relationship, but I wonder if this concern is more your gut telling you something you may not want to hear. Personally, it would really bum me out if my boyfriend told me he wasn't really over his ex! I don't think it means his feelings aren't real, but so, so often the person in your BF's position isn't as ready as they think they are. I don't think you should run, but I would really ask yourself f you're okay being a part of his healing process.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2015

What I'm trying to say is, you deserve to have 100% of his heart. That he can't give it to you doesn't make him a bad person or you two a bad couple, it's just bad timing.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:31 AM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like he wasn't over her when he got together with you, which is entirely understandable given that they had only been together a month. This could be a case of bad timing, and his contact with her could gradually fade into the background, or she could become the thorn in the side of your relationship that never goes away. Only time will tell. I don't think you should "bring it up" or "forget about it", I think you should just keep an eye on it and reevaluate in a few months.
posted by intensitymultiply at 7:13 AM on November 23, 2015

I'm a big believer in that everyone has these weird relationships because they don't communicate. So my vote is always for that. This is a perfectly reasonable feeling you're having, because you recognize the intensity of your jealousy here is low. and it's okay to be low-level jealous about things occasionally. Does it make you seem like a crazy person to say,

"Hey, I know it's nothing, but it makes me feel weird that you're still texting with your ex. I'd like it if you could have a cleaner break for awhile while we establish our relationship more, as your relationship with her is still quite freshly ended. I'm not opposed to you ever talking to her again in the future, but for now it's making me a little uncomfortable and I find I'm putting up emotional walls to protect myself, so if you're willing to break for awhile that would help me feel more secure."

Especially if he loves you as he says he does, I think this is a fairly easy thing to do for someone. I think it's sometimes okay to make requests that feel a little unreasonable, for your own mental health and comfort.

And I think if he freaks out over this, and says you're being crazy, or continues to do it in secret after you bring it up, then you had a reason to be insecure. He's not interested in getting over her, in that case. But then you know, and you can go out and meet someone who is interested in only one relationship currently.

(my husband was still texting with his ex girlfriend when we started dating. at about the 3 month mark, I asked him to stop for awhile, because it was making me feel bad. He did. there was no fuss. she occasionally will still text him about something or other, and now days he will reply usually, but once we were firmly established I wasn't as worried about it, so I told him it was fine if he did.)
posted by euphoria066 at 1:54 PM on November 23, 2015

Please listen to your gut feeling. Don't try to rationalize his words or his behavior. If he makes you uncomfortable, get out, and run away fast.

My hunch is that you're the rebound girl and that he'll end up leaving you for her and/or someone else. I hope I'm wrong, but experience suggests otherwise. Hold your head high and wait for someone who truly adores you.
posted by aristotlefangirl at 7:13 PM on November 23, 2015

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