Personally, when someone tells me they're still friendly with their ex, I can't help but be a little skeptical. I know not all breakups are dramatic, Bachelor-worthy blowups complete with screaming and crying, but they still signify the end of a relationship and it's difficult for me to understand how anyone can be just friends with someone that they were once romantically involved with. So, if your partner still talks to their ex, I totally get why you might not be 100% on board with it. Seriously, anytime I hear someone say, “My boyfriend still talks to his ex,” my immediate thought is, WTF? While this might be my reaction, experts say it’s not always a red flag.
"It's normal for some people to still be friends with an ex," Bethany Ricciardi, a sex educator and relationship expert with Too Timid, explained to Bustle. Even if the romantic feelings have faded, it’s likely that they shared a real connection (otherwise why would they have dated in the first place?), and it can be hard to give up someone you feel close to — ex or not. It’s very possible that your SO doesn't have any ulterior motives when talking to their ex. Perhaps they're just genuinely interested in maintaining a friendship with a person that was once very important to them.
As normal as it may be for exes to stay friends, it’s just as normal for that friendship to bother their new SOs. So if your boyfriend still talks to his ex or your girlfriend is still on her ex’s Snapchat Best Friends list, feeling a little wary about that bond is pretty standard. But if you’re seriously hung up on the fact that your partner is communicating with their ex, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself and ask why it bothers you so much. Are you feeling run-of-the-mill jealousy or are you experiencing deeper insecurities? If you catch yourself getting nervous every time your partner’s phone vibrates, consider asking yourself the following questions. Once you know where you stand, you can better assess how to deal with the situation.
What their communication looks like is also important. Long story short: If it seems sketchy, it probably is. "You should be worried about an ex when your partner is defensive or secretive about their communication or the nature of their conversations," Dr. Perry explains. "If it's truly a healthy relationship with an ex, your partner should be willing to communicate with him or her in your presence." That might seem obvious, but it’s an important distinction to make. If your partner mentions that their ex reached out to them in passing and isn’t stingy with the details, it’s a lot less concerning than a SO who is constantly resetting their phone password and dodging questions.
The frequency of their conversations also matters. Perry says you also have a right to be worried if your SO is talking to an ex just as frequently or more frequently than they talk to you. (Duh.) Daily messages and phone calls between exes are pretty much always a bad idea — unless they’re trying to get back together. Same with late night or early morning texts, which can signify a level of disrespect toward your current relationship. FYI, in Perry’s experience, most healthy, platonic relationships with exes involve brief, infrequent messages or phone calls.
Another sign that something may be up? Your SO’s ex being rude to or about you. The two of you don’t have to be best friends (TBH, that sounds super awkward), but a cordial, respectful relationship is healthy. "You may also be suspicious if the ex-partner seems to have unwarranted hostility toward you," Dr. Perry explains. If their hostility is obvious enough for you to notice it, it might be obvious enough for your partner to see it, too. At that point, new boundaries need to be set.
Open communication with your SO is always a good idea, and it can be especially important for touchy topics like exes. Understandably, this convo can be a difficult one to approach. Especially in a new relationship, you want to be careful not to make unfounded accusations or appear unnecessarily jealous. Plus, you want to make sure to give your relationship enough time so you can see the full picture. Dr. Perry suggests you observe their communication pattern over a period of time, so that you can have examples to present to your partner, rather than just one incident. (Plus, it could have been a one-off situation — something you’ll only really be able to tell if you wait.)
Once you are ready to bring it up, try to present your concerns as calmly as possible, checking to see how your partner reacts. "A caring partner will likely respond with an acknowledgment of your concerns and make an effort to work with you to set boundaries on the old relationship,” Dr. Perry explains. On the other hand, “[i]f your partner seems defensive or dismissive of your concerns, that is likely a red flag that their relationship [with their ex] is a lot closer than you suspect.” A close relationship might not mean a romantic one, but it still could prove to be a problem. Again, your relationship with your partner should take priority.
Your partner having a friendship with their ex is really as big of a deal as you make it. At the end of the day, keeping in contact does not mean they still have feelings for each other, or that they are being at all unfaithful. Still, if it concerns you, there’s probably a reason. Of course, your feelings are valid, but you shouldn’t let them get the best of you. If your relationship is strong and healthy, a few texts between exes here and there won’t get in the way. If they do, it’s time to move on to something better.
Bethany Ricciardi, a sex educator and relationship expert with Too Timid
Jennifer L. McBride McNamara, MA, LAMFT, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist
Dr. QuaVaundra Perry, a licensed psychologist specializing in relationship distress
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