Here’s a dating reality that can be tough to swallow: If you’ve had even just one relationship before your current one, there’s a good chance that at some point, you've been comparing your partner to your ex . It’s not something you’re necessarily always conscious or in control of. Sometimes, it’s not even a bad thing — like when you realize through said comparison that your current bae makes you feel more emotionally safe, shows you more physical affection, or is more mature. That said, comparing significant others is dicey territory. Every individual and relationship is unique, so it’s ultimately unfair to constantly measure two people against each other.
The thing is, the human brain is basically wired for comparison. We see a heart-melting scene in a rom-com and we’re instantly comparing a fictional relationship to our own. While shopping for some lust-worthy suede over-the-knee boots, we feel the need to hop on a competitor’s site just so we can make sure we’re getting the perfect pair. We spend 10 minutes in the produce section painstakingly sorting through avocados to pick out the one that’s just ripe enough without being overly soft. So it makes sense that we’d do the same with our significant others. Comparing someone you’re dating to someone you’ve dated in the past can help you to appreciate your current situation more, but it can also potentially be harmful to your relationship. Not sure if you’re pitting your bae-of-the-moment against your past bae? Here are some subtle signs you’re playing the comparison game.
You unfairly assume how your partner will react.
There may be times when you compare your current SO to your previous one without even realizing it. Say, for example, that when you used to confront your ex about cleaning up after themselves around the apartment, they’d seem to blow up and get defensive. When you face the same problem with your current partner, you unfairly assume that they’ll react the same way, so you avoid bringing it up.
Anticipating your SO’s behavior without allowing them the chance to respond in their own way can be problematic. Not only do issues get brushed under the rug, but you’re also unknowingly lumping them in with your ex. It’s common for some wounds from a previous relationship to still linger when you enter a new one. Still, it’s important to give your new partner the opportunity to show you how they’re different from your ex. That’s the best way to heal from the hurt you’ve experienced in the past and build trust with your bae.
Small, familiar conflicts seem to cut deep.
Do you ever feel like small conflicts get blown out of proportion with your partner because they feel familiar? There are certain subjects or situations that we all may be more sensitive to than others. However, if you feel like you have a tendency to overreact in a somewhat insignificant scenario, there’s a chance that you’re subconsciously comparing the conversation to one you had with your ex. If this situation reminds you of one you’ve faced before, it may escalate in intensity more quickly.
For example, if your partner turns you down when you try to initiate sex because they’re tired, no matter how rare this scenario is, if you dealt with this repeatedly in your last relationship, it may trigger a far bigger response from you. In other words, the disappointment or hurt you’re feeling in the moment has greater weight because you’re comparing it to issues you faced with your ex.
You have a growing list of “shoulds” for your SO.
Your ex spontaneously brought you flowers after work, so why doesn’t your partner do that? Your ex made a big deal out of your birthday, so why hasn’t bae done the same? It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of building expectations for your current partner based on your ex’s behavior. It’s not necessarily fair to hold your SO to these standards.
According to Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, it’s problematic when you have your ex on a pedestal and you’re always asking yourself, “what would my ex do?”
“If you have your ex idealized, your partner is always going to come up short,” she explained. “If you broke up with the ex, this isn’t usually a problem. When they broke up with you, you start to think they were perfect. Your current man or woman isn’t perfect because no one is, so you wind up sabotaging the relationship.”
Of course, if you feel like your needs aren’t being met in your relationship, there are ways to talk it out in a healthy, productive manner with your partner. Letting them know it would mean a lot to you if they surprised you with a bouquet once in a while or that you’d love for them to plan something for your soirée, gives them the opportunity to learn more about your wants and try to fulfill them. On the other hand, harboring a list of “should's” that your SO doesn’t even know about will likely lead to pent-up resentments that your partner isn’t even aware of.
Remember: Your significant other may not do all the same things your ex used to do, but the odds are that they also have many other positive qualities and habits that make you happy in new ways.
While learning not to compare your partner to your ex may not be easy, it’s well worth the effort. Not only can these comparisons start to cloud your judgment about your relationship, but they could wreak some havoc on the state of things between you and your partner if they notice they’re being measured against your ex. Keep in mind that everyone gives and receives love differently and engages in conflict differently, and no one is a mind reader — so if you feel like you’re longing for something in particular from a current partner, it’s important to give them a chance by communicating that to them without criticizing them for behaving like your ex.
As the saying goes, the past is in the past. It’s unrealistic to expect that you won’t occasionally be reminded of an ex during your current relationship, but it’s immensely important to give your new SO as much of a clean slate as possible without comparisons to past experiences. If you're struggling with this, Trombetti recommends working on potentially "rewiring your thinking," with some outside help from a therapist — of course, communicating directly with your partner.
"Your SO is a different person — and that isn’t a bad thing," she says.
Entering into a relationship with an open mind and an open heart will give you and your partner the best possible chance at finding what works for you two as a unit, as opposed to fixating on what worked or didn’t work for you in the past. Remember — love is fluid and complex, not one dimensional.
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