When To Talk About Exes With Someone You’re Dating, According To An Expert

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Dating someone new is exciting and refreshing. You’re still getting to know each other and the novelty of your relationship hasn’t even begun to sink in yet, much less wear off. For some, this is better known as the honeymoon phase but regardless of what you call it, I think we can all agree it’s probably one of the best phases of any relationship. That is, of course, until you decide to have the "ex talk" — you know, tell them about the ghosts of lovers past. But when should you talk about exes? Is there ever a good time to tell them about your old relationship baggage?

Early on in one of my past relationships, my ex-boyfriend began receiving anonymous text messages with photos of me and my new partner. I never found out who the sender actually was, but I’ve always suspected my partner at the time; we had recently had the "ex talk" and, honestly, I couldn’t think of anyone else with a motive or any interest in my romantic life to begin with. Maybe I brought up the topic too soon in the relationship, or maybe I revealed too much — I’ll never know. But since then, I’ve been wary of making the same mistake.

As it turns out, there is a right time to talk to your new partner about your ex (or exes). Relationship expert Emily Holmes Hahn says the best time to bring up the topic is on or around the third date, but definitely not before. "I think the ex talk is something that should happen sooner rather than later in a new relationship," she says. "It's a totally false stereotype to say that bringing up your ex means you’re not over them. It shows vulnerability, honesty, and the fact that you weren't afraid to commit in the past. Plus, your new man or lady is less likely to feel jealous or emotional about your romantic history if you address it early on."

When you’re in a new relationship, it's natural to be curious about your partner’s former significant others. If you haven’t already stalked your partner’s ex on social media (we all do it!), you probably want to know what they were like, how they met your partner, and what went wrong in the relationship. Knowing what went wrong is usually my most urgent concern because sometimes the underlying reason for their breakup reveals a lot about the type of person you’re dating now. For example, if your partner cheated in their previous relationship, that might be a deal-breaker for you.

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Beyond what your partner reveals about their ex, you can also learn a lot about them by paying attention to their tone and body language during this conversation. For example, Holmes Hahn says, "Someone who's able to maintain open body language, a positive tone of voice and objective opinions during this conversation is usually someone no longer looking in the rearview mirror. It's also someone who wants to show you that they were ready to commit in the past and are not suppressing any dark secrets about their romantic history." On the other hand, red flags during this conversation might include aggression or overall discomfort. Holmes Hahn warns that if your partner is making sarcastic or degrading remarks about the person, if they find it difficult to maintain eye contact with you, or if they cry, they might not be ready for a serious commitment.

Although being curious about your partner's exes is perfectly normal, be cautious if one of you seems overly obsessed with the topic. Someone who is stuck in the past will never be able to focus on their future, which could mean trouble for your new relationship. Holmes Hahn says that one open conversation about your exes should be more than enough to carry you both through the first few months of your relationship. If it comes up again, be sure that you both agree it’s in the past and that you’re both ready to move on to happier lives with each other. "A good thing to say is, 'Well, clearly it didn’t work out with them and that’s good because I’m pretty excited about where this is going,'" Holmes Hahn suggests.

There are, of course, positive takeaways from the ex talk. An open and honest conversation about the topic early on will create a sense of intimacy between you and your partner. "As long as you treat it as a deep conversation and not silly gossip, this can bring you closer to a new partner and make you both feel more confident about taking the next steps together," Holmes Hahn says. If you’re not sure when’s the right time to bring up the topic of exes with your new partner, try dropping small conversational clues that you’d like to know or share more. It’s possible they feel the same way but are just too nervous to ask. The ex talk is definitely something that should be taken seriously so, when the time comes, both you and your partner should be ready and willing to open up about it.

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