Non-Consensual Ex

Dr. Deb would love to answer your burning relationship questions.

Today’s Advice Highlights:

  • Is it ever ok to stay in touch with your ex?
  • When is it not ok to stay in touch with your ex?
  • How to discuss the “ex situation” with a current partner

Dear Dr. Deb,

Several months ago, my girlfriend of eight months told me that she’d been wanting to get in touch with her ex again. She assured me it wasn’t sexual or a threat to our relationship. I didn’t feel good about it, especially because she waited for some time before telling me. I told her that, moving forward, I wanted to know about any conversations she had with him.

I’m not proud of this, but I felt so suspicious that I ended up looking through her phone. I discovered conversations between them that she didn’t tell me about. They were “harmless,” but the fact that she didn’t tell me makes me feel worried.

I’m aware that looking through her phone was a violation of her privacy and there’s no excuse for what I did. But now there’s undeniably some mutual resentment between us.

I’m writing to you for advice, even as I know the answer in my heart. Whatever advice I get, I’ll most likely end up doing things my own way, anyway. Nevertheless, I would really want to know what you think.

Is it okay for my girlfriend to stay in touch with her ex?

I don’t want our wonderful relationship to be ruined over this, but it could be a deal breaker for me if she feels the need to remain in touch with him.

Dr. Deb can you help me resolve this in a healthy way?

Sincerely,
Doubtful

Dear Doubtful,

The good news is that this is a common question in many relationships. But (there’s always a but), that’s also the “bad” news: this issue seems to come up over and over again. Why?

That’s because being in a relationship with someone means having to relate to their history, too. Having had previous relationships means they’ve gone through break-ups, which are always challenging, whether the decision was mutual or not.

Not every couple that breaks up stops communicating. Some couples decide to forge ahead with a “friendship” after some time has passed or when both parties have healed. On the other hand, many find that reconnecting is not a healthy option.

It’s clear that your feelings of worry over your girlfriend talking to her ex is because you value your relationship with her. But how do you know if this is a losing battle or if it’s worth working out?

When is it ok to remain friends with an ex and when is it dangerous?

I think that there are certain circumstances when remaining friends with an ex makes sense:

  • If two people started off as friends then evolved to lovers and the romance didn’t work out, they may decide to reestablish the friendship and keep boundaries clear.
  • If former partners share mutual friends, they may make the decision to remain on good terms to keep the peace.
  • When exes work together and the breakup wasn’t horribly messy, it may be better on a professional level to be friendly, or at least cordial.
  • When several years have passed since a breakup and it’s clear that the two have gotten over each other, there may be a chance to establish platonic friendship.

So when do things become tricky? Here are my thoughts:

  • If a couple continues seeing each other without time away from the time they split up, there may not be enough opportunity for closure and healing. You can’t hold on and let go simultaneously – something has got to give.
  • If the new partner has expressed that they don’t feel comfortable about it, but the other continues to communicate with the ex
  • Keeping the ex as a “back-up” partner in case the current relationship doesn’t work out.
  • And, of course, the mother of all tricky situations with an ex: if one of the two (or sometimes even both) still has feelings and wants to get back together

Bottom-line: be honest with your girlfriend about your need for reassurance, like letting you know before she contacts her ex. Own up to your phone spying, which probably won’t go down well at first. Take the fallout as a starting point to sit down and talk about the issue.

You need to both agree that transparency and full disclosure is the best course for your relationship. Remind her that the goal isn’t to monitor or control, but to establish trust and respect for each other.

Without it, the secrecy and lack of trust will likely break down the relationship rather than her getting in touch with the ex.

Find out and try to understand what it means for your girlfriend to keep in touch with her ex. At the same time, she needs to acknowledge and understand that you’re not comfortable with the current situation. Getting to this stage would be a big step towards resolving this issue.

Good luck and I hope the trust between you can be restored.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Deb

Do you have a burning question – Your comments in response to a column are welcome. ​I will do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can. Please email me at deb@drdeborahhecker.com