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With more and more couples meeting after one or both have had long term relationships and children with previous partners, feeling insecure about your partner’s past is a common issue that can undermine your future happiness. At the bottom of your insecurity is often an over fertile imagination. The mind loves making lavish technicolour films about your partner’s previous life. Unless you were there, you have no idea what it felt like for either partner. The film that you are “seeing” is fiction not reality.

Let’s look at what these insecurities are really about and how you can deal with them.

They were the perfect couple

They mention their ex a few times. Suddenly it’s not just you and them anymore. It’s you and them and their ex. There are Facebook pictures of them together, holiday snaps, wedding photos. A whole history together. They loved each other, they lived together. Had kids together. They were perfect for each other!

What you’re thinking

“I don’t belong in this picture.” “They were perfect together.”

Why it’s happening

She dieted to get in that dress and he had a suit on for the first time in ten years. There isn’t the photograph of her crying when they argued, or him sitting in the pub on his own when she was ‘in one of her moods.’ It’s a cherry-picked timeline of their lives.

What to do

You have to stop looking at Facebook! No joy can be had there! You get a choice as to how you deal with this one and looking at old photos of them is a surefire way to put a picture in your mind that you don’t belong in. Literally. You weren’t there, you were somewhere else living your own life, with someone else, or having experiences that you needed to have in order to be where you are now.

Realize you don’t have a history with your partner yet. You have insecurity about where the relationship is going. Will they stick around? But, if anything the ex should be jealous of you, after all you’ve got lots of things that the ex doesn’t, including your current partner!

“My ex was a controlling guy. We went on lots of holidays together and he’s always in pics with his arm tightly wrapped around me, it felt like he was showing me off to his friends. I’m smiling in those pics, but I wasn’t happy,” says Sarah, a 28 year old student.

Their previous sex life was colourful

Mara, age 34 says of her current boyfriend: “His ex was a firecracker. They would do threesomes. I’ve got a history of sexual abuse and so I feel very vulnerable. My self-esteem has plummeted. I’m not enough.”

What you’re thinking

“I’m not as interesting or experienced in bed.” “I can’t satisfy my partner, they are fantasizing about someone else when they are in bed with me.”

Why it’s happening

Your cruel imagination is making a high budget porn film of your partner with a cast of supermodels thanks to your partner’s tactless disclosure.

What to do

Explain to your partner that talking about their previous sex life is upsetting you. Ask “What are your reasons for sharing? What are you hoping I will feel?”

“I told Mara because I wanted her to know that her difficult past wasn’t a problem, I’m an open minded guy. I had no idea she would be comparing herself to my ex. It wasn’t even a great relationship with my ex because I didn’t know what she was up to half the time. If I’d known the damage it’s done to Mara’s self-esteem, I’d have kept my mouth shut,” says Gary, age 42.

Well no sh*t Sherlock! No one needs to hear a catalogue of sexual acts!

A darker side to this is where you might be judging your partner as promiscuous or tarnished because they have a sexual past. The book Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy is an in depth look at how this kind of jealousy can be toxic, and what to do about it.

There are children with the ex – you may not have your own children yet

“I want kids, but John is ten years older, three kids already. He’s done it all before. I feel alone in this. To make it worse he keeps talking about his ex and how she had difficult births,” says Caroline.

What you’re thinking

“He doesn’t want kids with me.” “I don’t share a bond with them like their ex does.” “I want my own experience.”

Why it’s happening

Kids are an issue for YOU. The fact that you partner has them with someone else is triggering feelings of insecurity. You might be imagining that they and their ex have a magic link. Plenty of people have kids together and can’t stand each other. You imagine an amazing birthing scene together, love flowing into the cosmos. The reality is panic for him and oblivion for her, months of no sleep as they tag team trying to keep the baby alive. When they broke up it would have been painful and guilt-wracked. Empathy for your partner with a kid can help you gain perspective.

What to do

If you want kids, be honest about your needs. If they say no, it’s time to rethink the relationship. If they say yes, explain, “This is new to me and you – because this child is unique. I don’t want to hear about your ex partner’s birth experiences. I want to find my own way.”

Your partner’s kids will always come first, but the love they have for you is in a different category where you also come first. Accepting this is part of a supportive relationship with your partner.

His friends and family won’t let go of his ex

Establishing yourself as the new partner becomes a battle. His mother goes on about the “beautiful wedding” while she still keeps a picture of them on her mantelpiece. You meet your partner’s group of friends and they cast a collective mean appraising eye over you.

What you’re thinking

“Your family and friends don’t like me, accept me or want me here.”

Why it’s happening

Your partner’s family and friends act unwelcoming way because they are afraid of your partner growing and leaving them behind. Or they simply miss the ex. Either way, it’s not your fault.

What to do

Don’t feel like you have something to prove. Tell your partner that you want support when it gets awkward. Give yourself an out if it gets too much. If they don’t stop, limit your contact with them. Your partner may have to see them but you don’t.

When dealing with your own friends and family – protect your partner from the same happening to them.

Worst case scenario – they really aren’t over their ex

Signs that someone isn’t over their ex include still holding on to a lot of anger and resentment, talking about their ex all the time, saying that they can’t move forward because of what their ex did to them. You know it’s not just your insecurity speaking. They may have even told you directly that they aren’t over their ex.

If your partner has kids with their ex, it’s understandable they would be communicating, and these days people do remain platonic friends with exes. Their ex may not be over them, but there will be no flirting or jealousy coming from your partner’s side.

What you’re thinking

“They are in love with someone else and everything they do confirms it.”

Why it’s happening

Your partner jumped into a relationship with you before resolving their feelings for their ex. You accepted them because you felt you could heal them or fix them.

What to do

Take a long hard look at your relationship. What are you getting out of this? Would you stay in a relationship if they were unfaithful with someone new? What’s the difference with them being in love with someone “old”?

You get to choose your experiences and it’s time to think about what you really want. Find someone who puts you first, not second place to a ghost.

 

Instead of being present for yourself, you are torturing yourself with your partner’s past and feeling inadequate. You need to accept that your partner’s past makes them who they are. The person you have fallen in love with is a product of their past influences. They are not the person they were in that relationship. Look at them closely. They don’t even look the same.

If you can, communicate your fears to your partner. Ask them to support you and reassure as you work through these feelings. If they are the person you are supposed to be with, the feelings will fade as your relationship becomes more real and established.