Oprah calls it “The Ex Factor”—the question of how much, if anything, your current partner wants or needs to know about those who has preceded them. The answer depends on a couple of important variables.
If it’s a new relationship, a good “boilerplate answer” is this: past relationships are just that—in the past—and new relationships need to start on their own terms. Bringing old romantic baggage into the mix serves no constructive purpose. If a new or potential girlfriend or boyfriend seems overly inquisitive about your exes from the start, what are they trying to accomplish? Do they want to know how they measure up against your exes? Do they want to know if it was you or your ex who broke off the relationship, believing that if you were the one left behind you might be damaged goods?
These kinds of questions may raise red flags. No matter what you tell your new beau about past relationships, or what they’ve heard through the grapevine, they weren’t there and they don’t need know the juicy details. A new relationship deserves to start with a clean slate. Conversely, the new partner who actively volunteers too much information about their own past relationships raises a different set of concerns, including the possibility they’re still nursing wounds over an ex and using you as a rebound or means of rebuilding their self-esteem. You might want to think twice about being more than just friends with someone sending clear signals that past relationships are not entirely in the past.
Now come the exceptions. The obvious one would be whether you have a past relationship that produced children. The topic of integrating a new love interest into your children’s lives is far too vast for this blog, but I definitely believe that any potential mate has the right to know how you and your ex share childrearing responsibilities for the simple reason that these children could someday become part of their lives, too. You both might choose to take things more slowly than you otherwise would.
The relationship you once had with someone you produced children with was obviously more complex than a minor fling or dating relationship that just didn’t work out. If you’re talking about a former spouse, or someone you once expected to spend your life with, that person and relationship represent a major part of your past. While you don’t have to spend your first (or even second or third) date explaining the details of your split, at some point it’s wise to give your new partner an opportunity to ask questions they might have about that past relationship, including why and how it ended. You don’t have to go into every detail, and I always advise showing respect for your ex’s privacy, especially for the sake of your children. However, it can be very helpful for both of you to talk about what occurred with your failed relationship — what you had expected from it, what went wrong and what you learned from that. This can be very instructive in helping you and your new partner go into a new relationship with healthy expectations and eyes wide open.
If you’re still working through emotions from a past relationship that could impact the health of a new relationship, a counselor can work with you to get past obstacles to a healthy relationship. If you’re considering relationship therapy, let the counselors at OC Relationship Center help you see your way clear to happiness. Call us today at 949-393-8662 or book your appointment online via our online calendar.