I value my relationships with other women.
My circle of friends is full of amazing women who are far more interested in building each other up than tearing each other down, and the love and nurturing that I have been able to give to and receive from my tribe has made a tremendous positive impact on my life.
When I began dating someone who came with the added bonus of an ex who wasn’t ready to let go, it was a challenge I wasn’t quite ready for. Their relationship had been over for nearly a year before I came along, but because I was his first serious relationship following their break-up, I’m sure she felt like salt was poured into wounds that had not yet healed.
Pain and anger often bring out the worst in people, and when that ugliness was aimed at me by association, it was difficult not to be pulled in to the drama. Sometimes I succeeded, but other times it got under my skin. It was difficult, too, not to let her venom poison my relationship with my partner.
I am not alone in having experienced the malicious spite of a partner’s ex. In fact, I’ve learned that toxic exes can come in many forms. While I use gender-specific pronouns in the following descriptions, they can apply to people with any gender or sexual orientation classification:
The Double Agent Ex: This is a partner’s ex who is friendly to your face, but who is only seeking information to wreak havoc behind your back. She tries to friend you on Facebook to see what you’re all about, or becomes chatty when she sees you at the grocery store, only to be sneaky on the sly.
The Martyr Ex: This partner’s ex is convinced that her need to intrude on your relationship is all about their dedication to their child(ren) when, in reality, they are jealous and bitter that their ex has moved on. She uses their children as pawns or as justification to find out what your partner is doing and whom he is doing it with, even when the children are not there. (Note: This does not apply when drug, alcohol, or physical abuse occurs. Parents have a right to be protective of their children.)
The Whack-A-Mole Ex: This partner’s ex keeps popping up everywhere you go. Going to a baseball game? She’s there, too. Dinner at a nice restaurant? She’s there with a friend. Too many coincidences add up, and you begin to realize that these “chance” meetings are not accidental. This ex is loosely related to the Stalker Ex, except their presence is live and in-person.
The Stalker Ex: This partner’s ex becomes obsessed with following you (or your friends) online through social media or your work website, driving by your house, digging through trash for receipts, or digging for information from mutual acquaintances.
The “I Want U Back” Ex: Like the Cher Lloyd song, “I broke it off thinkin’ you’d be crying’ Now I feel like shh and look at you flyin’. I want you back…” This ex sees their former partner with someone else (you), and they suddenly become attracted to them again. It isn’t that they really want your partner back; it’s that they don’t want to see them happy with another person.
No matter what kind of ex you and your partner are dealing with, fueling their fire is never the answer. If your partner was married to their ex, or if they have children together, there will likely come a time when you will all need to get along. Taking the high road can be tough, but being mindful about your role and your reactions can be helpful. Keep these guidelines in mind:
1) Remember: It is not about you. Your partner and his or her ex have a history that extends beyond you. The anger and hurt your partner’s ex is feeling did not come from you, nor can you control it. You can only control your reaction to it.
2) Approach the situation with compassion. This can be difficult when the words are flying, but keep in mind that we have all had our hearts broken, if not in a romantic relationship, in other personal relationships. Suffering can make us say and do things we are not proud of. Your partner’s ex is human, just like you. Sometimes, responding with a simple, “I’m sorry you’re hurting,” can help.
3) Maintain your privacy. If you need to hide your Facebook posts from public view or block a toxic ex from your Instagram account because they’re constantly keeping tabs on you, that’s okay. You deserve the peace, and keeping your partner’s ex from seeing what you did Friday night can actually spare them from additional hurt.
4) Stay out of arguments. If there are unresolved issues between your partner and his ex, they should remain between the two of them. You can be there for emotional support, but trust your partner to handle it.
5) Maintain a sense of humor. He may not say it, but every time his ex interferes with your time together, your partner probably feels a little bit of guilt and insecurity about whether or not you can handle the pressure. Laughter is often the best remedy. Keep it light and avoid cruelty, but it’s okay to find the humor in it all.
6) Set boundaries. If your partner’s ex crosses lines you are not comfortable with, it is fine to firmly establish boundaries. These can include when, where, or if it is appropriate to contact you, affirming control over who you are allowed to see or where you can go, or asserting yourself against physical or verbal attacks.
7) Recognize you don’t have to hold space for negativity. When your partner’s ex becomes too much, it’s okay to step back, take a breath, and recognize that you do not have to let her, or her negativity, into your life. You may not be able to control what she does, but you can choose to observe ugly words or actions coming from a hurting person, and you don’t have to let them in. After all, they aren’t really about you at all.
No one can ruin your day without your permission. When your partner’s ex acts out in vengeful or spiteful ways, her actions are really a symptom of her suffering. You don’t have to contribute to that suffering or allow yourself to be dragged into its depths. Even if you slip, each day is a new opportunity to be kind. Like any other challenge in your life, this, too, is a lesson.
Embrace it and grow, and you just may find that your relationship grows, too.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Miren Etcheverry/Pixoto