Suzanne Lachmann Psy.D.

Me Before We

4 Relationship-Sabotaging Beliefs About Your Partner’s Ex

How to form reality-based perspectives that decrease fear

Posted Oct 26, 2017

J Walters/Shutterstock
Source: J Walters/Shutterstock

Feeling insecure about your partner’s ex? You're not alone. You may even fear being abandoned by a partner, who, in your mind, couldn't possibly be completely over their ex. These concerns can result in anxiety, preoccupation, and obsession. It's only a matter of time, you believe, until your partner dumps you upon realizing they're really supposed to be with their ex. This fear can be so consuming that it imposes an undue burden, altering the way you view yourself, your partner, and your relationship.

First and foremost, your insecurity may be understandable, especially if you've endured challenging relationships with caregivers and other important people in your life, including romantic partners who have let you down. Since past disappointments can shape your outlook and capacity to trust, it makes sense that you are driven to seek reassurance, validation, recognition, and acknowledgment from your partner.

It can even feel comforting to compel your partner to join you in dismissing or downplaying their past relationship. You may want to hear highlights about their ex's flaws. As you can well understand, that is not the healthiest way to transition into a secure, mutually-supportive relationship. Rather, the onus is primarily on you to manage your insecurity about a relationship that predates you, especially when the fixation is yours, not your partner's. 

Here are some common beliefs people have about their partner’s ex, followed by ways to help shift your perspective toward feeling more comfortable and confident in your relationship with your partner.

1. You fear your partner's ex is plotting to get back together (and will succeed).

There is a secret plan to undermine your relationship. You cannot fathom how your partner could possibly be over their ex and into you. The fact that the word “ex” signifies a breakup is lost in the fear and paranoia that you will be abandoned unless you stay vigilant. Your vigilance is meant to somehow prevent your partner from going back to their ex.  

2. Your partner negatively compares you to their ex.

Do you believe your partner’s ex knows them better than you do? The competition you create in your head between you and the ex usually does not result in you feeling reassured. No matter the circumstances — whether your partner has an extensive history with their ex, has children with them, or the ex initiated their breakup — comparing yourself to the ex is likely to lead to you to believe that they are superior, that you are less important to your partner, and that their relationship was better. The more you invent ways to compete, the more opportunities you invent to see yourself as inferior.

3. You are inferior to your partner’s ex.

When you're assessing your partner's ex and insist that you are actually looking at your partner’s ex in the same way your partner does — which you're not — you may deem their ex to be more attractive, intelligent, or successful than you. The more you build up their ex, the more you fear being rejected. As you continue to build the case against the viability of your current relationship, you are also promoting the "amazingness" of your partner's past relationship.

The results of these kinds of comparisons are unfairly burdensome and unrealistic: They are exes, after all. When these fears are indulged, they can result in paranoia and preoccupation with the ex. As you become flooded with insecurity, there is a destabilizing effect on you. The more entrenched you become in your convictions, the more you grow suspicious of your partner and seek continual affirmation from them.

4. You are suspicious that your partner’s ex has ulterior motives.

You resent your partner, but you resent their ex even more for having had a relationship with him or her. You are aware, on some level, that it's not rational to blame people for living their lives before you came on the scene, but you just can't help yourself. Irrational resentment is infectious, and the suspicion that accompanies it drives you to prove the unprovable. Why unprovable? Because fixating on something and someone you have no control over does not leave room for reassurance that will stick. When you invest yourself in the belief that your partner’s ex is better than you or that the ex has an agenda to reunite with your partner, there’s no stopping the depths into which you can sink yourself, your partner, and your relationship.

As you struggle to contain your feelings about your partner's past, keep in mind that people often go into relationships not realizing that they are looking to their new partner to make up for past heartbreak, rejection, shame, and unmet longings that predated their time with you. You may not realize how much responsibility you are placing on your partner to help you feel more secure about yourself. Steeped in suspicion, you risk infecting your relationship.

Here are some reality-based perspectives to help you decrease your fear:

By doubting your worth in the relationship, you are inadvertently setting your partner’s ex and their relationship up to be superior to yours. When you inflate the ex’s importance to your partner, you are setting your relationship up to fail, because the only way to envision your partner’s relationship with their ex is by making their ex come alive through your fear-ridden, distorted lens. It’s also important to keep in mind that your partner can’t help the relationships they were in previously, and the same holds true for you. Further, as difficult as this might be to fathom, the likelihood that your partner is in a relationship with you just to shame you for being inferior to their ex is pretty low.

Trusting in any relationship is incredibly challenging if you’ve experienced betrayal, abandonment, and other disappointments. Despite past traumas, there is no way to build a secure foundation in your partnership other than to take a leap of faith that your partner is who they appear to be. Holding on to suspiciousness and distrust won’t protect you from feeling devastated if your relationship ends. The reality is that a broken heart can happen whether you put trust in your relationship or not.

You are allowed to resent your partner’s ex for your own sanity, but you’re not allowed to impose your feelings on your partner. In relationships, you are only responsible for yourself. Your dislike of the ex doesn’t belong to your partner; it belongs to you. Find other places to vent about the ex. You cannot look to your partner to make you feel better about the choices they made before being with you: That’s self-sabotage. To combat that instinct, keep working on self-awareness.

Knowledge is power, and self-knowledge is the ultimate power. Understanding your contribution to the dynamics of your relationship is the most powerful tool you have for addressing your fears about your partner’s ex.