The Ex Factor and the Invisible Ties of Past Relationships
Letting go of past expectations
Posted October 8, 2019 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
Unless you or your new partner are lucky enough to marry the love of your life the first time around, it is likely that you could be an ex, have an ex, or be forced to deal with a loved one’s ex at some point. And that comes after swimming the difficult waters of separation and divorce that led you to this place.
Becoming an ex can bring many feelings, including rejection, or, depending on the circumstances, guilt about rejecting — and that’s just the beginning of the roller-coaster ride that can also include disappointment, despair, feelings of abandonment, loss, pain, anger, hostility, and confusion. You are probably still reeling from those emotions, and everything else that can come with untangling your life from your partner’s.
Adele and her ex, Simon Konecki, are likely going through much of this now, after she reportedly officially filed for divorce recently. So how can you begin to deal with all these exes, and handle the complications and onslaught of emotions and navigating life’s details that this experience brings with it?
It really comes down to four prongs on the long-lost engagement diamond: dealing with your ex’s new partner, dealing with your partner’s ex, dealing with family and friends’ continued relationship with your ex and, at the center of it all, dealing directly with your ex.
So many people think that because that other person has taken on the title of ex, they can now cross them off their list and get them out of their life. In reality, though, nothing is further from the truth, especially if there are children involved. What has changed is the way you will deal with that person moving forward.
Keep in mind there is a reason you broke up – to put it simply, whatever the issues were, you couldn’t make it work. Your relationship has changed, but the person you were in that relationship with most likely hasn’t. They will probably continue to act in the way they always did.
The good news is that you no longer have to struggle to achieve harmony when it comes to each other’s everyday needs. But it is still important to deal respectfully with each other, particularly in the face of differences.
It is helpful to put boundaries in place. Formalize the necessary times to see each other, and hold hard and fast to that. If there are kids, limit communication with your ex to discussing only necessary subjects surrounding the logistics of their caretaking. Avoid bad-mouthing your former partner in front of the children so they aren’t put in a position where they are forced to choose sides or feel guilty if they don’t.
While it is tempting to be flexible and spontaneous when it comes to scheduling any activities for yourself or for your kids, it can actually be more problematic because it ushers in the expectation that your partner will be helpful or supportive, but if they stick to their own plans and don’t want to help you it can reignite all the anger you felt during the marriage. So keep the schedule of who is responsible for whom and what clear. Make spontaneity the exception, not the norm.
Also, begin to build up new support systems so that you no longer have to ask your ex for help when you have a problem. Wherever you can, fill in and replenish the areas of your life where you feel the most loss. The more you do that, the less resentful and angry you are going to be toward your ex.
Down the road, you might find yourself dealing with your ex’s new partner, or depending on the situation, your partner’s ex. Having to face feeling replaced by someone who is now taking the spot you used to occupy can be hard to accept, as is the attempt to fill the shoes of the person who came before you. It is helpful not to compare yourself to the other person.
Along the same lines, talk about your relationship and what you share with each other. Edit out excess conversation about the ex so that it remains about you both, leaving the exes out of it. This will help you feel more secure with one another, and keep the exes where they belong, out of your romantic life.
And finally, there is dealing with friends and family around your ex. Your brother has become good friends with your ex-husband, or your parents still invite your first wife to holiday dinners. It is hard to demand that they stop doing those things, or that they can no longer be involved in your ex’s life. What you can do is tell them how difficult this is for you, and if your ex is going to be at a dinner or a party, then you might not be able to be there, too.
You can ask your friend or loved one to please give you the heads up when it comes to plans with your ex so that you can be prepared, acknowledging that this is hard for everyone and the situation may be different down the road. In addition, you can let them know that there are things you might not want your ex to be privy to. If they feel compelled to share it, then tell them that moving forward you are most likely going to limit what you tell them in order to take care of yourself.
The goal is to create closure for yourself, which means coping with what you left behind, while focusing on the positive of what you took away from it. Think of your ex in terms of how he or she helped you grow, rather than dwelling on where your relationship or your ex fell short of your expectations.