Feelings about exes in marriage—especially a NEW marriage—can be distracting and worrisome, but the fact is that this is a typical occurrence in any marriage. In fact, it’s sometimes helpful—and even necessary—to look backwards to gain insight on how we can create a stronger connection with our spouses or be a better partner.
However . . . while it’s completely normal to have feelings—positive and negative—about former suitors, dwelling on these feelings can be problematic if they are frequent, pervasive, or begin to interfere in your marriage.
And—let’s face it. When we focus too much in the rear-view mirror, we lose sight of what is right in front of us, which is much more important than whatever—or whomever—we’ve left behind.
In this article, I talk about why entertaining feelings about exes can backfire and what to do instead.
Comparing Your New Spouse to Your Exes
Let’s start by acknowledging the reality that it can actually be helpful to consider previous relationships IF (and only IF) your spouse rates positively compared to those you dated before saying “I do”.
Because Michael and I married relatively quickly after meeting, this happened to me. For months—even years after we married—thoughts, memories, and feelings about exes would bubble up at any given moment and were often unnerving. What set my mind at ease was the fact that Michael usually won these mental comparisons handily, and this was very reassuring.
The struggle came when I realized that he didn’t ALWAYS come out ahead. I grew worried as these comparisons grew from fleeting thoughts to concerns about the wisdom of my choice and led to many other questions such as:
>> What were my feelings about and why were they coming up when I was newly (and happily) married?
>> Did they mean I was with the wrong person or shouldn’t have married at all?
>> Did I still have feelings for someone else that I needed to deal with?
>> If so, did I need to mention this to Michael?
As you can see, I tied myself in knots and it really wasn’t necessary.
Here are a few things that helped me that will help you too, especially if you’re newly married and still have thoughts or feelings about exes.
Are you tempted to stay in touch with some of your exes? Consider
this article on What’s Going on When You Stay in Touch With Your Ex
What to Do When You’re Having Feelings About Exes
>> Remember that dating isn’t marriage! Dating probably didn’t include mundane chores, bills, and other responsibilities related to the demands of everyday life. In fact, you probably remember dating as something that was fun, exciting, and fresh all the time. In comparison, marriage can sometimes seem boring and stale. The truth is that—if you had married any of your exes—it would have been the same when the shine and polish wore off. Believe me.
>> Remind yourself of the reasons you chose your spouse to begin with. Even if you were the dump-ee in previous relationships you thought would end in marriage, someone who did not choose you is not right for you in the long run. Your spouse chose you—and chose you for life. That is something special.
>> Get rid of tangible reminders of your exes if you need to. Clutter isn’t just tangible; you can have emotional clutter too. It’s okay to feel fond of that old tee-shirt or CD, but do you really need to keep ALL those old movie and concert ticket stubs? I can remember the day I opened an old box and found a huge collection of McDonald’s French fry containers I had kept from late-night visits to the drive-through with my high school sweetheart. I laughed and pitched them straight into the trash. It was liberating! (An odd assortment of other things like jewelry, shoes, and kitchen utensils are still around, but only because they’re actually useful and don’t automatically or immediately cause a memory of an ex to come to mind.)
>> Realize that energy spent on looking at a person behind you takes away from energy you COULD be spending looking at the person beside you. One of the most important keys to building a satisfying, unified life as a married couple is a commitment to looking forward at a shared future and regularly discussing how you’re going to create it together.
>> Be willing to work through old hurts. Be honest—with yourself and with your mate—about painful things that happened in the past, especially if you see them coming up in various forms in the present. Help your partner understand why you need closure and explain how they can help. A loving partner will appreciate your honesty and be happy to support you in this healing process.
If you’re a newlywed and having a tough go of it, check out our article on
From ‘Me’ to ‘We’: How to Start Your Marriage Right
And perhaps most importantly . . .
>> Refuse to compare your spouse negatively to any of your exes! It can be easy to romanticize a previous relationship, but you should never make your better half feel “less than” someone else you didn’t end up with! Everyone has strengths and weaknesses: your mate’s weaknesses are just easier to spot because you live with them every day. Don’t get sucked into the lie that says you would have been blissfully happy with one of your exes because it’s probably not true. Not to mention that comparing your partner to an unrealistic ideal you had of someone else in the past is incredibly unfair.
1. Ask yourself if you’re okay with your spouse doing the same things you’re doing now.
>> Are you okay with them day-dreaming about “the one that got away” or keeping all those bathing-suit photos on their phone?
>> Do they make comments that you don’t live up to a former lover?
>> How much stuff are you okay with your spouse keeping from their former relationships?
Answer these questions for yourself, then act accordingly.
2. Share any feelings about exes with a trusted friend and ask them to hold you accountable—both for your thoughts and your actions.
3. Get help to work through any painful or intrusive issues from your past that need to be put to rest, once and for all. And consider including your partner in this process. As difficult as it may be, it can be a freeing and bonding experience to go through this experience with your spouse.
Whether you shiver or shudder at thoughts from the past, they can be a normal part of becoming one with your mate. Getting rid of tangible reminders, working through any lingering hurts, and considering how you’d like your partner to deal with this subject are all good ways of getting the fresh start you need to help your marriage be successful!