What do you do when a past relationship threatens your future? Thozama Nozuko finds out
‘He talks about her constantly,’ complains Bongi about her new boyfriend, who recently got out of a long-term relationship with the mother of his child. ‘Whether he’s comparing us or just venting, her name always seems to come up.’
Bongi is experiencing a surprisingly common problem: being in a relationship with someone who is hung up on their ex – something that can be incredibly frustrating and inhibiting to the growth of a relationship.
Read between the lines
For Bongi, the issue was clear, but it’s not always so easy to spot. ‘It’s difficult to put everything you need to look out for in a checklist,’ says Jenny Rose, a clinical psychologist. ‘The important thing is that you get a sense of your partner’s commitment level. Who’s the one pushing for intimacy? Are you the one who always initiates things, trying to move the relationship on to the next level? If that is the case, talk to your other half about just how committed they are.
If someone is half-involved in an old relationship, it can have a serious impact on the current one. For one thing, they may hold back emotionally, which isn’t conducive to the progress of the relationship. And once you pick up on their reticence, resentment begins to build. ‘That’s when you may start having petty fights,’ says Jenny. ‘There will generally be a high level of conflict.’
Talk the talk
Communication is crucial if a couple is to move past this issue. ‘It’s about being open and honest, sitting down and saying, “Let’s reassess; something isn’t working and we need to figure it out if we see hope of going forward”,’ says Jenny.
This is not an easy conversation. Pride and frustration must often give way to compassion and understanding. ‘If you can be sensitive to your partner’s needs and empathetic to what they are going through, that can do wonders for your relationship,’ says Jenny.
If that doesn’t work, it’s advisable to consult a professional to help resolve the matter. The most important thing, however, is that your partner will have to be honest about their true motives and desires. Do they really want to move on from their ex?
Round and round we go
A good indication that your partner is indeed unable (or unwilling) to move forward, is when a cycle starts repeating itself. ‘If you find that your relationship is just replicating its problems over and over – for example, you’re fighting about the same things over several months or even years – you need to ask yourself whether this is something you really want to pursue.
Also weigh up the pros and cons: how healthy is the relationship? How much time do you spend arguing about their ex? In the end, only you can know if this is something you can live with.
Give and take
Maintaining a healthy, happy relationship requires consistent effort from both you and your partner. Yet there’s always the possibility that something will rock the boat. Bumping into an old flame while your relationship is at its happiest is one such possibility.
Again, communication is key, says Jenny. ‘Can you talk to your partner about an ex you may have seen, and the different emotions that may have evoked in you? Can your partner do the same with you?’
Ultimately, what is important for any relationship – be it with yourself or with your partner – is self-awareness. ‘If you know yourself well enough, you will know whether you’re still hung up on an ex and compromising your new relationship for something else.’ Similarly, when, as a couple, you take the time to reflect on how you have progressed (or regressed) over the course of your relationship, that is how you truly gauge where you are with each other.
Dorothy Black is a sex journalist and educator
I found out that my boyfriend has a baby with another woman. I want to forgive him, but she’s always rubbing it in my face. She posts updates on Facebook all the time saying how much she loves my boyfriend and what a happy family the three of them make. It’s eating me up inside. What must I do?
Well the first thing you have to do is unfriend her on Facebook and any other social media platform you’re using to ‘check up’ on their lives. You need to remove yourself from the drama that’s keeping you from addressing the problem: the fact that your boyfriend has another girlfriend and a new baby.
It’s painful to see her life because it’s evidence of what has happened to yours. But your issue is not with her and her Facebook page, it’s your relationship with this man.
Did you discuss and agree on an open or polyamorous relationship? Or did you assume you two were monogamous and he cheated on you? If you knew he was seeing other people and agreed to that, you will need to accept that this is how his story is going. If he lied to and cheated on you, why call this man your boyfriend? It sounds like there are feelings of anger, betrayal and disappointment that you are trying to process.
Working this out means you’ll have to be honest with yourself about this person you’re calling your boyfriend – not focusing on someone else and her life or perceived spite.
It’s time for you to take control and decide if you want his story – his other woman and child – to be your story. If the answer is ‘yes’, you’ll need to come to a place of acceptance and forgiveness. If your answer is ‘no’, break it off and move on with your life.
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