My Partner’s Ex Seems to be Part of the Family Still

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Reader’s Question

I have been with my partner for nearly five years. When we met, he had kept pictures of an ex-girlfriend and others from years ago, but that isn’t the problem. It is the way he acts and the things he does that worry me. His mum also acts strangely with me.

His ex cheated on him with his cousin, and his family now invites her to parties. I find this uncomfortable only because my partner stares at her most of the time. His mum bought this thing with the name of the girl on it. They have kept things she gave them, and they don’t seem to bother with me much at all.

I am pregnant with my partner’s kid which I now regret in a way. I got him out of the drug scene he had been in for over ten years. I also have a child from another relationship and my current partner has been the father to this child for the last five years. The ex has a kid with the cousin; she is now with someone else and they have a kid together. They all live in the same village. I am from a town.

I think they are jealous of me or something, as I am slim and they are not. They have made comments before, which I just ignored. My partner’s mum bought this running machine with the ex’s name on it; and he seems to use objects in the house that have her initials on it, like a cup for instance. His sister is friends with her; and the ex and his niece made a cardboard treasure chest, which my partner has kept in his bedroom cupboard.

It is getting to me, as my family doesn’t act in this way.

Psychologist’s Reply

One of the more difficult aspects of a relationship has to be dealing with the former partners. In some cases this is easy because there were bad feelings or they live far away. Unfortunately, in your case, neither of these situations seems to apply. The ex-girlfriend is apparently a family favorite and is not going to go away any time soon. So you’re going to have to deal with her.

Communication is one of the keys to a successful relationship and it sounds like you and your partner really need to talk about your feelings. Conversations about difficult topics go best when both of you are calm and you have a good idea of what you’d like to express. In other words, don’t start a conversation about the ex when you are angry or upset. Instead, calmly and clearly tell your partner how you feel. Things to tell him could include your fear that he still wants to be with her, your belief that his family doesn’t like you, and that you are afraid of what both of these things mean for your future as a couple. People tend to be more willing to listen when they do not feel attacked and when the other person is simply talking about how they feel. Difficult dialogues also go better when the focus is on solutions. Your partner doesn’t have to agree with your beliefs but perhaps the two of you can brainstorm some things he can do to make you feel more comfortable.

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Another way to deal with the ex situation is to understand where your partner’s family may be coming from. When there is a breakup, many people do not want to give up the relationships that have been formed. Some people refuse to give up those relationships and find a way to make it work. Consequently, it could be that your partner’s mother and sister simply like the ex and have their own relationship with her, independent of either your partner or his cousin. If you look at the relationship from that perspective, perhaps she could be just a good friend of the family, versus a dreaded ex.

There does seem to be another issue, apart from the ex, and that is your relationship with your partner’s family. You stated that they either don’t bother with you much, or appear jealous of you. Given that you have been with your partner for five years, it seems like it’s time to develop a better relationship with them. Whenever difficulties with the in-laws arise, it’s always good to ask the people who know them best if they have any suggestions for what to do. Thus, I’d start by asking your partner for his thoughts on what you can do differently. If he doesn’t know, some other member of his family with whom you feel comfortable may have hints. If none of them have good ideas, going directly to the source can work wonders. His mother and sister may not believe that you want to get along with them, or it could be that they don’t know how to interact with you. Whatever the reason, having you ask what you can do to get closer to them at least gives you a place to start.

When all is said and done, keep in mind that your partner has been with you and not the ex for the last five years. Not only has he been your partner but he’s been a father to your child and is now having a child with you. If you cannot change the situation, then the only thing you can change is your perspective. Unless your partner gives you ample reason to believe he doesn’t want to be with you, assume that you are the one he wants, and go from there. Hopefully this confidence in your relationship will make you feel better and allow you to concentrate on other things, like preparing for your new child.

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