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Left Out in Lathrup Village

  • Posted on December 21, 2015 at 5:00 am

Dear Christine,

My girlfriend and I have been together since last July. It’s been a pretty easy four months for us. We have a lot of fun together, talk like we’re best friends and respect each other a great deal.

HOWEVER, she too, has an ex boyfriend whom always gets brought up at least once in every conversation.  She’s usually bitching about him because he still texts, emails and calls her, but it seems like she’s living in the past and isn’t truly over him. They had a very on-off relationship for four years and brought out the worst in each other, so I can’t figure it out.

Another thing is that she has a lot of friends who say they’re in love with her and yet she still hangs out with them (even alone at her house) like they’re just regular friends. Is this normal? Should I tell her she can’t?  I’ve tried to inform her many times that in order for a new relationship to work, we need to try to eliminate the things that’ll make us insecure, meaning all of the past and would-be romances of her life.  She says I’m more than welcome to talk and hang out with my exes, but it’s clear that she’s saying this so she can have a guilt-free permission slip to do the same.

We’re so close in many ways, but I just don’t know if I can fight for a relationship when the other person doesn’t take it as serious as I do.

Left Out in Lathrup Village

 

Dear Left Out,

You didn’t mention how long ago your girlfriend broke up with this ex boyfriend or how long they were together.  It sounds like it lasted long enough for her to have some strong ties, though they don’t sound very healthy.  It seems that however long it was since they broke up for the last time, she hasn’t finished processing her feelings, hurts and experiences with him.  She needs time to work through all this, though it isn’t helpful for her to do that with you.  So, in a sense, she’s not fully available to be in a new relationship, fully, because she hasn’t completely left the last one.

I’m not sure what to make of the friends who say they are in love with her.  Do they tell you that?  Do they tell her that?  Is she leading them on?  Does she interact with these friends in any way that violates your agreement with each other in your new relationship?  Have you talked together about what boundaries you each need in your current relationship.  It sounds like you have, at least about you wanting both of you to leave past and would be romances of your lives.  What exactly do you mean:  that there can be no contact with someone either of you loved, were in a relationship with, or who is loved by others, friends?  The relationships that happened and the love that occurred are how we grow and learn about ourselves and about each other.  It’s fair to express your feelings about her friends and relationships and you need to find out how she feels about your friends and past relationships too.  If you made a request that she cut off contact with her exes and would-bes, did she agree or was this something you said in anger? It doesn’t sound like you both are on the same page yet about where those boundaries need to be.
It’s ok for her to have unresolved feelings about her ex, but it’s also ok for you to request that she not process all of that with you.  It’s also good to share your feelings with each other about your needs, expectations and what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.  That’s a two-way street.  You may not see eye to eye on some things, so ask yourself before you make a request:  “is this something I need to be emotionally safe in this relationship or is this something I like but can be more flexible about?”  Knowing eachother’s needs and communicating those critical for any relationship to work.

So, if your boundaries of things you need in the relationship include her not processing about her ex with you, and not leading on her friends that are in love with her, tell her that.  If it’s a non-negotiable that you can’t deal with her having any contact with her ex, after telling her your feelings and listening carefully to hers, then make your request.  If it is a need, like water, like air, be very clear about that.  And then be willing to walk away if she can’t abide by the boundaries that you need.  It’s not about right and wrong, it’s all about what each of you need to feel safe and vulnerable with each other so that you can grow closer together and create a committed, stronger relationship.
So, is this relationship worth fighting for?  Do you both agree on the boundaries, knowing what each other must have and cannot tolerate in a relationship?  Can you give her the space to have friends and exes in a different way from your friendships?  Do you need her to cut off all contact with her ex? Figure out where you stand, then share your feelings and listen to her feelings.  Make your request and be willing to live with whatever happens next.  Good luck.
Christine Cantrell, PhD

Psychologist

christineccantrellphd@gmail.com