Relationship advice: How to tell if a boyfriend or girlfriend is still in love with an ex
It may start out in very subtle ways- a passing reference to an ex-girlfriend’s birthday, or a conversation turns into a story about an ex-boyfriend. Sometimes the situation is not so subtle- a whispered phone conversation ends abruptly when you enter the room, or a mutual friend swears she saw your girlfriend in a restaurant with a man who looked familiar. Subtle or not, these incidents may lead you to honestly suspect your girlfriend or boyfriend is still in love with an ex, and your relationship is bound to suffer for it. Confrontation may seem counter-intuitive, but remaining passive may send out the wrong signal as well. It’s a difficult problem to solve in a relationship, but one that needs to be addressed before it has any time to escalate. If your suspicions are wrong, then no harm no foul. If there happens to be some substance behind the rumors, then you have an opportunity to break off the relationship gracefully or clear the air and restrengthen it without the ex’s involvement.
The first thing you must decide before pursuing your suspicions is what level of ‘love’ could be acceptable- in other words, where is the line in the sand? Your partner had an intensely romantic relationship with someone long before you entered the scene. This relationship was every bit as real as the one you enjoy with your partner today.
Sadly enough, this former relationship suffered some setbacks and eventually it ended, perhaps badly but perhaps not. The decision to break up may have been mutual, or maybe not. It would be understandable in some ways if your partner still loved a former girlfriend or boyfriend in the sense of platonic love. The romantic element of their relationship may have failed, but the non-sexual qualities which first brought them together may still be in evidence. Your partner may still love an ex for their sense of humor or compassion for others, but no longer be ‘in love’ with him or her as a romantic partner. Are you willing to acknowledge the difference and allow a healthy platonic relationship to continue? Look at it in this light- would you rather have a boyfriend or girlfriend who can still maintain a non-sexual friendship with an ex, or someone who only speaks of their ex-partners with contempt and anger?
Obviously not all former relationships can be healthy and platonic, so you do have the right to protect yourself from unnecessary pain. You may never be sure what another person is really feeling, but you can look for some tangible outward signs of mixed emotions. When someone is conflicted by two sets of feelings, in this case love for two people at the same time, he or she tends to avoid confrontation at all cost. You may get the distinct impression he or she has disconnected from a conversation or has become lost in thought. Holding on to a secret, especially one of this magnitude, may cause a withdrawal from intimacy- he or she no longer feels comfortable discussing romantic desires in the way they might have earlier in the relationship. This subtle breakdown in intimacy and communication may be an early indicator of mixed emotions.
We all tend to discuss the things which are closest to our own hearts, or the mundane things which occupy most of our time, like work-related stories. If your boyfriend or girlfriend seems to be relating more and more of these conversations to an ex, you may have another warning sign. It’s perfectly natural for a specific topic of conversation to bring up a story or two from the past- ‘Oh yeah, Susie and I went to that restaurant and the food was great.’ or ‘I sure wish Brian had taken me to that concert like he promised.’ We can’t help ourselves at times, because our stories and conversations are built on personal history, and that history does involve ex-lovers. But if your boyfriend or girlfriend seems to be incorporating an ex’s name into a significant amount of conversations, he or she may be revealing some unresolved feelings. You may need to ask him or her to make an effort to stay in the present and not bring up an ex’s name when it obviously makes you uncomfortable.
Another way to tell if your current partner may be in love with an ex is physical evidence. He or she may purchase birthday cards or other gifts when it’s clearly not YOUR birthday. It may be an innocent gesture on his or her part, but remembering anniversaries or birthdays of a former relationship is not always a healthy sign. Phone calls from the opposite sex asking for your partner may indicate some continuation of a former relationship, especially if the explanation seems suspiciously rehearsed or the number traces back to a known ex. Again, a healthy platonic relationship may be at work here, but why the sudden need for privacy or a ‘cover story’? Some couples share email accounts in order to check for important messages, but you may find yourself locked out of these accounts unexpectedly. Everyone is entitled to privacy, obviously, but a sudden change in policy can be curious. If you feel justified in asking for an explanation, pay close attention to his or her response. An honest explanation, even if you detect some annoyance, is preferable to an angry response or personal attack. If the relationship is truly platonic, then he or she should feel comfortable discussing most of it with you. There may be a FEW things only friends with that sort of history can share, but it should be like any other relationship you both share with others of the opposite sex.
There is a lot of truth in the saying ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ Your boyfriend or girlfriend may have kept gifts or photographs from a past relationship, but these things should be stored away with old bowling balls or a high school yearbook, not out on the coffee table. All relationships eventually hit rough water, but the solution lies in the present and future, not in the distant past. If you notice your boyfriend or girlfriend pulling out souvenirs of a past relationship, you may have a situation to discuss. While it would be unreasonable to expect someone to completely discard all traces of a past relationship, it’s usually appropriate to ask they not be brought out in your presence. It’s not unusual for people under stress to find comfort in reminiscing about the old days, but sometimes this leads to a rekindling of old flames. Your relationship may be having some difficulties right now, but your significant other may not remember similar problems with that ex in the photographs. Nostalgia has its place in all of our lives, but not when it comes to working on a present-day relationship issue.
The bottom line to all this is that your boyfriend or girlfriend may very well still love an ex, but only in the sense of a mutual friendship. If handled above board by all parties, this shouldn’t mark the beginning of the end for your current relationship at all. An ex may still be ‘in love’ with your current boyfriend or girlfriend, but the feelings are clearly not mutual and you can minimize any potential harm to your relationship. But occasionally you may find that your current boyfriend or girlfriend is still in love with an ex, or at least the idealized version of an ex. You didn’t create these feelings, but you may be the one who can channel them before they cause more harm than good. Sometimes relationships are lost because of unrequited feelings between ex’s, but oftentimes they can become stronger once you demonstrate how much better a real relationship can be than an imaginary one.