While it’s not always easy, accepting your partner’s past is part of any relationship. Whether you’re hung up on their past relationships or concerned about mistakes they’ve made, try to remain objective. Remember that everyone has baggage, and you can’t erase the past. Aside from major red flags, like cheating on all of their exes or a history of violence, give them the benefit of the doubt. Focus on how your partner treats you in the present, and work on developing a trusting relationship with them.
EditManaging Your Emotions
Notice when you’re thinking intrusive thoughts. Learn to recognize obsessive, black-and-white thoughts and catch yourself when you jumping to conclusions. It’s one thing to think about your partner’s past or experience emotions about it. However, try to identify when your thoughts race or if you take a past event out of context.
Emotions such as anger, sadness, and jealousy are normal. For instance, it’s normal to be sad or cry about something bad your partner did in the past. If you’re jealous or insecure about your partner’s ex, it’s okay to vent to a loved one about it.
On the other hand, try not to obsess over your partner’s past relationships, scour their exes’ social media accounts, or dwell on a minor mistake they made years ago.
Challenge obsessive or all-or-nothing thinking. When you notice intrusive or irrational thoughts, question them. Remind yourself to stay objective, look at facts, and chip away at irrational suspicions.
For example, suppose you’re suspicious that your partner isn’t over their ex, but there isn’t any actual evidence. Ask yourself whether you’re being reasonable if you start dwelling on your jealousy, thinking the worst of your partner, or obsessively looking over their ex’s social media profiles.
Tell yourself, “Stop. It’s normal to feel jealous, but I need to manage my thoughts and actions. I can’t control my partner or their past, but I can control my reaction. They haven’t given me any reason not to trust them, and I’m jumping to conclusions.”
If you have suspicions, it’s better to be honest with your partner instead of convincing yourself of the worst.
Seek advice from a trusted friend or relative. Vent your feelings to a loved one, and ask them for a fresh perspective. They can help you figure out whether the issue is a matter of your perception or a legitimate cause for concern. Confide in someone who’s objective, and keep in mind anything you say may influence that person’s opinion of your partner.
For example, suppose your parents are already on the fence about your partner. Talking to them about your partner’s flaws could just worsen their opinion. If you work things out and accept with your partner’s past, your parents could still resent your partner, and you’d be caught in the middle.
See a therapist if you’re not sure how to handle your partner’s past. If you have trouble coming to terms with your partner’s past or managing your feelings, an individual or couples counselor can help. They can offer a fresh perspective on your relationship and, if necessary, address broader trust issues.
EditPutting Their Past in Context
Think about things you’ve done in the past. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Remind yourself that everyone has a past, and that no one is perfect. Make a mental list of your exes, mistakes you’ve made, and other examples that are comparable to what bothers you about your ex’s past.
Imagine if your partner questioned whether you have feelings for your ex or judged you for a mistake you made 10 years ago. You’d probably think it’s unfair that they’re judging you for things you did before you even knew each other.
Remember that you can’t change the past. Your partner can’t erase their past, and you shouldn’t expect them to have a completely clean slate. Everyone brings baggage into a relationship. It’s up to you to figure out whether or not you can accept your partner’s baggage.
It’s okay if you need some time to come to terms with your partner’s past. But it’s not fair to hold a grudge against them or to bring up their past during a fight. If they did something horrible and you can’t accept it, it’s better to end things than continually rake your partner over the coals.
Don’t define your partner solely based on their past mistakes. Take into account who your partner is now and how they treat you in the present. Try to see the bigger picture, and look for broader patterns instead of magnifying a single action. Put things in perspective, and think about how you’d feel if your partner judged you based on a single mistake.
Say your partner told you they cheated on one of their exes a long time ago, and that they feel still horrible about it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should distrust them.
Ask yourself if something they’ve done is a deal breaker. Although everyone messes up, it’s okay to draw a line in the sand. Small, one-time mistakes are one thing. However, don’t feel like you have to accept major warning signs, such as a long-term pattern of bad behavior or a serious crime.
Suppose your partner told you they’ve cheated in each of their relationships. That’s a pattern of suspicious behavior, and it’s okay to have serious doubts about their ability to commit.
Say they were arrested in the past for violence, and you’ve seen them punch walls, slam doors, and break things. This is a pattern of violent, potentially abusive behavior. Other abusive behaviors include screaming at you, threatening physical violence, and attempting to isolate you from loved ones. If you’ve observed any of these red flags, ending the relationship is probably the best option.
If they lose their temper but haven’t directed their anger toward you, and if you’re interested in working things out, you still need to set ground rules. They should consult a mental health professional about managing their anger.
EditAddressing Your Concerns with Your Partner
Bring up your feelings in a calm, respectful manner. Avoid bringing up something from their past in the midst of an argument. When you’re both calm and in good moods, ask them to talk. Tell them something’s been bothering you, and you want to be honest with them about it.
Say something like, “Can we have a chat? I’m been feeling anxious ever since you told me about how much you used to party. I’m not saying you can’t have fun, but that kind of lifestyle isn’t for me. Do you think you’ve gotten it out of your system?”
Listen to their side of the story. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and let them give you the context. Maybe they told you about something they did in passing, but you didn’t get the whole story. Avoid jumping to conclusions, and try not to make assumptions about what goes on in their head.
For instance, don’t just assume that your partner still has feelings for their ex. Instead of letting your suspicions fester, say, “I know you and your ex were together for a long time, and that’s pretty intimidating. They make me feel insecure, and I don’t want to come off as jealous, but I need to know that I can trust you.”
Hear them out, but trust your instincts. Bear in mind there’s a difference between an explanation and an excuse. It’s one thing if your partner offers a legitimate explanation and puts something from their past in context. However, go with your gut if you think they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
For example, say your partner had a problem with drugs or alcohol. They explain how they took steps to address their addiction, and that they’ve been sober for a long time. Rather than make excuses, their words and actions offer proof that the past is in the past.
Suppose your partner often hangs out with their ex alone. Maybe they’re constantly praising their ex, or they say things like, “That outfit reminds me of something my ex would wear.” Even if they try to explain it away, that’s pretty good evidence they’re not over their ex. It’d be wise to question if they’re ready to commit to a relationship with you.
Communicate openly, but don’t overshare with each other. As your relationship deepens, you and your partner should feel comfortable being vulnerable with each other. Let your partner know that it’s safe to talk about past experiences, mistakes, and regrets. Encourage honesty, but keep in mind that, for some topics, neither of you need to share every little detail.
For instance, telling each other about your likes and dislikes in the bedroom helps build intimacy. However, neither of you need to go into detail about being intimate with an ex.
Some people just don’t want to know about their partner’s past relationships. If you know you’re prone to jealousy, tell your partner you don’t really want to hear about their exes.
Discuss getting STI tests if you’re worried about their sexual history. If you haven’t already, talk to your partner about sexual health. It might be an awkward subject, but try to be matter-of-fact. Without putting them on the spot, suggest that you both get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI).
Suppose you find out the person you’re dating has been with a lot of people, and you’re having trouble coming to terms with it. Talk to them about it, and mention that sexual health is an important topic for any couple to discuss.
Try saying, “I know it’s awkward to talk about, but they say you should be upfront about sex and health. I get tested regularly, how about you? What do you think about getting tested together?”
EditLearning to Trust Your Partner
Focus on how they treat you now. Ask yourself if your partner has given you any reason not to trust them. Assess your relationship rationally, and think about how your partner has acted since you’ve been together. How they treat you in the present is more important than what they might have done before they knew you.
It’s normal to be afraid to trust someone, especially if you’ve been hurt in the past. Tell yourself to stop when you start feeling suspicious or jealous. Stay objective, and focus on your partner’s words and actions in the present.
Respect your partner’s privacy. Never snoop through your partner’s things or try to read their texts or emails. Think about how you would feel if they invaded your privacy. If you have reasons not to trust them, discuss your concerns with them instead of snooping.
If you do find evidence, confronting them with it will let them know that you’ve invaded their privacy. You’ll both be defensive and accusatory, and neither of you will trust the other enough to have a productive conversation.
Distrust doesn’t necessarily have to do with cheating. Say, for instance, that your partner drank a lot or used drugs in the past. You might not trust them when they say that’s in the past if you’ve seen them drinking a lot or they’re suddenly prone to mood swings.
Talk to your partner about behaviors that make you distrust them. Choose a calm setting to bring up your concerns. Think about what you want to say beforehand, and come up with specific reasons that you distrust your partner. Try not to come off like your accusing them, but let them know the particular actions that have you on guard.
For example, tell them, “Please don’t feel like I’m attacking you or accusing you of anything. But you told me you’ve had some anger issues in the past, and I’ve noticed you’ve been losing your temper a lot lately. Is there any way I can help? Maybe talking to someone can help you keep your anger in check.”
If you think they still have feelings for an ex, say, “It bothers me when you talk about how great your ex is or what you used to do together. I feel like you’re drawing comparisons between us. I’m glad you’re on good terms with them, but I’m concerned you still have feelings for them.”
Try not to let mementos of their exes bother you, within reason. Keeping a photograph of their ex on their nightstand, for instance, is unreasonable. However, don’t read into every little reminder of your partner’s past relationships. Holding onto mementos doesn’t mean your partner is still hung up on an ex.
Suppose an ex made a really nice drawing of your partner’s dog. Keeping the drawing doesn’t mean that your partner is still crazy about the ex. If their ex gave them their favorite mug, using it to drink their morning coffee doesn’t mean they wish they were still with the ex.
Remember, you can’t pretend the past never happened. Your partner can be nostalgic but still be committed to you. As long as they treat you right and you’re both happy, don’t let their ancient history get in the way of your relationship.
EditSources and Citations
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