This question keeps coming up in a singles Facebook group. When a couple becomes exclusive or marry, is it a good idea to remain friends with previous girlfriends/boyfriends? Where do you draw the line with communication in any form to former relationships? Is this different with more casual relationships? Is it fair to request no contact with former close friends? Some say this is a form of control and insecurity. What do boundaries look like in respect to yourself and your partner and how much trust should be given in honoring the commitment to the new relationship?
Navigating friendships with former partners can be complicated, especially when you’re in a new exclusive relationship or marriage. As you can tell, everyone has their own opinion based on their lived experiences and observations. While there’s no standard operating procedure that can be applied to every couple, there are some considerations that couples can discuss together as they figure out what’s comfortable for them. What works for one couple may not work for another.
Some people can maintain healthy friendships with their exes without any complications. These friendships can be meaningful and have a positive impact on their lives. However, it’s equally valid for other people to feel uncomfortable or threatened by their partner’s close relationship with an ex.
It’s essential to approach this issue with open communication, mutual understanding, and respect. It’s critical that your loyalty is to each other first. Loyalty doesn’t always mean agreement. Loyalty means that you’ll turn to your partner first to work things out. If there are disagreements on how to proceed with an ex-partner, the couple need to prioritize unity above other friendships. I’ll list out some of the talking points that every couple should consider as they decide how to include an ex-partner in their relationship.
It’s important to consider the nature of the previous relationship. Was it emotionally charged, long-term, or simply a fleeting romance? The depth and nature of the past relationship can impact the comfort level in the present relationship.
It’s also worth considering how the previous relationship ended. Was it mutual? Was there unresolved emotional baggage? An amicable ending might pave the way for a smoother friendship.
Make sure to be clear and honest about the reason for wanting to maintain the friendship with the ex. Is it because of shared interests, mutual friends, or unresolved feelings? Do they have children with this person and need to stay amicable for their benefit?
Part of this discussion needs to include where to draw the line with contact and communication. This decision should be made collaboratively. Some couples might be okay with occasional catching-up messages, while others might prefer complete distance. These boundaries around contact and communication are critical because too much familiarity and casualness can lead to a competing attachment that will threaten the security of the current relationship.
Please recognize that it’s not necessarily controlling or insecure to request no contact with former close friends or relationships if it comes from a place of genuine concern or discomfort. Every individual has the right to express their feelings and boundaries in a relationship. However, it’s essential to approach this topic without being accusatory. You can own your preference talk through it with your current partner. If this becomes a deal breaker in your relationship, it’s important to seek professional help.
Boundaries are about protecting the relationship and ensuring both partners feel secure and respected. They’re not about controlling or limiting freedom. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and while boundaries help define comfort zones, trust ensures that these zones are honored. When trust is cultivated, it allows for more flexibility in other relationships. However, trust isn’t just given; it’s earned and maintained through consistent actions and open communication.
Recognize that you can always reevaluate as needed. As relationships grow and evolve, feelings and comfort levels can change. It’s okay to revisit the topic and adjust boundaries as needed.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.