You're in a lovely restaurant together. He mentions in passing that he came here once with his ex-wife. The dessert is delicious – but not, he points out, quite as tasty as the ones she used to make. And just after the bill has been settled, his mobile rings. She's just calling to check the arrangements for next week. Is he still okay to drive their eldest son to university?
When you start dating someone new, it's only natural to want to find out a little about his relationship history. Is he divorced, separated or widowed? Does he have children? When did his last serious romance end? In return, you'll share a few details about your own past. And then you'll both push the discussion to one side and focus on the here-and-now, right?
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Well, not necessarily. What if his ex is forever creeping into the conversation? Maybe the pair of them still share a close bond. Or perhaps the relationship ended badly but he doesn't quite seem to have come to terms with what happened. Either way, no matter how well your romance seems to be progressing in every other way, you can't help feeling envious, unsettled and afraid that he's never really going to let go of the past.
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Confront the issue
Before you do anything else, it's worth taking a quick reality check. Old habits die hard and your new partner may still be adjusting to the new relationship. Of course, he'll mention his ex from time to time, particularly in the early days. Chances are you've been thinking – and talking – about your earlier romances, too. Wouldn't you be more suspicious and uneasy around someone who didn't talk about their past at all?
But if the situation persists, it's time to confront the issue. 'It's extremely important to open up a dialogue with your new partner if you experience feelings of insecurity or envy,' insists sex and relationship therapist Lorraine McGinlay. 'Otherwise, these feelings can have a hugely negative impact on how you relate to one another.'
So how should go about it? Be neither accusatory nor apologetic. Dropping hints is never a good idea. Instead, just calmly explain the way you've been feeling, and your reasons for doing so – and wait to see how he responds.
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Face the future
'A big consideration when dealing with ex-partners is when there are children involved,' says McGinlay. 'If there are, your new partner is always going to have some kind of relationship with his ex, of course, and you need to accept that from the start and explain how you feel about it. Communication is key here.'
The best-case – and often most likely – scenario is that you have nothing to worry about. As your relationship starts to flourish, he'll naturally mention her less, and you'll respond differently when he does. She'll become less of a threat, and – who knows? – may even end up becoming a friend. But for this to happen, you need to do the groundwork now.
Know when to let go
But what if his behaviour remains unchanged? You've explained how you feel and he still keeps mentioning her at every opportunity. 'If nothing changes, you both need to seriously consider whether your partner still has feelings for his ex, so isn't ready to be in a relationship,' McGinlay warns. 'And if that's the case, you need to accept this isn't the right relationship for you at this time.'
Or to put it another way: get out now to avoid being hurt further down the line. It doesn't necessarily mean you're slamming the door on any possibility of romance forever. It could be a case of 'right person, wrong time'. Sometimes, sadly, it takes a new relationship for someone to truly realise they're not yet over the last one. 'It may be worth suggesting that he considers seeking relationship therapy,' adds McGinlay. 'This will help him come to terms with what happened in his past and help him to finally move on.'
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