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Dear Christine, Rocked by Her Ex, in Rochester Hills

| December 19, 2016

Dear Christine,

My girlfriend “Zenobia” of a year is awesome, we have a really good relationship, share loads of interests in common, want the same things out of life and feel we can really make a go of things.

I have a problem with her last ex of nine years. They broke up over 18 months ago. Just a few months ago this ex was messaging Rosie saying how much she misses her, then things like she’d had an accident, cut herself etc. (She selfharmed when they were together.) It made “Zenobia” feel horribly guilty and she had to tell her on more than one occasion that this was not appropriate. Thankfully those messages seem to have stopped but she still hears from her pretty much every weekend asking her to meet up, which she declines mostly.

I don’t believe “Zenobia” would ever cheat, or even go back to her ex. She’s assured me she doesn’t even miss her and cares about her only as a friend. She says she feels sorry for her ex that she still misses her so much after all this time.

I haven’t said anything so far as I didn’t want to appear jealous or untrusting but today I told her that it does bother me that her ex pesters her so much. Although she agrees it’s irritating and says she understands my worrying, as she would if the situation were reversed, she doesn’t seem to want to break contact or tell her to back off. We had an argument about it and I don’t know if I should have said anything as she says she feels backed into a corner and now has to break off contact. We’re not talking and it’s upsetting as we’ve never really argued before and having her angry with me is unbearable.

Although I would be happy if “Zenobia” never spoke to her ex again, I don’t want to start telling her who she can and can’t see. I don’t understand the need to be friends with an ex, maybe a catch up every now and then but I see no need for more than this.

Do I need to apologize for even bringing it up? Or is she being unreasonable and needs to resolve this with her ex? Please help me resolve this with her, I have no idea where to start!

Thank you,

Rocked by Her Ex, in Rochester Hills

Dear Rocked,

There is no need to apologize from bringing up an issue and/or feelings you have about your partner in your relationship. You both need to feel the emotional safety and trust that your feelings and experiences matter to each other. What you are discussing is boundaries. Though some exes do become friends, it can take time for a 9 year relationship to settled into that friendship, and it’s only been 1.5 y that you have been with Zenobia. It also sounds like Zenobia’s past relationship had some unhealthy aspects to it, as her ex was cutting. This might have been a cry for help, but it also could have had a manipulative quality to it. Threats to selfharm can cause someone to stay in contact or even in a relationship that they would otherwise leave.

Perhaps Zenobia feels guilty about that break up and is being manipulated by her ex. Perhaps she truly cares, but it sounds like their friendship is one sided, with the ex reaching out to Zenobia often, and Zenobia being there.

Welcome to your first argument as a couple. That is a milestone that is necessary. You both are different people, with different expectations, needs and feelings. You will disagree with each other, despite the pain of that, because you are two individuals. If you keep talking to each other, opening up to each other, you will get through the pain and discover a compromise or a solution that works for both of you. That will build a stronger foundation to your relationship together.

The couples I worry about tell me that they never had a fight in 50 years! That means someone subsumed their personality to get along with the other to keep the peace. It is likely that there were many disagreements, but one didn’t have enough spine to confront the other. It’s also OK to set boundaries with each other as your relationship is developing. It’s important to have boundaries to create emotional safety. You might not want to tell Zenobia to stop contacting her ex, but it might come to that, eventually. I do know one woman who asked her husband to stop having lunch with a woman colleague that the wife knew and didn’t trust. The husband agreed and didn’t meet in private with that colleague again, though their paths continued to cross professionally. Each of us has to figure out what boundaries we need and then communicate them. If they are negotiable, or are flexible, great! Then start talking. If they are mandatory or nonnegotiable, it’s really critical to know yourself enough to become aware and then communicate those boundaries. Her response will give you a clearer indication about whether or not you feel safe enough in this relationship.

Christine Cantrell, PhD


Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067

Click here to email Christine.

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