He’s made it clear that the ex-boyfriend is staying in the picture. What are you going to do about it?
By Adam Segal
My boyfriend of nearly a year is very close with his most recent ex (they broke up about three years ago and have stayed friends). He posts more photos with his ex online than he does of the two of us; they text several times a day; and they are very physical and affectionate with each other, especially when we are all out together with other friends. They hang out alone quite a bit and often cuddle together—this was a pretty brutal image to come home to. I’ve tried to be flexible and open-minded about their closeness, but the cuddle thing just freaked me out. I’ve tried twice to bring this up and he tells me I’m ridiculous, that they are strictly platonic and that there’s no sexual connection. I have remained friends with a few of my exes—but they aren’t in my closest circle of friends so this kind of relationship is really ‘out there’ for me. I want to think positively and stop myself from feeling so threatened, but it’s just getting to be too much. How do I stop this from bothering me so much? —Olivier
In the realm of pop psychology and airport self-help books, feelings get a bad rap. Countless books about the power of positive thinking encourage us to feel like we should be capable of robotic thought (and feeling) control, and maintain a blissful state of optimism in any situation. There’s no doubt that a lot of us are sleepwalking through our days, lost in self-critical or catastrophizing thought loops. But when it comes to the most important aspects of our lives, our true feelings can often be the best compass—if we’re willing to listen to them.
In relationships, it’s important and admirable to not always go with our knee-jerk reaction, and to reflect on how we want to respond to those harder moments. You’ve already tried to be okay with your BF’s uniquely close bond with his ex, and that’s not working. Sure, there might be some guy out there who wouldn’t be rocked by this situation … but that isn’t you, and you need to stop wishing that it was. Whether it’s wrong to be this close to an ex isn’t really what’s important here—what’s more significant is how all of this makes you feel, and how you and your BF jointly attend to this issue.
Responding to your feelings by calling them ridiculous is dismissive and will work against building trust between you two. You will need to feel like a priority going forward—where your feelings and needs are considered and where he is willing to make compromises that allow the two of you to be on solid ground. Without being accusatory, see if he is willing to hear that even if his friendship is solely platonic, the amount of space it takes up in your lives is making you uncomfortable. If sustaining this exact level of connection with his ex continues to be so important to him, it’s hard to imagine you ever feeling truly at peace.
ADAM SEGAL, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health questions @firstname.lastname@example.org.