How to Deal With Your Significant Other’s Ex in the Most Diplomatic Way Possible

Just because they're still in the picture doesn't mean they're a villain.
Every time I get into a new relationship, one particular behavioral mechanism forms pretty much immediately: My beau's ex becomes public enemy number one. Once he goes through the motions of talking about past relationships, I involuntarily zero in on the person who was previously in my position with complete and utter contempt—even if I know nothing about them other than their former title as VIP of my honey's heart.

Exes of significant others are humans too, sure—but they conjure some ugly feels in way more people than just me. A lot of people I know, regardless of how confident they may feel in their romantic relationship, regard an S.O.'s former flames as villains or threats to be battled if they so much as even breathe in the direction of their special someone. And when they're still in your partner's life in any capacity—friend, acquaintance, coworker, Words with Friends opponent—playing it cool can be oh-so challenging.

Maybe it's rom-coms that ingrained in us the idea that the ex is the enemy or just sheer jealousy of a shared past you're not privy to, but regardless of the cause, there are some things to keep in mind: namely, that your S.O.'s ex has gone through heartbreak too. "You get one side of the breakup, and you don't know that other person's side—everybody hurts, though," says Alex Williamson, chief brand officer at dating app Bumble. "The key is to have compassion and to realize how fortunate you are to be in the current relationship. If you think your partner is great, chances are the ex is missing the great qualities you're getting to experience."

"If you think your partner is great, chances are the ex is missing the great qualities you're getting to experience." —Alex Williamson, Bumble chief brand officer

I mean, I'm not a monster—that does make me feel some sympathy. The thing is, your partner's situation with their ex can vary, making it tough to understand your own emotions and know how to act appropriately.

Sometimes they're still solid friends, and sometimes the ex may try to still creep in on your S.O.—and sometimes their relationship is somewhere in between. Their status, of course, may make having compassion somewhat more difficult—but the idea is to change how you view them, which is a power you hold. "If you really break it down, you and your partner's ex have something in common: You both care or cared about the person you're currently seeing," says Williamson. "Given that commonality, chances are pretty high that you share other interests."

Maybe. But, if all else fails, and you're still finding it hard to not stress over the ex (I feel you), realize that you're the one "winning" the situation. Quietly channel that smugness into being the bigger person and communicate with your partner what you specifically need in order to feel best about the two of you. "There's nothing better than building a relationship with somebody and having trust and confidence in that relationship," says Williamson. "So you want to start with a really beautiful foundation and be clear when it comes to boundaries and expectations."

Your S.O.'s ex is still in the picture? Here's how to deal, based on how involved they are.

how to deal with your partner's ex
Photo: Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions

1. When the ex is still friends with your S.O.

This scenario can be particularly tough to get comfortable with. You don't want to control who your S.O. is friends with, but the idea of them still being friendly with their ex can spark jealousy, resentment, and/or distrust. The key is to get in on the relationship, as strange as that may sound.

"I'd get to know the ex," says Williamson. "Your main objective is to cultivate confidence in the relationship you're building." She advises to schedule group hangouts—if they're getting together, you should feel welcome to come along.

2. The ex isn't a friend, but they're still in contact

On a personal note, this is the sich I'm currently dealing with. My boyfriend's ex-girlfriend still sporadically texts him. They're not necessarily friends, but they're civil and she checks in from time to time (they did share a cat together, to be fair). Sure, it's all innocent, but it's still irksome to me—which is fine, but not a reason for me to stew in the negativity.

"It all comes down to communication," says Williamson. "If you're feeling weird about something, talk it through, and use it as an opportunity to actually build more trust and understanding with your S.O. Instead of leaning into the drama, lean away from it and see how you can overcome challenges together." That said, if the ex starts to negatively talk about you or doesn't show the same compassion for your relationship with your partner, Williamson says it's absolutely fair for you to express that you're not comfortable with their communication.

3. If the ex happens to torment you

Here's a less-amicable situation I've dealt with in the past: My ex's ex used to comment with heart emojis on my then-boyfriend's Instagram posts and purposefully text him regularly with the intent of getting between us. When this happens, Williamson says the high road is still best to take. "If they're going out of their way to do this, that means they're not doing okay with the breakup," says Williamson. "Maybe they're heartbroken and very upset that they're no longer with the incredible person that you're with. In this scenario, try to have forgiveness and not let it get to you. Focus instead on what you have in you current relationship."

Again, it's crucial to communicate with your partner about boundaries, so the two of you are on the same page. "If the communication with the ex is impacting you and bothering you, it's fair to say it needs to be resolved," she says. If your partner isn't understanding, maybe they don't deserve you in the first place.

By the way, here's Esther Perel's insight on why relationships seem harder right now. Oh, and meet karezza, AKA hygge sex

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