Tell Me About It: I hate that my girlfriend is friends with her ex-lovers
It’s getting me down and I am thinking about it a lot. I am becoming needy and clingy, which I never was before
Illustration: CSA Images/Printstock Collection
Problem: I feel bad even writing this email because I know I don’t have much to worry about. However, even the process of writing it might help me to get over my problem.
I’m a man in my mid-30s. I have been going out with a girl for a while now, and we love each other. I have had previous long-term partners. However, they didn’t work out, usually because I didn’t want to commit. But this one feels different, and things are progressing quickly.
While I have had a number of sexual experiences, some good and others not so good, I never meet up with the women I slept with. But my girlfriend is friends with different groups of guys, some of whom she has slept with. This was all before I met her.
It bothers me when we are out socialising with these groups, or if she meets them when I’m not there. I hate to think that a few of them have had sex with her and know what she feels like naked, what she might like to do in the bedroom etc. It’s getting me down and I am thinking about it a lot. I also am becoming needy and clingy, which I never was before. I don’t like it.
I found out about all this because I asked her, so it is my own fault. I wish now I never knew any of it. I know it is my issue and there is nothing she can do about it now. Any advice you can give me on how to come to terms with this would be appreciated.
Advice: This is a difficult situation for you as you now have knowledge you wish you had not asked for. However, as this is a serious relationship, you would probably have had to deal with your partner’s past sexual life in some form or other in any case, as honesty and intimacy would have revealed it.
It would be easier if your partner did not have an ongoing relationship with her ex-lovers, but asking her to sever these relationships would be unreasonable. Nonetheless, it is a real issue for you. It is having a negative impact on your relationship and your partner also suffers the consequences as it leads to you being “needy and clingy”. You have found it difficult to be committed previously, so this new fidelity brings with it a sense of vulnerability: this is part of being in a relationship and is possibly a new feeling for you.
All relationships require loyalty and fairness, and you and your partner may need to begin a conversation about this. Do you trust her to be loyal to you? Do you feel some sense of unfairness that you are sometimes asked to socialise with her ex-lovers? If so, it is a problem for the relationship and needs to be addressed by both of you. Honest, open discussion is the starting point for this.
However, there is a likelihood that the majority of your suffering is caused by your excessive thinking about this. The added difficulty is that the more you try to suppress these thoughts, the stronger they can become. The focus on them can also create a distance between you and your partner as you put up a block in communication. If the problem lies in your thinking, then the solution – or at least part of it – lies in challenging that thinking.
We know that our minds can get into patterns of thoughts that cause us a lot of suffering, even though they are unfounded. For example, you may imagine her comparing your sexual prowess to that of her previous lovers. Or perhaps thoughts of her previous sexual encounters might get in the way of your intimacy. In either case, the result is insecurity for you and fear and worry in the relationship.
There is a lot you can do about this: be present to your partner, be aware of your thoughts and do not feed them with lots of attention or suppression. Just let them go. A simple practice is to spot the tension that comes with the negative thinking and then breathe or connect with one of your senses: this breaks the connection with the thoughts.
The question is: do you trust her? If the answer is no, you have a serious relationship problem, but if the answer is yes, then you need to look at why you are worrying and how you can address it.
Your partner has chosen you over all the other guys and you say you love each other: this should be a great source of confidence for you. Let go of the negative thinking, accept the vulnerability and enjoy the journey.
- Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist
READERS’ ADVICE ABOUT LAST WEEK’S PROBLEM
Last week’s problem: A 23-year-old woman wrote about a man she kissed in a nightclub. Later, she told him that she liked him but he said he just wanted to be friends and didn’t want to be “tied down”. She said this made her feel ugly and unwanted and she wanted the following advice from Trish: “Should I continue being his friend or put my feelings aside and move on completely?”
Reader’s advice: It was refreshing to see such a gentle, almost old-fashioned problem in Tell Me About It. I want to tell this woman that, while it’s unlikely this is the last time she will experience the bitter pang of unrequited romantic feelings, she shouldn’t lose heart. I am in my 60s and I can recall various experiences like these from my teen years and my 20s. Doesn’t everyone? They are just part of growing up. After a good bit of rejection – most of which I can laugh about now, decades later – I found the love of my life at a time when I really wasn’t expecting romance.
Move on, enjoy your young life, focus on your friendships, develop new interests, go on adventures, and remember: while it hurts now, in years to come you won’t even remember this man’s name. Barbara, Co Dublin