Most of us have had to deal with one nightmare ex in our dating history.
But it’s usually easier when it’s your own ex, someone whose behaviours you understand and who offers a familiar territory to navigate. Things get trickier when your current partner’s ex is the nightmare.
They still call. They still message. They still grasp at straws in desperate attempts to manipulate your SO into talking to them, seeing them, or even arguing with them. Things get worse once they hear about you – the new partner – in a crushing realization that it really is over between the two of them.
Then, they turn their attention to you, turning to social media, mutual friends, or online searches to find out everything they can about you, seeking something that they can criticize you for, from your appearance and clothing, to your job or friends. Maybe they will even contact you and people you know at 2 am on a Wednesday with vengeful messages after attempting to drown away their sorrows with happy hour drinks the night before (that was fun).
They know your current SO and just how to trigger them. Maybe they’ll send emails inquiring about so-called lost items of clothing, old electronics, or furniture that they suddenly remembered they needed. Maybe they have a pet they once shared with your ex and use it as a something to both inspire conversation and guilt trip your ex by suggesting the animal misses them and feels “abandoned” by them. Maybe they will even send a message from the “sad” dog on Father’s Day, just to really try to drive in that knife and twist it (yes, that actually happened).
Frankly, it’s sad. And you almost feel bad for the ex and their struggles to accept the reality that their former SO has moved on. Almost. That is, until they do something completely offside again, stressing out your SO and throwing off the equilibrium of your relationship in the process. And once it affects your own relationship – whether by putting stress on your current partner or by them saying less-than-ideal things about you in attempt to sway your partner’s opinion of you – it’s time for the gloves to come off (completely figuratively, of course. Violence is obviously not the answer).
Most of us know better than to get involved in issues surrounding our new(ish) partners and their exes. We want to look like the bigger person (as hard as it is at times) so that we don’t provide added stress, or make your partner question being in another relationship with you, especially since their previous one clearly didn’t end on a classy note. We’re told to keep it classy ourselves when we ask our moms or our friends for advice.
After all, the desperate ex will tire from this game and move on eventually, right?
Well, not always – and this is could be both your fault and your partner’s fault. Dealing with a heartbroken ex isn’t easy; you spent time with this person and don’t want to see them upset, and this is coupled with guilt in knowing you’re the person who is causing them so much pain. You feel bad for them – almost like it’s your responsibility to help fix them, since you’re the one who broke them, as they remind you repeatedly.
I get it. And for that reason, I silently accepted the fact that my SO’s ex would send emotionally charged emails – some sad, some nasty, and some completely erratic – on the regular and that he would occasioanally reply. After all, bringing it up only stressed him out (adding another layer of stress in addition to the stress she was causing) and resulted in problems with us. But my bubbling anger and anxiety grew impossible to ignore.
But, as time went on, I began to realize that such a silent compromise wasn’t the solution. Even if it were to start a fight, I needed to be vocal in explaining why this ex needed to ex-it the picture immediately, because clearly he couldn’t see it for himself in the midst of all the manipulation and guilt. He needed to understand that even indulging this ex with a simple message back wasn’t a good idea, as it only invited future dialogue and an inflow of more text messages. He needed to understand that – though I understood very well that he had zero interest in this ex – that it didn’t make me feel great (even if it was just an ego issue) that another woman, ex or not, was sending long “I miss you and my life sucks without you” emails.
I will admit that addressing the situation wasn’t easy and resulted in more than one tense meal. But once it was all out on the table, it allowed him not only to recognize the emotional manipulation he had been dealing with, but also how the contact with this person was not only unhealthy, but was causing me anxiety. It also put his own behaviour into perspective; it is his kind, sympathetic heart that drew me to him in the first place.
Best of all, it opened us up to a whole new level of communication and closeness. So, while she tried everything to drive us apart, she actually ended up bringing us closer together than ever. And I have to thank her for that.