How to tell if a guy is still hanging onto his old relationship - and what you can do to help him move on.
- Kathryn H. Cusimano, BettyConfidential.com
Do you ever get the feeling that there are three people in your relationship - you, your guy and his ex? Does he still talk or email with her often? Or maybe he holds an unhealthy grudge, or seems preoccupied with what she's doing now? If any of these scenarios sound familiar, it may mean that he hasn't completely let go yet. How can you tell if he's not really over his ex? Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage offers five warning signs:
1. He wasted no time before jumping into his next relationship. If you started dating this guy shortly after his latest breakup, there's a good chance he's not completely over his ex - no matter what he says. "There are hopes and dreams we have when we get into a relationship that we lose when we lose that relationship," says Tessina. "It takes some time [to get over those things]." She points out that men often avoid the grieving process that follows a breakup, even though it can be instrumental in helping them assess the relationship and move on. "You want to be sure he can talk about it - that he can analyze it a little bit, and can say what went wrong and what went right and what part he played in what went wrong." But even if he isn't quite there, it doesn't mean your relationship is doomed. As Tessina explains, "It just means you need to understand that he still has some processing to do, and he's probably going to do some of it with you."
2. He fell for you before his relationship ended. These are men like John Edwards and Tiger Woods, who tell you their previous relationships are over or broken, but they still go home to their wives or girlfriends. It sounds obvious, but these guys are bad news. "It doesn't matter if he says the relationship is bad," Tessina says. "He has a cheating mentality." And if he cheats on her, he probably wouldn't have a problem with cheating on you. Even if he does eventually leave his wife or girlfriend - a very big if, by the way -- and you're willing to give it a go with this guy, he literally hasn't had any time on his own to process the demise of that previous relationship so you could run into the same problems as in #1, above. Bottom line: This is probably not someone you want to be with.
3. When it comes to his ex, he only deals in extremes. If your new guy can't say his ex's name without spitting, this is another warning sign. "If he's talking about her constantly, and she's either the most wonderful thing in the world or the most terrible thing in the world, but it's unrealistic, you need to ask him about his role in the relationship," says Tessina. There are two people in every couple, and there's no way his ex was as great or awful as he makes her sound. "If he's not talking about it at all, you need to say 'I think it's valuable to for us to talk about our past relationships so we can see what went wrong and what we need to do differently in this relationship.'"
4. He can't break the string. There are plenty of reasons a guy may stay in touch with his ex, and they aren't necessarily all bad. "If they have kids in common, they have to be in contact," Tessina says. "If they were together for a long, long time, there's also some reason for contact." But if neither situation applies, and he still won't stop talking to his ex, you should initiate a conversation about her - carefully. "What you don't want to do is set yourself up against his ex," says Tessina. Here, too, she recommends talking to him about his relationship with his ex, and what he thinks he can do better or differently in your relationship. She also suggests offering to reach out to the ex yourself, but if he's not up for that - and if he doesn't seem compelled to change anything about the current situation, even if it's making you uncomfortable - that's a major red flag. "I would slow the relationship down immediately [in those circumstances]," she says. "I'd say, 'I can't go further if you're going to have a relationship with somebody that has to be behind my back.'"
5. He obsesses over the remnants of the relationship. If he's always checking her Facebook profile or you catch him poring over old pictures, you could also have a problem. "He's not finished, he hasn't done his grieving," says Tessina. "You have to understand that if you stay in a relationship with him, you're going to be part of that grieving process." As Tessina points out, when you're in a relationship you talk about just about everything. Whether it's work, friends or family, there's always something to discuss over dinner, and past relationships should be no different. Let him know you're open to talking about his exes. Discussing this relationship could help him work through his feelings and move forward - and may even bring the two of you closer together.
If your guy hasn't completely let go of his ex, proceed with caution - but know that your relationship isn't necessarily a lost cause. He may want to be with you, but needs just a bit more time to deal with his breakup. The key to making it work is both of you being willing to talk openly about his old relationship and his feelings about his ex. And if, when all is said and done, he just can't let go, you may have to be the one who moves on.
Tell Us: Is your partner still attached to his ex?
Kathryn H. Cusimano is an assistant editor at BettyConfidential.To read more from BettyConfidential: