Why You Can't Get Over Your Partner's Ex

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
Who among us feels more emotionally attached to their partner's ex than they do their own exes? It's okay to admit that you look at your partner's ex's Instagram a couple times a week, have seen every single available photo on their Facebook, and accidentally came across the old couple's photos your partner still has stashed in their room. You are not alone, and you're not a bad person, but your obsession with your partner's ex might be coming from a place of insecurity.
People often get jealous of their partner's former lovers or exes, to the point where they obsess and feel in direct competition, explains Michael Brustein, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City. In most cases, there's nothing going on between your partner and their ex, but you might act or feel as though your partner is currently cheating, Dr. Brustein says. So, while you know deep down that your partner is, in fact, over their ex, you might still occasionally check in on their social media to make sure that you're still better than them — you know, just in case.
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What was once a suitable partner in somebody's past may not be fitting for their present — and you're in the present.

Michael Brustein, PsyD
In many cases, this preoccupation with your partner's ex may stem from your own insecurities, but it can be exacerbated by your partner's comments about their ex, Dr. Brustein says. "Sometimes a partner can instigate [insecurities] if they are somehow still connected to their ex, or unconsciously or consciously bring up things that are triggering," he says. And when you feel like you're already lacking in some way, you're more easily triggered by these comments or bits of information.
If you feel like you have to go out of your way to keep tabs on your partner's ex, then your fixation might be a form of self-sabotage, Dr. Brustein says. "There are times when somebody might be doing this to rationalize getting out of [a relationship]," he says. Again, this most likely stems from an insecurity that your partner is still connected with their ex or that you're never going to measure up to their past partners.
The good news is that, in most cases, your stress and worries about your partner's ex will eventually go away, but it might require some introspective reflection, and possibly a conversation with your partner. "It's really important to realize that in a relationship, people evolve over time, and what was once a suitable partner in somebody's past may not be fitting for their present — and you're in the present," Dr. Brustein says. "You have to keep in mind that it's not about better or worse, it's about fitting, and you fit now." Your partner's ex is an ex for a reason: because something in their relationship didn't work.
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In some ways, you might want to thank or acknowledge your partner's previous relationship, because it ultimately brought you and your partner together, Dr. Brustein says. "Who they are now is impacted by what they learned from their previous relationship, and the reason they might have chosen you is because of something from their past that didn't work," he says. Look at your partner's past relationship as a blessing, and appreciate what your partner learned, and who they are now — not who their ex is and what they represent.
Talking to your partner about your feelings about their ex might be a good thing, because it allows them to reinforce their feelings about you, Dr. Brustein says. But getting into specifics about their relationship with their ex might just make you feel more jealous. And continuing to seek reinforcement from your partner might eventually push them away, he says. "In time, as the relationship evolves, you're going to feel more secure and get the validation that you need," he says. If the relationship is working, your insecurities will dissipate over time.
And you really have to stop looking at your ex's Instagram, particularly the photos of them together. "That stuff is idealized, and that can't speak to the whole relationship, because it's just an image in time," Dr. Brustein says. As for the scenarios and fantasies about your partner and their ex that you come up with when you're stressed? Remember that those aren't necessarily reality either, he says. "Therapy can help if you find that you can't get over it and your wheels are still spinning about it." If your partner is over their ex, then you can be, too.
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