The odds are that either you or the person you are considering dating has an ex of some type. An ex can often be a significant factor in your relation with the person and all too often the effect of an ex can be rather negative. What follows is a guide to facing what can be called the “ex-factor.” To organize the discussion, each ex situation is presented separately. Each one contains a description of the situations, the potential badness that might result from the situation, some potential good things about the situations and some coping suggestions. Since people are so varied, I make no pretense of presenting an exhaustive guide. I do, however, hope that you find it useful when dealing the ex situations.
The Changed Ex
Description: The person tells you about how wonderful their ex seemed initially. S/he was kind, attentive, loving and generous. Then, suddenly, s/he was cold, distant, abusive and stingy. This, naturally enough, caused the relationship to fall apart.
Why this can be bad: This can be a bad sign in many ways.
First, it might indicate that the person holds people up to very high standards and is then terribly disappointed when the person fails to always meet them. If the person describes the ex’s failings in ways that make it seem like s/he had unreasonably high standards, then this might be the situation you are facing. The change on part of the ex might have not been that dramatic or severe and might, in fact, have been the normal transition that relationships go through as they mature. Initially people often cannot get enough of each other and both are on their very best behavior. But no one can keep this up forever and relationships naturally mellow with time. Also, all relationships have their ups and downs. The change might not have been a change at all-the person might have been in the sort of slump that everyone encounters due to stress, exhaustion or other factors. A person who expects a relationship to be wonderful and easy forever will be badly disappointed when the relationship shifts gears a bit. If the person is like this, then you can expect the same sort of treatment if you are not able to deliver the quality s/he expects all the time. If you can, then all will be well. If not, s/he will be telling the next person about how you changed.
Second, it might indicate that the person is self-deceptive. If the person shows signs of being out of touch with reality, this might be the situation you are facing. The ex might not have changed at all-only their perception of the ex changed. While people fall in love with what they perceive of the other person, some people are especially good at deceiving themselves for a while. In this case, the previous relationship failed because the ex did not live up to the person’s ideal perception. Unless you happen to live up to the person’s ideal, you are likely to find that the person will soon be talking about how you changed.
Third, the ex might not have changed. S/he might have been changed. If the person shows signs of being the sort of person who is domineering, selfish, pushy, irrational, moody, confused or seems to be someone who enjoys power over others or wants to always have his/her way, then you might be in this situation. This behavior is also common with people who have commitment and intimacy issues-they push people away and then wonder why they leave. In this sort of situation, the ex was actually pushed by the person into changing in ways that the person did not like. Ironically, the person transforms Dr. Jekyll into Hyde by her own actions. In some cases the person honestly thinks that the ex was the one responsible for the change they believe they are innocent of all wrongdoing. This is a very bad situation for you to be in because s/he will no doubt subject you to the same behavior that changed his/her ex. In any case, you will probably be hurt and confused by the change in the person’s behavior-s/he will most likely be doing many or all of the things s/he complained about her ex doing. You will probably find that if you continue to treat the person well, s/he will simply escalate matters and behave even worse in attempts to control or provoke you. Small things on your part will provoke dramatic responses on his/her part. It is likely that they will soon start saying that they need more space. If you attempt to hold things together or convince the other person that you have not changed, you will probably just make matters even worse. In short order, s/he will be telling the next person s/he is dating about how you changed and ruined a beautiful relationship.
Why this might not be bad:There are some cases in which this is not bad. First, there are cases in which people do really change. For example, some people are fine until they get into a committed relationship and then they realize that they are not ready for such a thing. They then start behaving poorly in an attempt to escape or simply because they are very upset and uncomfortable. While men supposedly are the ones that do this, it is also increasingly common with women. Because of changing social conditions, women are often less interested in commitment than they were in the past. If the person happened into a relationship with someone who did actually change for such reasons, then there might be no problem at all. As long as both of you know what you are getting into and have reasonable expectations, then things can work fine. Second, some people are deceptive when entering relationships and pretend to be what they are not in order to get what they want. Since most people are somewhat trusting it is not uncommon for people to be so tricked. Of course, even a skilled deceiver will let their mask slip and they can be exposed. The person who has the “changed” ex might have some trust issues (and reasonably so) but these can be overcome provided that you are honest and open with them.
Coping:The first step is trying to figure out what situation you actually face. Since the person might be deceiving themselves or confused, this can be quite challenging. If you determine that you are in one of the bad situations, then you have two main options: escape while you can or try to deal with the situation. Dealing with the bad situations will most likely be very tiring and draining because you will need to be on your best behavior at almost all times and have to worry that the least slip will plunge your partner into a negative reaction such as anger or a sudden need for space. Also, even if you are able to be on your best behavior at all times, this might still not be enough-even your best might not be seen as good enough. My suggestion is to get out before you are hurt.
If you determine that you are facing one of the not so bad situations, then you just need to be honest and reasonable well behaved and you should not run into any special problems from that specific situation.
The Stalker Ex
Description: The person you are dating tells you that their ex is stalking them or you get clear signs that this is going on. For example, their ex is constantly making harassing phone calls, showing up at their place of work or driving by their residence. A rather bad way to find out is when they wake you up in the middle of the night to say “I think my ex is outside the window.”
Why this can be bad: This is almost always really bad and can be bad in so many ways. First, they might have recruited you to deal with their ex. This might be something physical in that they want you to threaten or hurt their former partner. Laying aside the obvious moral concerns, threatening or hurting their ex (except in clear self defense) is likely to end very badly and probably will involve people being hurt and eventually involve the police. It might also be something emotional-they want to have you around to hurt their ex emotionally. While this might not lead to violence, being used to hurt another person is not a very nice or good thing. Also, if you are just a “hired gun”, they will probably set you aside after the ex is dealt with. Overall, unless you like hurting people (or being hurt) it is wisest to steer clear of this situation. Second, they might be using you to make their ex jealous so that the ex will return to them. This means that you are just being used, which is generally something to avoid. Third, even if you have not been recruited it is likely that you will have a run in with the ex at some point. This will probably go badly and might lead to violence and possibly arrests. In any case, it will almost certainly be stressful and unpleasant. Fourth, the ex might not really be stalking them at all-they might be making it up or they might simply perceive their ex’s actions as stalking when the ex is doing no such thing. For example, a person might claim that their ex is stalking them when the ex has merely called them once in a while to see how they are doing. If the person claims their ex is stalking them, yet you never see any evidence of this alleged stalking, then you might be facing this situation. In this case things are bad because the person is out of touch with reality and this is likely to extend to other areas as well. For example, they are likely to misinterpret your words and behavior and you might soon find that they are telling the next person they are dating about how you are stalking them (when you are really not, I hope).
Why this might not be bad: Decent and wonderful people sometimes chose their relationships poorly or are deceived and end up with someone stalking them through no real fault of their own. While this is never a good situation, if the person is worth your effort then this problem can usually be overcome. Naturally, it will depend on the nature of the stalking and what it will take to deal with it.
Coping:The first step is figuring out what kind of stalking situation it is. If it is one of the bad ones, then your best bet is to get out of the relationship. Of course, some people enjoy the thrill and drama of such situations-but most sane people do not. If it is not a bad situation, then you should work with your partner to put an end to the stalking. Sometimes this stops on its own, sometimes it just requires a firm but peaceful intervention, sometimes it requires the intervention of law enforcement personnel. Avoid the temptation to solve the problem by threatening or attacking the stalker yourself-unless you enjoy the possibility of being arrested or shot. In general, it is best to avoid the stalker if you can and leave the resolution to your partner or the police. This is not to say that you should leave your partner at the mercy of the stalker-just that things can get really ugly and unpleasant if you decide to jump in and deal with it yourself.
The Friendly Ex
Description: Your partner is on good terms with their ex. They talk on the phone occasionally or even still do things together as friends. Your partner speaks fondly of their ex and has mainly good things to say about them.
Why this can be bad: The main reason this can be bad is that your partner might not be over their ex and they might plan on getting back together-thus leaving you out in the cold. Even worse, they might already be getting back together again when you are not around. In which case, the discussion on cheating might prove useful.
Why this might not be bad:If your partner is on good terms with their ex, this could indicate that s/he is mature and well adjusted enough to end a relationship on good terms and maintain affection for a person who was once very important to them. If this is the case, then you can probably expect such maturity in your relationship and be assured that if/when your relationship ends that things might go as smoothly and peacefully for you. While people often expect their partner to be on bad terms with their ex, this is often not the case. People can actually end relationships as friends or become friends later on. For example, my parents are divorced, but my father, his wife and my mother are all friends. We get together for family events and everyone is on great terms.
Coping: The first step is figuring out the nature of the relationship between your partner and their ex. It is very important to try to judge this as objectively as possible and to try to keep any jealously from clouding your judgment. If it is evident that there is more going on than friendship, then you should talk to your partner and discuss what is going on. If they are already cheating on you, then refer to the discussion of cheating. If it turns out that they really are just friends, then there is nothing to worry about-be glad that your partner is the sort of person who can be friends with an ex.
Anger at the Ex
Description: The person expresses anger at their ex on a regular basis. They talk about how awful their ex was: how s/he was a jerk, how s/he was inattentive or distant, how s/he was stingy, how s/he spent too much money, and so on. Even worse, if you do something to annoy them, they compare you to their ex.
Why this can be bad: This is often a bad sign. First, it could be a sign that the person is an angry person by nature. If they are unwilling to forgive their ex and continue to bear grudges, then anything you do wrong is likely to perpetually anger them as well. If they compare you to their ex when you do something to annoy them, then there is also good chance that they are an angry person by nature. Perpetually angry people are best avoided because dealing with them is an exercise in either confrontation or walking on eggshells-neither of which is appealing. Second, it could be a sign that the person is not over their previous relationship and that they are still burdened with issues or strong feelings for their ex. If they are still dealing with anger from their past relationship, then there is a very good chance that they are not ready for a new relationship and it might be wise to avoid becoming attached to them-there is a good chance you will soon be informed that they are not ready for a relationship. Of course, their anger might also indicate that they still have strong positive feelings for the other person. After all, people generally do not get angry about people who mean little or nothing to them. In this case, the person might be angry because they are not with their ex and might be planning on getting back together with their ex. This is a bad situation because they might just be killing time with you while they work on getting their ex back.
Why this might not be bad: If the person only occasionally expresses anger at their ex and the anger seems justified, then this might not be bad. It is normal for people to express anger when they have been wronged (or think they have) and it would be rather odd for a person to never talk about his or her ex.
Coping: The first thing to determine is how often s/he talks angrily about the ex. If the person regularly expresses anger at the ex and shows no signs of getting over it, then it is likely there is a problem. In this case it might be wise to reconsider the relationship and ask yourself if you are really okay with the constant anger. If person only occasionally expresses anger at the ex or it seems to be diminishing, then there is probably nothing wrong.