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You're Destroying Your Relationship By Toxic Ex-Partner Friendships

Why on earth do you think keeping them around is helping?

By Ellen "Jelly" McRaePublished about a year ago 7 min read
Top Story - August 2022
The ideal "friendly exes" | Image created on Canva

When we broke up, my ex and I swore we were always going to remain friends.

Then one of us got a new partner. Then the other got a new partner. And still, we kept our vow to our ex to keep the friendship intact.

No matter what happens - marriage, kids, divorces - we're still going to be friends. Everyone will accept our friendship, embrace the idea that we're amicable exes, and we will become a standard for all those who want to maintain a relationship with their ex.

Ahh, the idyllic and completely stupid break-up scenario.

In reality, trying to remain friends with your ex is setting your current, and any future, relationships back to the beginning.

Because an ex hanging around like a bad smell is one of the worse things you can do to your relationship.

Ex partners make your new partner harbour doubts

Even the most trusting partners can experience doubts over how you act with people in your life. If you give them enough reason to, they will wonder.

And it's only normal to wonder why an ex continues to remain in the picture. What good reason is there for them to be in your life? Why do you insist on keeping an ex around? 

If you find your partner asking these questions, there is doubt.

One of the most self-destructive things you can do to your relationship is to add doubt to it. It puts your relationship on a knife edge. It makes it impossible to form trusted bounds with an elephant in the room.

Don't go blaming jealousy

Doubt and jealousy go hand in hand. And it's only normal to approach this situation thinking it's your partner's jealousy problem that's stopping them from accepting your ex in your life.

Well, in short, it's not. This is about managing a situation you can control.

You can't control what happens to your relationship. Death, pandemics, fire, flood, etc.

But you can control who enters your relationship. And you can control the dynamics these people create between you and your partner.

Your ex being in the picture is something you can control. You can remove the element of doubt by keeping them in your past. You can make your relationship a little easier in the long run.

You're sending mixed signals to your new partner

Here's a tough question; do you still care about your ex? Because keeping them in your life shows your partner that you do. And that is sending mixed signals to the person who is trying to grow closer to you.

What does this caring mean? Does it mean:

  • You still have feelings for your ex?
  • You still have sexual desires for your ex?
  • You still have parts of that relationship remaining in your life?
  • You want to rekindle the romance at some point?

To you, it's just a friendship. But to your current partner, it's a signal that you still care too much about someone you're meant to, theoretically, not care about anymore.

Hence, the doubt I mentioned earlier.

You're sending mixed signals to your ex

And you're screwed if you think your ex-partner doesn't share the innocent feeling of friendship as you do.

It's impossible to control how they view your friendship. 

They might rightly assume you've kept them around because of all the reasons I just mentioned. If your new partner is feeling doubt, and asking those questions, so is your ex.

Doubt and hope are another two concepts that go hand in hand. If you keep the hope alive with your ex and encourage the doubt between you and your current partner, disaster is certain.

You're sending mixed signals about your level of commitment

This is a time in your life when you want your loved ones to fall in love with your new partner. But how can they do that with the ex still in the picture?

It becomes impossible to convince your friends and family to respect your new relationship when your ex remains close to you. Your loved ones look to you to tell them who to love. If you present them with two options, someone they once loved and someone new/who they don't know, who will they pick?

Warring partners and loved ones pose an awful situation for you. If you can't integrate them into your life, the relationships don't exist. 

One eventually has to go.

Friends with exes aren't the norm

I hate using the word normal when it comes to relationships, but you'll have to indulge me when I talk about acceptable social norms in a relationship.

Something we have to remember in this situation is the expectations people come into the relationship with. They generally expect when it comes to an ex:

  • You aren't in a relationship with someone else
  • You to be not hung up, still in love with someone else
  • For you ex not to feature prominently in your life
  • Why does a new partner expect these things?

    • Most people tend to break up with an ex and never/rarely speak to them again.
    • Most people see breaking up as a parting of ways, permanently
    • Most people can see the issues with keeping exes around, even if it has nothing to do with a new partner
    • Most people have friends and family in their life who disapprove of an ex still being closely linked to their life and discourage their involvement.

    When you're friends with your ex, you're essentially trying to defy the rules. And when you do this, you can't expect other people not to wonder why.

    We're human and curious.

    You have a problem with keeping unhealthy friendships

    Forget your ex and your romantic relationships for a moment. What about you? What does keeping your ex in your life do for your view and ability to maintain healthy friendships?

    Sometimes, we can become victims of friendship hoarding. We keep them around because we're too scared to hurt someone's feelings or make enemies of people we were once close with.

    What you have to ask yourself is; why do you still want to be friends with your ex?

    What is your end game with this friendship?

    If you can't answer that with a genuine, heartfelt reason, it's time to reevaluate how we hold onto friendships. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that:

    • It's ok to stop caring about an ex
    • It's ok to hate an ex - You did break up for a reason
    • It's ok to want to leave people in your past so you can move on with your future - Some people don't help you grow. Exes can hold back romantic relationships with others by keeping you trapped in the past.
    • It's ok to care about them from afar - You're not cold-hearted but you don't have to keep them around.
    • You aren't a bad person if you don't want to maintain a relationship with an ex - Being a good person isn't about the numbers game, how many friends you have. This separation doesn't mean you're evil.
    • You can't be a good friend to your ex - Your history makes it too complicated to be a best friend in some circumstances. You're too close or you have too much history.

    There is always an ex you can't get rid of

    You might give me every reason under the sun why your ex makes the perfect friend. And why they're the exception to the rule, and so is your perfect relationship now. We're all friends. It's all good. 

    If that's the case, lucky you.

    And there might be parenting situations where you and your ex needs to be friends to keep a healthy dynamic for your children. That's a situation entirely different to an old partner with no attachment.

    There is always an exception. But sometimes you can't use an exception to justify keeping people in your life who only provide doubt and negativity to your new relationship. It's just an excuse.

    When push comes to shove, your friendly ex may sound like a great idea. But there is far more to lose than there is to gain than keeping them in your life.

    If you can't let them go, it's time to decide who you love most. Is it your ex? Your new partner? Your future possibilities?

    If you're picking your ex, it's probably a sign you aren't destroying your new relationship. 

    It's a sign you've well and truly trashed it for good.


    About the Creator

    Ellen "Jelly" McRae

    I’m here to use my wins and losses in #relationships as your cautionary tale | Writes 1LD; Cautionary tale #romance fiction |

    Reader insights

    Nice work

    Very well written. Keep up the good work!

    Top insight

    1. On-point and relevant

      Writing reflected the title & theme

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    Comments (4)

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    • Ruza Aldinabout a year ago

      No. A secure relationship is in no way threatened by an ex. A secure partner recognizes that you chose to leave that partner and chose to be with them instead. If they can't trust you, why are they with you? You need therapy, not ex blaming. The problem isn't the ex.

    • This comment has been deleted

    • 😉Great piece! Bravo!👏🏼Thank you very much for sharing. 🙏 All the best and happy writing.

    • Gene Lassabout a year ago

      You're right. I've made similar promises with exes. It usually makes for trouble with newer relationships. You broke up for a reason. Sometimes only one of you wanted to break up. Continuing to linger on as friends, as you both try to move forward with other relationships, only continues a cycle of distrust and awkwardness where no one can be truly healthy.

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