Ways to Stop an Ex from Damaging Your Relationship: Three Guidelines for Communication

by Debby Deroian, Practicum Student-Therapist under the supervision of Meredith Keller LPC, ACS

Imagine: You and your partner are finally having a much needed date night.  This took a month to happen due to several cancellations with work and kids’ schedules! You are in the middle of dinner when your partner’s phone rings, and as soon as you hear the dreaded ringtone you feel annoyed. Your partner answers the phone call from their ex, the anger rises in you and you know date night will be ruined. If this scenario sounds familiar, you may be (unintentionally) allowing an ex to communicate in a way that interferes with your current relationship. Over time, continued arguments and resentments over an ex can start to do damage to your relationship.

With the commonality of divorce and remarriage, subsequent marriages bring a new set of hurdles.  Learning to deal with exes, especially those that may be more demanding, can be one of the biggest challenges for remarried couples. Of course, exes do need to remain part of your life when you share children, so learning to balance your relationship with your ex and your current partner can be tricky, but is very doable.  How can you avoid this potential damage?  Prevent an ex from being in the middle of your relationship by setting solid guidelines for communication such as…

  • Talk about how and when to communicate with the ex
  • Talk about what and what NOT to communicate with the ex
  • Keep the power

First, boundaries are key. Not only is it important to set boundaries around means of communication with your ex, but equally important is that both partners feel like they have a say in defining those boundaries. Let’s say your partner replies to emails or texts from their ex anytime and every time, but this interferes with your time together.  You and your partner discuss how and when this type of communication will take place that you both feel okay with.  Perhaps you decide together that any communication will not take place when the two of you are enjoying alone time, or when you are enjoying family time.  Try to be as specific as possible in deciding how and when to communicate: such as date nights are a definite no, but if we are out running errands together you can reply. Try to respect your partner’s feelings as much as possible.  While an ex certainly may not cooperate with this, your partner can implement the boundaries by continuing to let their ex know when they are unavailable and that they’ll get back to them at a more convenient time- (unless it’s a health or safety emergency with one of the kids). Eventually, the ex will learn they can’t have 24/7 access to their former partner.

Talk about appropriate communication. While you want to have an amicable relationship with your ex, there is necessary communication and there is communication that may make your partner uncomfortable. Talk openly about what each one of you feels is appropriate for the type of relationship you should have with an ex. Discuss with each other what and what NOT to communicate about.  For example, it’s ok to say, “I don’t feel comfortable when your ex calls and wants to chat about his/her personal life with you.”  Or, “When we have an argument, I don’t want you telling your ex about it.”  Again, there may be some compromise necessary, but if you listen to (and try to understand) how your partner feels, it will go a long way in keeping your relationship healthy and strong.  The goal here is making your partner feel like you and your current relationship is the priority.

Keep the power.   We all know that there are some exes out there that want to try to maintain power over their former partner. They may be doing things such as purposely calling or texting when they know you might be enjoying some kid-free time or trying to maintain an inappropriate relationship.  Even if this is happening, you have the power to control only your own behavior. They only have the power that you allow them to have. Remember, if you let a phone call at an inopportune time cause a fight, the only night that will be ruined is yours!

If you’re having trouble with an ex, we can help you (and your partner) set and maintain boundaries like these.  Call us at 908-246-3074 or email at GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com to schedule an appointment.  Doing it sooner rather than later could save you years of unnecessary hassle and make your current relationship stronger than ever.


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