The Effects of Ex-Partners on new Relationships

It‘s mostly after the first two or three failed relationships that one can‘t avoid to figure out that partners without a past relationship are difficult or not at all to come by. Once one has made it past 30 the possibility that the new love also comes attached to a bunch of kids is relatively high. After all, today every third marriage ends in divorce; some studies even suggest that soon it will be every second marriage. What are the effects of the “ex” on the new relationship? And how can a “second wife” or “second husband” deal with them?

Most women (and many men) with a new partner who already was married or had a long relationship are familiar with one feeling: jealousy. Especially if not much is known about the past relationship it often and particularly in critical times causes haunting images: What did he/she have that I don’t have? Was he/she happier with her/him in those days than he/she is with me? Is he/she maybe even yearning for the previous relationship? No wonder with all those romantic ideals with which we are constantly deluged by the media brainwashing us: Our love is supposed to be something special, unique. Our partner the “soul mate”, the only true love.
In those situations the thought about one (or few) others he/she told “I love you” before he/she even knew us is troubling. It puts this ideal, this uniqueness at risk. In the worst case scenario folks around the new partner transmit the feeling that we are just the second choice in his/her life. After all, friends, family, in-laws frequently have their own perspective of things and often are stuck in deep loyalty conflicts. Depending on the relationship of all involved, things can get hairy on the occasion of family or other festive occasions. Aside from the ideal case when everyone gets along with each other, no one begrudges the other his/her space and at least relaxed small talk among everyone is possible, encounters like that can often culminate in either-or decisions and that can smart.

Partnership ends - parenthood never does

The conflict potential grows where children are involved. Partnership ends - parenthood never does! At least in this respect the new partner will always be linked to his or her “ex”. Understanding this responsibility I am not permitted to infringe upon or worse, reject it. Numerous studies have demonstrated that despite separation, for children good parenthood is more important than almost anything else. This also means that the “new person” will more or less immediately be subjected to sharing all sorts of obligations and limitations – shared weekends and vacations and with that divided attention when the children live with the other partner or even a complete patchwork family with all of its challenges.

Since especially in the beginning of a relationship one prefers to have a level of privacy with the new partner, that is often not easy to deal with and it doesn’t get any easier because the beloved kids who are also dealing with their very own loyalty conflicts frequently have trouble establishing their personal relationship. It is difficult to maintain the equilibrium between the syndrome “bad step father”/”bad step mother” on one hand and the totally exaggerated engagement often in competition to father or mother on the other.

Whether in every day life or planning the vacations or even in questions regarding their upbringing, one will always have to deal with the ex wife’s or ex husband’s influence on one’s own life. The financial consequences of a previous life on the present are frequently discounted. Unless one managed to catch a Rockefeller, child support and potential obligations vis-á-vis the ex wife tend to cause serious budget cuts. Last but not least endless legal battles also have the tendency to strain the nerves and bank accounts unless the issues involved have been permanently resolved.

With a view of these issues wouldn’t it be smarter to forego a relationship with a second-hand partner? Absolutely not, advise most of the experts. As a matter of fact second hand men (and naturally women) have important advantages. Where I come from we used to have an old saying: “ With the first wife the bench is planed, the second comfortably sits down on it.” A little simplified for sure, but it is certainly true that many whose first important relationship failed have learned from their mistakes and the second time around are better and more considerate partners. Most of all it is important to be aware of the consequences inherent in the existing situation. It is essential to communicate, to tell the partner about one’s own fears, frustrations and wishes without putting blame and together find solutions that are sustainable for everyone. For instance, the psychologist Angelika Fass advises: “Ask yourself why did the previous relationship fall apart if everything was super? That reconciles with the fate of the successor and contributes to the ex’s de-mystification or de-idealization.”
On the other hand, conversely the old systemic tenet applies: the old trumps the new - meaning that it must be assigned the place it deserves and that it cannot simply be swept aside (which is something one prefers to do in certain angry moments!). Otherwise something gets skewed in the final essence hurting the new relationship more than benefitting it. The important issue of having children together should also be openly addressed with the partner. There is always the possibility that for some this subject has already been “checked off” – tough in case that one would love to still have offspring. With all these obligations and activity collisions between the old- and new family, for the new couple time to themselves to give the relationship time and space to develop and grow in this dimension is absolutely essential. Otherwise sooner or later one burns out dealing with the frequently contradictory demands of every day life and looses the battle against the demons of the past.