I started dating my current boyfriend about 8 months ago. This is my first serious relationship with a man to where we live together and would like to have a future together. However, he was married before. They were married 2 1/2 years. I have a hard time not constantly comparing myself to his ex-wife. Always wondering if we fight too much like they did or if I ever do anything that would remind him of her it even makes me not want a strapless dress for our possible wedding because she had one. I feel like I am going a tad bit crazy/obsessive. Part of my problem is when we first started dating, I wanted to know everything…and I mean everything. I saw pictures, letters, old Christmas stockings…too much information that I know. They were stowed away in a box he’d forgotten about. I never question that I love him as a person I just feel like something is wrong on my end, maybe not forgiving enough or not letting go of the past… I’m a pretty huge skeptic on “LOVE” because that word is used so much that I fear it’s meaning is unknown to me. I apologize if I sound a little scatter-brained, I would just like someone’s professional opinion. Can you help?
I’m glad you wrote in. This is a tough topic, and a topic most people don’t talk about. Women who’ve experienced this don’t want to admit that they wonder about their partner’s ex-wife, that they wonder if she was prettier, better in the sack, more accomplished, etc.
The average person might read your letter and assume you’re just jealous or insecure about yourself. Yet, the fact that you wrote in for advice on this topic shows that your feelings aren’t ones you’re used to having. Dating a divorced man (and the stuff he comes with) can generate some unusual feelings.
To some extent, wondering about the ex, and even comparing yourself to her, is normal. It’s a common phase some women go through when they get serious with a man who’s been married before, and it’s far more common in women who’ve never been married. But when that phase doesn’t end, there’s a bigger problem.
One mistake you made was to find out “everything.” As I discuss in Dating the Divorced Man, nobody should find out that much information about their partner’s ex, and now you’re feeling the results of that decision. You shouldn’t ask, and he shouldn’t share. Basic information is fine – what sort of person she was, why things didn’t work out – but pictures, letters, and old Christmas stockings are far, far too personal. Most of us are willing to accept that our partners have been with other people, but none of us want to know the details. Why? Because we want to feel we’re most important to that person, and that’s harder to do when we see such obvious evidence that they loved someone else.
I’ve never minded that men I’ve had relationships with had previous relationships, even marriage. To me, that means they’re more experienced and mature. However, I will say this: one divorced man I spent many years with talked far too much about his ex. I knew more about her than most people. Knowing all that didn’t make me jealous, but it made me (and the relationship) feel far less special. By contrast, I don’t even know my husband’s ex’s name, and wouldn’t recognize her if she showed up on my doorstep. The focus is on us, on the present, and I like it that way.
Likely, your feelings exist for one of two reasons:
1) You aren’t that secure in yourself or your lovability (you said yourself that you’re a love skeptic), and thus don’t trust your partner’s love for you.
2) You sense, on some level, that your partner wasn’t over his ex or was still emotional attached in some way, fueling your high level of curiosity.
Based on what you’ve said, my guess is that it’s #1. So, here are some things to keep in mind:
- This man chose to be with you, likely because you have qualities his ex didn’t have.
- We all have exes, people we’ve loved. These people taught us what we know about love, prepared us to meet the right person.
- Be glad he was married before. Divorced men are often very good at relationships.
- Never look at your guy’s stuff again, and avoid talking about her. With time, the memories of what you saw will fade.
- When making future plans, focus on what you and he want. If he’s like most divorced people, he will want something different and better than what he had with his ex.
- Love and trust start with you. If you want love, you have to believe you’re worthy of it.
Best of luck!