Friendship in unlikely places: the Ex-factor

Not a topic often discussed, being friends with your partner's ex. But I am. She's really nice.

The Ex-factor is a challenge to navigate in any relationship. Most people I spoke to have a strict policy on the subject. "I never speak to exes" was the most common. Followed by: "we're amicable and that's it."

So how did I get myself into this? Well for one, I'm new in town having just moved to Washington, DC from Manhattan six months ago. I was looking for female friends who like things I do—art, eating out, talking about life. The guy I'm dating knew just the person: his ex-girlfriend.

Hold on, I thought, this can't be good. Love me, love my ex? None of my friends were keen on it either. But I figured, I should at least meet her before making a judgment...Right?

I'm glad I did. She does like many of the same things I do. She has a boyfriend, and we've even double-dated.

Sometimes though, if I'm being completely truthful, it also feels really weird.

For one, my relationship is still new. These two have known each other for a decade, share private jokes, and, I'll say it, have seen each other naked. I'd be lying if I said I didn't once in a while feel like this was a contest I might lose.

I don't normally shy away from tough topics as readers of my blog know well—surgery and divorce are just two examples—but this one has nearly got me beat. I think it's hard to write about it because I'm owning up to a weakness of mine. For all my life coach-y ways, I'm human after all and it is maddening.

To get out of my own head I spoke to another friend, Linda, who has some wisdom on the subject. She is friendly with her ex-husband's new wife. Her thoughts helped me see the following options:

  • Separate your feelings – Whether it is your ex's new wife, or your partner's ex, it helps to separate your feelings for one person from your possible feelings for this new person. In my case, I'm glad I did because I gained a good friend out of it.
  • Get to know this person directly – My first conversation with my partner's ex was alone at an art festival. We met each other in the lobby having never seen one another before. Talk about a "first date"!
  • Be inclusive – This is especially important where, in Linda's case, there are children or pets involved. If she hosts a birthday party, for example, they get an invite and they do the same in return. She said it's helped everyone feel more comfortable.
  • Focus on what really matters – Like the previous point, with children or pets in the picture it's about priorities. Those aren't factors for me, but my feelings are just as important. It means doing what feels right instead of being a martyr about it.

Am I missing other options for navigating these Ex-factor relationships? Or, do you have your own experiences to share? I'm all ears (and eyes)!


This also appears as a guest post on Dr. Irene Levine's The Friendship Blog, and on The Huffington Post. Thank you @irenelevine!