Asking your partner questions about their ex (or exes) can seem either like the best idea you've ever had or the worst. On the one hand, asking your partner about the things that went wrong (or right) in their past relationships might help the two of you strengthen your own relationship, but on the other hand, hearing the nitty gritty details about your partner's life with their ex can leave one or both of you feeling jealous, defensive, or otherwise upset. There are, however, some questions you can ask your partner about their ex that will help you get closer together as a couple in your own right that you may want to consider bringing up, just know that these kinds of conversations can be emotional or nerve-wracking, so it's best to be prepared.
"I am a marriage and family therapist and I specialize in working with couples in conflict, so I have seen conversations regarding exes go horribly wrong, but I have also seen productivity come out of these discussions when the right questions are asked," Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC, tells Romper by email. "When you are having these conversations, it's important to really listen to the answers and set the intention to understand your partner better. It is not helpful to react, personalize, or use the information against your partner later. The point of these questions is to get closer and strengthen the bond your have with your partner, so make sure that you are ready to truly hear all that your partner has to say."
If you've decided that this is a conversation you want to have, incorporating some of these questions can help tell you what you need to know and bring the two of you closer together.
1. Why Did The Relationship End?
This is a pretty straightforward question, but the answer can be revealing. "Pay particular attention to who gets blamed in The Break-Up and if your partner is willing to take any of the responsibility," Dr. Marsha Ferrick, Ph.D, BCC, tells Romper by email. More likely than not, everything wasn't all one person's fault, so if they try to pin everything that went wrong on the other person, that can give you some important insight.
A question like this one could also help you know what kinds of mistakes the two of you might want to avoid in your own relationship. "Honestly exploring why a previous relationship failed can help you both avoid making similar mistakes in the future," Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor, author, and life and dating and relationship coach, tells Romper by email. "Perhaps the previous relationship failed due to a lack of communication or not spending enough time together. You could resolve to not go down the same failed path."
2. How Did Your Ex Change How You Look At Relationships?
Other people — even exes — can have an impact on how you see certain things. Knowing how your partner thinks their ex changed how they look at relationships can be important, says Labuzan-Lopez, even if it brings up some uncomfortable thoughts or emotions. Your partner might not have ever considered how their ex affected the way they view relationships until you ask. Plus, not only does this give you an idea of how their ex shaped their feelings on this subject, but it can also just generally give you a better idea of how they view relationships as a whole.
3. What Would You Do Differently If You Could Do It Over Again?
Of course, this question can feel potentially risky, but it might spur important conversation between the two of you. Ferrick says that knowing what they'd do differently, other than not being with that person again, can also help you know if your partner is able to take responsibility for the things that they did that might have hurt the other person or damaged that relationship.
4. What Drew You To Them In The First Place?
"This is a difficult question to ask because it could lead to feelings of possible jealousy within you," Bennett says. "But, identifying the positives of what your current partner saw in his or her ex can give you great insight into what your partner values." It's natural to be nervous to ask a question like this one, but knowing that those things were important to them in the past could help your relationship too.
5. What Kinds Of Scars Do You Have From Your Previous Relationship?
Difficult break-ups, things left unsettled, or hurtful or careless exes can take a toll on a person. Labuzan-Lopez says that this is a question that'll get at deeper issues, but that "...hearing, understanding, and supporting through tough stuff is what strengthens relationships and takes them to the next level." It might be hard to hear — or to verbalize — but it'll bring the two of you closer together.
6. How Did You Know Your Ex Supported You?
Knowing how your partner felt supported (or not) by an ex can help you support them in ways that they'll recognize — and register as supportive. "If we know what things worked well, we can carry that into our current situations, although it may need to be adapted for the new relationship," Labuzan-Lopez says. It's a deeper question than the more surface-level "what worked in your last relationship?" (though that question can help too), but can get at similar themes.
7. What Baggage Are You Still Holding On To?
Labuzan-Lopez says that this is another good question to ask your partner about their ex. It can be difficult to broach a topic like this one that will likely require some humility, introspection, and vulnerability, but if you both are on the same page about some of the difficult things from past relationships that you're still holding on to, it might help you keep those things from affecting – or all-out derailing – your current relationship too.
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