Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam

The ex factor: should you and your partner talk about previous lovers? How to go about it without hurting each other

  • Talking about previous relationships with your current partner can be a good reflection exercise or a minefield of insecurity and bad feelings
  • Relationship expert Nathalie Sommer gives some tips for negotiating this tricky subject

Sometimes what we do with our partner might trigger memories that remind us of a previous relationship. It could be totally innocuous or it could be because we miss a past love; but we probably choose to keep it to ourselves.

But what if you are on the receiving end, and your significant other is sharing their memories about their ex with you, and they have done it one too many times?

Those who are secure in their relationship will know their partner’s recollections have nothing to do with the present. But many couples choose not to openly share memories of past relationships because if they happen to be pleasant feelings, they may cause insecurity.

Even if someone decides to bring up unpleasant memories, it is no better to vent those feelings as it makes the complaining partner appear spiteful.

If your relationship is secure and strong, talking about previous lovers and exes shouldn’t cause a problem. Photo: Shutterstock

Trust and transparency are the key to every healthy relationship, and those who are lucky enough to be in a strong relationship don’t take issue with discussions about past partners.

You need to be sensitive towards your partner’s feelings and ensure that your need to talk about the past doesn’t leave them feeling insecure or inferior to your ex.

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Many relationships experts believe communicating about your past love experiences are beneficial for both parties to learn more about each other, grow together, and even strengthen the current relationship.

Nathalie Sommer, a certified relationship and intimacy coach, offers some advice on how to navigate this tricky emotional path.

“If you feel uneasy about your partner’s discussions of the past, keep an open mind and find out why your partner is talking about their past. You can create space for your partner to talk if it helps them understand the situation better or if it helps you to understand them better. You can also ask, ‘Why is this coming up now?’ and other such questions.”

Nathalie Sommer is a relationship and intimacy coach.

Sommer says that if it happens regularly and makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s fair to inquire about why it keeps being brought up and get to the cause.

She points out that it is important to approach it with an open mind, and that goes for both partners.

“It might feel awkward at first, but it’s also perfectly healthy to talk about past relationships if it’s done in a conscious way. It can help you understand each other better when you share these things; it can alleviate any fears you might have. It also allows you to communicate to your new partner how you grew into the person you are today.”

Just think about how it would make you feel if you start dating someone and they keep dropping the ‘ex bomb’
Nathalie Sommer, relationship and intimacy coach

Looking into past relationships is a good reflection exercise, Sommer says.

“Reflecting on a past relationship can even help you find out something about yourself that you may have missed during the relationship and subsequent break-up.”

While it’s ideal to discuss your emotions before entering a new relationship, the ability to speak freely with your partner at any given point is equally important.

If your partner makes comparisons between you and their ex, that’s not healthy, says Sommer. Photo: Shutterstock

But Sommer warns: “If they are constantly talking about their ex, then it may mean they have not fully moved on or there is still resentment that needs to be processed so it doesn’t affect the current relationship.”

There are other red flags to pay attention to, she adds. “If they make comparisons between you and their ex, that’s not healthy either. And if they are nostalgic about their past relationship or if they only blame their ex-partner and do not take any responsibility, that’s a red flag too.”

On how to deal with relationship memories after a break-up, Sommer offers the following advice.

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“At the very beginning of a new relationship it’s not ideal to talk about your ex. Just think about how it would make you feel if you start dating someone and they keep dropping the ‘ex bomb’.

“You can still have fond memories of your exes and bring them up occasionally; but be wary of spending too much time dwelling on the past.

“After a recent break-up it’s normal to have memories come up. We think about the sweet memories and wish things could have stayed that way,” she says.

At the very beginning of a new relationship it’s not ideal to talk about your ex. Photo: Shutterstock

Either way, it’s OK to allow ourselves to go through that process, as long as we don’t get caught up in it and the memories are relevant to a situation, Sommer adds.

“Every couple is different, and you’ll have to gauge your partner’s curiosity and comfort level. You don’t want to inadvertently make them feel as if you’re either not over your ex or that you are using your ex as a benchmark to measure your new partner,” Sommer says.

Luisa Tam is a Post correspondent who also hosts video tutorials on Cantonese language that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme