When you're in a new relationship, the only information you really want to know about your partner's ex is how subpar they were compared to you. Some people talk a lot about how much they hate their ex, which might feel reassuring at first if you're their new fling, but can contribute to insecurities down the line.
For example, your partner might tell you about very specific gripes, like how their ex manipulated them into sharing their phone passcode. Or they might drop vague hints about how their ex acted in general. Either way, it can make you wonder if they're actually over the last person they dated.
"When people talk badly about their exes to an unhealthy point, it means that they haven't worked through a lot of that relationship," says Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, an Imago relationship therapist based in D.C. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're not "over" their ex, but it does mean that they have a lot of personal issues or feelings about their past relationship that they still need to grapple with. And while it can be normal to enter into a relationship with baggage from a previous one, it's also normal to feel weird or insecure about the fact that your partner talks about their ex a lot, Derhally says says.
You might have heard the career advice that you should never talk badly about an old boss to a new boss. But in relationships, this is not always a bad thing, Derhally says. For people who have been in really bad or abusive relationships in the past, it can be important to be able to talk about that experience. "It depends how they're being talked about, as well," she says. "If someone is using derogatory language about their ex, I would take a lot of issue with it." But if your partner is just venting about how their ex cheated on them, they may just be filling you in on something they'd like you to know.
Often people don't give themselves time or space to fully process a breakup, says Jessica O'Reilly, PhD, a sexologist and host of the podcast Sex With Dr. Jess. For example, someone might not be in love with an ex from high school anymore, but they could still struggle with the way that they broke up. "Simply acknowledging these feelings gives you a chance to lean into them, understand them, and learn from them," Dr. O'Reilly says.
That said, if it feels like your partner has unfinished business that they're bringing into your new relationship, talking to you may not be the healthiest outlet, Derhally says. "Depending on how comfortable you are, you might suggest that your partner sees a therapist on their own," she says. Your partner might find that having a therapist to help work through some issues from their past breakup can change future relationships considerably, she says.
If you feel like your partner talks about their ex a lot, it's not your job to read between the lines and try to decode what it is they're trying to communicate. Instead, you should tell them that it irks you, Dr. O'Reilly says. It doesn't make you seem needy, because "you are perfectly within your right to talk about how you feel," she says. And if you're having trouble phrasing why it makes you uncomfortable, Derhally suggests saying something like, "I want us to be able to move forward from that relationship together."
Ultimately, your relationship will be better if you're both able to be honest and vulnerable about your feelings about exes, or anything else difficult that may come up, Dr. O'Reilly says. "You can't address insecurity — or any feeling — if you pretend it doesn't exist," she says. And your partner might not realise how it's coming across to you unless you actually bring it up. It's important to communicate your boundaries so that you and your partner can move forward, and let all your exes stay where they belong: in the past.