The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
When you think about relationship red flags, I’m willing to bet one of the first things that comes to mind is if the person isn’t over their ex yet. If a potential partner still has feelings for someone from their past, they’re probably not going to be the best person for you to start a relationship with. Most people, as a rule, try to avoid talking about exes all together to prevent those jealous feelings from arising. The thing is, how someone talks about their past relationships is a HUGE indicator of what your relationship could look like.
My current girlfriend of two years and I actually bonded over unresolved feelings for our exes, and the way she talked about her ex was one of the largest reasons why I wanted to be in a serious relationship with her. Allow me to explain why I think talking about past relationships can, contrary to popular belief, be a positive thing.
- building healthy communication
This item goes first because it is one hundred percent the most important factor in a successful relationship, romantic, platonic, familial, or otherwise. Open and honest communication, while sometimes challenging, is necessary for building trust and feeling safe and satisfied with another person. If you start communicating difficult topics early on in your relationship, it sets you up for being more open with each other. I understand (especially if you’re someone who struggles with trust) that this can feel insurmountable, however I believe that it can also be therapeutic. In these conversations, you have the power to say what is important to you, as do they, and if they make you feel like you can’t trust them, then you know early on that they are probably not a good match for you. Ideally, your romantic partner or close friend would be someone you can be completely honest with without feeling judged. The sooner you know if a person is willing to really listen to you, the sooner you will be able to gauge the strength of your compatibility.
- practicing compassion
It can be really difficult to listen to someone you have feelings for work through big feelings that they had for another person, but it is incredibly valuable as well. While it might be easy to feel threatened, try putting yourself in a more separate headspace. Listen to what they have to say without immediately imagining how it could affect you. Not only will this enable your partner to feel like they don’t have to hide things from you, it will encourage them to do the same kind of compassionate listening when you need it. If they don’t, then that says something about their emotional maturity that is better to learn early on rather than later. Allowing yourself and your partner to talk through feelings from your past helps you get over those feelings faster and enables you to fully move on.
- understanding your partner’s needs
This one goes both ways, too. Hearing what your partner did or didn’t like about their past relationships tells you a lot. It can help you help them, and it can help them help you. When you retrospectively assess what worked or didn’t in your past relationships and allow your partner to do the same, you talk through things that could make your relationship a lot easier, rather than waiting for them to come up in a fight. When you talk about things you struggle with or conversely, things you really appreciate, you make things a lot easier for each other. You avoid accidentally pushing each other’s buttons and gain insight on how best to show love in a way that your partner will receive it.
- learning potential issues
One of the most immediately useful things that you can gain from having a frank discussion about past relationships with your partner (or potential partner) is learning about potential conflicts you might have going forward. For example, if you (like me) are someone who is chronically late, and your partner really struggled with their last partner being late all the time, that might be something you should talk to them about. It could mean that you don’t align in that way, but if you know this early on, you have the ability to work through it rather than letting it destroy your relationship because it goes undiscussed. Maybe your partner struggles with cleanliness, and they fought with their last partner about it a lot. This is super useful information, and an important conversation to have.
- seeing true colors
In my opinion, it is a huge red flag if my potential/current partner is unable to have difficult conversations with me. If they are so insecure in themselves or our relationship that they can’t talk about these things, they probably aren’t a good match for me. These conversations are what make me feel like I can trust someone, so if I can’t have them with my partner, I will never feel like I can trust them. If they are able to have the conversation, however, yet can’t seem to see how any of their own faults could have impacted their past relationships, RUN. If someone is telling you how all their exes are crazy or all their relationships ended solely because of their exes, that is super indicative of how they view themselves and others. Chances are, if they think everyone they’ve dated turned out to be crazy, they will probably wind up adding you to that list. Either they are driving their past exes crazy, or they pick terrible people, either way it doesn’t reflect well on them. One of my biggest green flags when I am talking to someone is if they say respectful things about their exes. It shows that they are able to understand the nuances of relationships, and that they are able to acknowledge their own faults. It shows that they will be more compassionate with me, and shows that even if we don’t work out romantically, they won’t go around saying awful things about me after we decide to break things off.
Talking through your feelings about past partners and relationships is not only healthy for your own processing, but for strengthening potential or current relationships. It is a great skill to have and it will only serve to benefit you and the people in your close circle. If you are able to talk through these kinds of difficult topics with your partner, you know that the person you are with is someone you can rely on. When you talk about the problems you have had in the past, it helps you honor your own needs and advocate for yourself within future relationships. When you listen to your partner as they work through their needs, you become more aware of how to make them feel supported. If you chose to allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone and it doesn’t work out, remember that you still learn from the experience. While it hurts in the moment, it only makes you a stronger person in the long run. Ended relationships aren’t failures, they are teaching moments that allow you to better understand your own needs and wants.