This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
In a perfect world, no one would ever have to deal with their exes. Whether you were married for a decade, or you just hooked up a couple of times, it’s usually far better for people from your past to stay in the past.
But sometimes, this just isn’t possible. If you and your ex have children together, if one of you pays alimony to the other one, if you own joint property, or even if you share a pet, you’re likely to be stuck interacting with this person long after your romantic relationship is dead and buried. If the split was mutual and amicable, this might not be too awful. But let’s be honest: how often are break-ups truly mutual and amicable? Nevertheless, you’ll have to resign yourself to the fact that they’re going to be in your lives for a long time.
When the ex who keeps intruding into your current reality is yours, dealing with them is one thing. They’re your problem to deal with, and you’re pretty much free to handle things however you see fit. But when it’s your partner’s ex making an appearance in your life, it can be a much stickier situation — because you’re not in control. And if the ex in question is a toxic nightmare, guess what? Your life is going to be a nightmare too.
So if your partner is still connected to his horrible ex in a way neither of you can do anything about, here are six ways to cope…
1. Stay out of it
When your partner’s ex is making his life a living hell, it’s tempting to want to leap in and defend him. Resist this urge. Toxic people enjoy drama; don’t reward his ex by giving her any more attention than you absolutely have to. Remember: you can’t control her actions, but you can control your own, so do your best to rise above.
Also, don’t let her occupy any more of your time or thoughts than necessary. If you find yourself stewing about the latest awful thing she’s done or said, take a deep breath and consciously shift your focus. Try using meditation techniques to train your brain away from thoughts of her, the same way you might try to quit a bad habit like smoking, or eating junk food.
2. Put your relationship first
Don’t let anything come before your relationship with your partner — especially his ex. Relationships are hard work, and if you’re dealing with a toxic ex trying to tear down your partner or insert herself into your life as a couple, you’ll have to work that much harder at building a strong, healthy relationship.
Schedule regular date nights where you just have fun together and don’t bring up any thorny relationship issues. Have lots of hot AF sex. Brush up on your communication skills, and make an effort to fall more and more in love with each other. (There’s science that says this is a thing you can actually do.) Make your relationship bulletproof, and nothing his ex does will matter very much anymore.
3. Be supportive
If your partner wants to talk about what’s happening with his ex, be a sympathetic listener — but try not to be too reactive, or dig for more info. Getting upset yourself will only make things worse, and it might make your partner feel like it’s not safe to confide in you. Simply strive to be a source of reassurance and support. Let him know you’re on his side no matter what, you love him, and he can count on you.
You Might Also Like: Can We Please Ditch The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Stereotype?
The more loving and supportive you’re able to be, the more likely he’ll be to open up to you — which will strengthen your relationship. If the two of you can get through his ex’s latest shenanigans, your relationship is more likely to go the distance. And isn’t that what you want, in the end?
4. Keep boundaries clear
Your partner’s difficult relationship with his ex might be your problem, but it’s not your battle. It’s your partner’s job to draw a line and make it clear to his ex that she can’t cross it. If your SO isn’t able to enforce clear boundaries with his ex, you may very well want to step in and do it for him — but don’t. Again, it’s about staying above the fray and acting with integrity.
If you try to get involved and force the issue, both your partner and his ex are apt to get angry, and you’re likely to end up looking like the bad guy. What you can do is let your partner know how much it bothers you when, for example, his ex texts him multiple times while you’re on a date, or drops by your home uninvited. If he won’t stand up to her and respect your need for him to set a boundary, then you have a problem between the two of you that she has nothing to do with.
5. Find a safe space to vent
If your partner’s ex is a nightmare, you’re going to need to unload about it at some point. But don’t do it with your SO. Guaranteed, he’s already well aware how horrible she is, and he feels awful about it. After all, he’s the one who chose to be in a relationship with her in the first place.
Find a therapist or trusted friend who will listen to you rant, scream, or even cry. If it’s a friend, make sure they know you’re just venting, and they won’t hold it against your partner, or bring it up later. Take some time on a regular basis to get shit off your chest in a safe place where your words won’t come back to haunt you, and you won’t be judged.
6. Take care of yourself
Being in a relationship is hard. Being in a relationship with someone who has to deal with a toxic ex is even harder. So do something nice for yourself. Get a mani-pedi and a facial, schedule a weekend away with your girlfriends, or just spend an evening at home with a pile of fashion magazines, a Netflix binge, and a fancy cocktail. Whatever you do, take care of you.
And always remember this: she may be his past, but you’re his future.