Issue: Partner still friends with ex
Honestly, I don’t even know where to start.
My partner (34, living in the US) and I (27, living in Ireland) got to know each other via a dating app in November last year and he invited me over after just a few weeks texting. In January, I visited him and we became a couple, so it’s a relatively new relationship. I think the biggest issue is his ex-girlfriend (they are broken up since over a year now). She has a mental disorder and from what he told me, he still feels like he let her down during their relationship by not being there for her. They are texting on a frequent basis, and they would usually see each other once a week. Her initial reaction to him being in love with me, was, according to him, a slightly negative one, as she expressed mixed feelings about him „already being in love with someone else“ - even though she started seeing another guy before he and I even met. The thing is that she isn’t happy in her current relationship, and that she figured out that she now identifies as a Lesbian - so she is struggling with a mental disorder and a coming out issue, where my partner supports her.
Honestly, I wasn’t too happy when I heard that they are still befriended, and that he calls her „one of his best friends“, but for the sake of our relationship I tried to accept it. When she came over once, and my partner and I were in video call, I offered that we could say hello, and it all went fine, until he told me later that after we hung up, she apparently cried, said to him that he put her in a difficult spot, and that she wasn’t ready to meet me. Plus that she apparently complained about him shooting me a message once or twice during them meeting up - according to him she said that she felt like he wouldn’t pay her (enough) attention. That, together with her initial reaction to our relationship, gave me a bit of a bitter taste to it.
When I was over in the States, and he focused on our time together (2 weeks) and barely texted her, she threatened him to end their friendship if she couldn’t rely on his support - that happened twice, in the first week and the day before I left. And he was, understandably, devastier. I was there for him, and comforted him, and talked him through the situation. During my stay, she suddenly asked to meet up, and I asked him if he would think that’s a good idea - he himself said ‚no‘ and I agreed. What he texted her was that I didn’t want to meet up, which made me pretty upset, because for me it sounded as he would put the blame on me, and didn’t express his own opinion clearly towards her. He said that he didn’t want to hurt her because she is going through a difficult situation, and I reminded him that I am as well not in the easiest position (I have an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression), and that I don’t think he hurts her by expressing honestly what he thinks about a situation.
All this honestly made it really hard for me, and also hurt me. Especially the last situation felt as he would put her needs first, and was afraid of positioning himself.
A week or so later, she said to him that she needed to know if she could rely on him, and if he would leave a call with me if she needed him. I found the question strange enough, but said to him that I wouldn’t have any problem with him being there for a friend, as long as I know that she would also be okay with him leaving a meeting or a call with her for me.
Honestly, my trust in her motives and the feeling that he was and is emotionally still involved with her (feeling of guilt, for example), made it really hard for me to be the understanding girlfriend. Them meeting up made me more and more nervous, but when I addressed the issue, he would explain her behaviour with her mental disorder and would get defensive, as if I wanted to end their friendship. I didn’t have the feeling that I was met with real understanding and compassion, even though he expressed his understanding on how difficult it must be when the partner still sees one his/her exes. Every time I tried to express my fears of him being emotionally attached and by her manipulating him, we ended up in a fight. He would say that she is his best friend, and requested of me to see her as such, and not as an ex. He would say that he doesn’t want to hurt her by cancelling plans for me (last minute), while I was crying and hurting on the phone with him. That crushed a lot of trust from my end, because it seemed more important to him to not hurt her, than me. He called my behaviour jealousy, and explained her behaviour, again with her mental disorder, which made me feel like he had loads of understanding for her, and I was the bad one in all this.
After our fights about her, and when he did cancel an appointment, he would often immediately set a new date, which didn’t feel like he actually understood the situation and it didn’t feel like there was time for us and for me to recover. One time, he asked me a day after a really badly fight, if it was okay to have breakfast with her on the next day. That was the first time I openly said that I would like him to not go, but that I can’t forbid it. He said to me that I put him in a bad place with that, as he already agreed to meeting up with her, which made me really angry and I asked him (in a not really friendly tone), why he even asks me if it’s okay, when there is actually just one answer he wants to hear, and when he already said yes. He said he didn’t want to hurt her by cancelling plans - which again felt like a punch in the face, because I was hurting as well, and during all those conversations I didn’t hear the sentence that he didn’t want to hurt me once. And again, he requested of me to see her as a normal friend.
This dragged on, until I summarized my thoughts and feelings in a letter, and for the first time really, I was met with understanding and he had a talk with her where he said that he wanted to pause the friendship for a while, so we could recover. That was a grand gesture, and she reacted really understanding, but it honestly didn’t clean up the pain from the former situations. And again: when I tried to talk to him about it, he would get defensive and acted as if I wanted to take away their friendship, while I expressed again and again, that I was seeking conversations with him about it in order to restore and go back to how it was in the beginning. When he came to Ireland for a week, we finally had our first conversation about it that didn’t started or ended with a fight. What bothered me was that he first of all started it because he more or less wanted to know when I would be okay with them meeting up again (his primarily concern seemed to be their friendship and not how I was doing or what else we could do to make it easier), and that apparently he completely forgot about her threatening their friendship twice. I reminded him of that because he accused me of wanting to end their friendship, and I said to him that I never set any ultimatum, where as she clearly did it twice. Again, I felt like the bad one, while he oversaw that she basically did what he accused me off.
Our plan was, that I would come over and stay at his place for three months in April, and when we had our conversation while he was in Ireland, I asked him how he thought this whole situation would look like when I’m there. His first reaction was „You don’t want me to see her during this time?“, and then suggested that we could meet up together. My question on how he would picture that, if he would show closeness in front of her, if he would still hold my hand, or if he wouldn’t do that to not „hurt her“ was not answered.
Due to Covid, they now can’t see each other, but the hurt remains and my trust in him is honestly broken. I don’t have the feeling that I can come to him and talk about my feelings regarding their friendship, and it also feels as if he is more on her side than on mine. When I try to talk to him about it, he still blocks or defends her and his behaviour. He calls me out on the letter, because it forced him to pause their friendship, and that no normal person would do that - which doesn’t give me the feeling that he understood what I wrote to him, and what makes it seem that he didn’t act upon it because he really wanted to save our relationship, but just to avoid conflict. He doesn’t seem to understand that I’m not over it yet, even though it all happened this year and is definitely not an old wound.
Again, my main objective was never to end their friendship and I expressed it clearly to him several times. I don’t want to be the one setting ultimatums, because ultimately he has to know what he wants and where his priorities are lying. I was always just asking for him to understand me, and my pain, and to talk to me about it in a calm manner, so I don’t have constantly the feeling that it’s them against me. That he values and sees me and the situation he puts me in. Because I honestly don’t think that he would have tolerated all that when the situation would be the other way around.
I’m sorry for the long text. I just really don’t know what to do anymore, but I don’t want to break up. It just currently seems like the only option to save myself and my feelings and self-esteem.
He's allowing her to manipulate him. If he really cared about you, he'd set that boundary without you forcing it. Ask for a break, and see how you feel after you've had time away and see things more clearly. Clearly, if forced to choose who to focus on, it's never going to be you as long as he feels obligated to her, or whatever is going on there. They're obviously codependent in some unhealthy ways, and unless you want to keep being a third wheel in your own relationship, I don't see the point of continuing.
Regardless of the reasons why this guy can't give his ex up and focus on you, you can't possibly keep on going the way you are. You mention your self esteem and saving yourself and it's you and you alone, that you have look out for in these circumstances. His actions and attitude have pushed you into a corner where you either come out swinging or you capitulate to him and his ongoing relationship with his ex. You're correct in every way, there's a good chance that there's no way he would tolerate it if the boot was on the other foot.
The guy either puts you on a pedestal and makes you his priority or he doesn't. If he hasn't done so by now, then he likely never will. While he's shackled to his ex with guilt being one of the chains, and controlled by her, he'll be no good for anyone else, let alone himself.
Thank you for your words. It already feels good to hear my opinion more or less confirmed. I was already thinking about having a break, but so far I couldn’t force myself to take this step. I know, I’m investing a lot of energy, but I guess I’m going to try another time to have a conversation with him about it - I feel stupid for being so vulnerable, but I also know that I have to protect myself and if I always have to fight against her/them... that’s not sustainable.
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I don’t think that they are seeing each other, as he always answers my video chats no matter when I call him and we are pretty much in contact through the whole day. Of course, I don’t have a 100% confirmation of that, but as angry/hurt/mistrusting I already am, I really don’t think that they are meeting behind my back. I would definitely say that there is a co-dependency and I would love him to see a therapist (about it), but unfortunately that’s not possible at the moment out of financial reasons. I agree with you that a break is probably the only thing that will solve it - also for him to see what is more important. But as I already answered in my comment to Mamabear: I’m afraid I need that one last try.