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What happens when you prefer your friend’s ex over their new partner?

Some experts analyze one of the most complicated situations a friendship can face: when you and their new companion don’t match

Friendship
Steve Brady with his ex-wife Miranda Hobbs in a scene from ‘And Just Like That.’

Although there are groups of friends in which the ex-partners of some of the members end up becoming part of the gang, what usually happens when a couple breaks up is that said “plus-one” disappears almost immediately from the lives of the person’s friends, their contacts and social media. A fingerprint might be forever, but the trace of a former relationship in a circle of friends is as fleeting as, sometimes, love. The fact that relationships expire becomes clear at the moment of planning a wedding, when the bride and groom ask their friends to only bring serious partners in order to keep any ephemeral faces from later popping up in the pictures of the big day.

Our friends’ partners become part of our lives for as long as their love lasts, but what happens when a friend rebuilds their life and we don’t really get along with the new partner? What’s more: what happens if we actually prefer their ex to the person who took their place? “When we talk about the lives of others, it is inevitable to make a judgment based on our tastes, life experiences, priorities and needs. However, we must not forget that what for us is necessary, good or better, may not be the case for others. If you happen to prefer their ex because you like them better or because you are more compatible, perhaps that need you have to tell your friend comes from you mourning your friendship with the ex, and a part of you, even if it’s very small, is sad or angry about the situation. If this is your case, you should work on it on your own — because, why are you telling your friend? What do you expect them to do with that information? How would it affect them to find out that their friend doesn’t like their current partner, with whom they decided to share their life, as much as they liked their ex? We have to be careful, because there’s a fine line from sincerity, which unites and repairs, to ‘sincericide,’ which hurts and divides,” warns psychologist Alicia González.

To talk or not to talk?

What can you do to prevent the friendship from deteriorating if your friend can tell that you don’t quite like their new partner? Raquel López, author of Guía de gestión emocional [Emotional management guide], suggests: “Be honest with yourself and with them. If you simply don’t like them, for no particular reason, you will have to accept that it is your friend’s relationship; bear with it and accompany them without making them feel judged or bad for being with that person. If you don’t like them because you notice things that concern you, you can be assertive and face the issue directly. You can say something like, ‘There are things I don’t like about this person and that worry me, but I don’t want this to drive a wedge between us. I’m your friend, and I’ll always be here for you, so I’ll try to give you my opinion carefully, but please keep me in the loop, because I want to be here for you.’”

But does your friend really have to care what you think of their partner? “I think there are limits here; that is, there are toxic aspects that must be explained to help that friend realize that there are abusive or negative attitudes that should not be allowed. But if it’s just about you liking the new partner more or less, then you don’t get to have an opinion, as it must be your friend who decides what they want in a relationship and who they want to bond with,” says Núria Jorba, psychologist, sexologist and couples therapist.

Still keeping in touch?

If you not only prefer your friend’s ex, but you are actually still in touch with them... is that a problem? Is it a betrayal? Alicia González mentions two concepts to take into account: freedom and loyalties. “To determine if you keeping in touch with their ex really represents a problem, the best thing you can do is talk to your friend. As soon as the doubt arises — either because you think it would bother you, or because you don’t care but you fear that it might hurt your friend — I invite you to put the issue on the table. The final decision should be made by you, taking into account how you feel and what you think, how your friend feels and thinks, and how important this is to you and your values. Maybe you really got along with the ex, perhaps you were friends for years and became close. Friends also go through mourning,” states the psychologist.

Another question is whether it is convenient to meet up with the new partner to try to smooth things over. However, Alicia González warns that, if you think that your friend is being mistreated, this approach is almost impossible. “When we are in a relationship, we tend to easily forget the fights, the disappointments and the disagreements, but as a friend, you take note and don’t forget, because you have not had those beautiful, repairing moments that people in a relationship have and that help to forget. You store in your head all the times you’ve seen your friend cry, the awful text messages you have read, the nights you’ve had to go get them... In those cases, just thinking about trying to build a friendship makes your stomach churn,” she reflects.

If we’ve done everything that is in our power to get closer to our friends’ new partner and we still see no connection, can we ask them not to bring them along when we meet, or would that be a slap in the friendship’s face? Raquel López thinks this is not an improper request. “Your friendship is just as valid a relationship as the one they have with their partner, and it must be a safe place for both. Your friend will not be thrilled, obviously, but just as they take care of their relationship, they must also take care of the friendship, and for that it’s necessary to spend some quality time together and share moments. In fact, even if you really like their partner, you can ask for some alone time if you need it: there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Your relationship is with them,” she concludes.

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