Episode 86: No Exes as Friends

Your new partner demands, during a period of grief, that you stop being friends with an ex and now might not be the best time to push back on the ultimatum.

Your new partner demands, during a period of grief, that you stop being friends with an ex and now might not be the best time to push back on the ultimatum. What do you do?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

Are you friends with exes?

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I am very new to non monogamy. I had a really good relationship with my partner, even though we’ve only been together a few months. His dad died suddenly in December and he had to fly home without seeing me. I have a severe abandonment trigger so I got myself worked up. I went to see my friend, who happens to be an ex, for support and felt a lot better.

My partner found out through a woman he was speaking to on an app, who also happened to be dating my ex. I didn’t tell me partner as he was thousands of miles away and dealing with his dads death. It felt [it was] a non issue to me as he had been in a relationship with his ex, which ended not long before his dad died.

This woman was upset I had seen my ex when he was not seeing her due to his mental health, so she twisted everything with my partner, making out I had turned up unannounced and was running to my ex only as my partner was out the country. He then gave me an ultimatum I couldn’t have a relationship with him while having any contact with my ex.

There are other issues between us, but I am so confused as to whether this is acceptable in non monogamy as I would never insert myself into my partner’s other relationships unless they were causing him danger or going to hurt me. I don’t want to give up a really good friendship that is meaningful to me for a man who doesn’t seem able to trust me.


I don't understand why this is a problem… at all. I mean, you could probably tell from the answer that I gave to the question that I asked. I'm very against the idea that you can't be friends with your exes. And if you were monogamous, then maybe I could understand why this is a problem. Because yeah, I could understand why within a monogamous-centric culture with people who are monogamous why some people might have some hang ups about being friends with exes.

But even if you were monogamous, I feel like you're not running to your ex for romantic attention. You're running to them because they're a friend and this is a difficult life thing to go through. Even if you've only been together for a few months, it is a thing that's scary. So of course you're going to run to a friend's house. This is a friend, so why is this a problem? I feel like in non-monogamy this should be even less of a problem to be honest with you. So I really don't understand why this is a problem.

And granted it sounds like whoever this woman was twisted things. But the thing is, even if this woman twisted things, even if you ran to this person who was your ex for, let's say comfort sex, whatever. Why is that a problem within non-monogamy? Have you made rules against you having partners? Are you not allowed to have partners? Are you not allowed to have flings? Like why is this a problem? What exactly is the problem? If you had discussed previously, and for some reason made a rule that you wouldn't date exes? Okay, fine. I don't necessarily agree with that rule.

But even if you had made that rule, you're not *dating* this person. They're your friend. And this is an unfair ultimatum that he may be making out of grief. Now, I want to give him a little bit of a benefit of the doubt. Not only was he introduced to whatever was happening in some sort of suspicious way, but he's also going through a lot right now. So he may be doing this out of grief. He may be panicking just as much as you are. So I will give him that benefit of the doubt.

But I do not think that you should break up a friendship because your partner tells you that if you don’t— like any person that does that… If you had other not another friend who was like, “I don't want you to be friends with this person because I don't like it and it makes me unhappy”. Well, I'm sorry, but unless you have a pretty good reason for that, my friends are my friends and my life is my life. So there's no reason for you to not have the friends that you want to have. Also another big thing that I want to say here is that I don't doubt your own assessment of yourself that you say you have abandonment issues.

But I also equally think that you having a relationship and especially being new to non monogamy, and then your partner's dad dies. And then you know— what is your response? You run to a friend to help you. Is that an abandonment trigger? It's a reasonable human thing for you to be scared that your partner is in another country. It's a new relationship. You haven't fully established like full on trust with one another. I'm not saying you don't trust him. And I'm not saying he doesn't necessarily trust you. But it's a new relationship, of course, you're going to be scared. This isn't an abandonment trigger.

In my opinion, like okay. Granted I don't know all about your situation. But I feel like this is a normal reaction to a very difficult situation. A very, very normal situation. Well, not a normal situation. A normal reaction to a difficult situation. So I wouldn't judge yourself so harshly and I would maybe examine that a little bit more. Because you not wanting your partner to suddenly go to another country and not be available to you anymore, that is a difficult thing for lots of people. Many, many people can't do long distance relationships, specifically because of the difficulties that they bring.

You're foundationally changing the basic functions of your relationship and on top of that, you are new to non-monogamy so not only are you having to do a long distance relationship for a short period of time

but also a non-monogamous one. And your partner is clearly upset and you can't comfort them. Of course, you're going to run to your friend for comfort. And even if you ran to your ex for breakup [I meant comfort] sex, I would still say that that's a normal reaction.

So no, you aren't being ridiculous at all. This isn't a trigger or some out of the box reaction. This is a very, very understandable thing to do. I think that the best thing for you to do because I feel like— I don't know if it's as simple as he doesn't trust you. I do think that this is extremely suspicious. Any type of— and you did say there are other issues so it makes me wonder what those other issues are. But any type of attempt of somebody, friend, romantic partner regardless, to basically isolate you slowly, which is something that people do who behave abusively towards their partners.

That is a type of red flag as it were, even though I dislike kind of categorizing things that way. The idea of slowly isolating you away from your friends and away from the people that you trust is a tactic that is used. So anytime someone attempts to try and, you know, make your circle smaller, I would always react to that with a little bit of suspicion, a little bit of “Mmmm I don't know how I feel about that”. So but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt because he is going through a hell of a lot of grief. It seems like.

What I think is the best thing for you to do is you need to have this conversation in person. And what you need to talk about is you need to talk about is how your partner chooses to decide to approach you when something is upsetting to him that someone else tells him about you. Because the thing that kind of makes me worry about this is that this person, whoever this woman is, whatever her motivations you can't really control and you can't really control whether or not your partner decides to associate with this person.

But whatever this person says, the fact that your partner is kind of going hook line and sinker and then jumps to ultimatum town instead of going
“Hey, so So and So tells me this, can we talk about it?” is thing that is the most not so great thing about the situation. And you have to figure out is this something that he is going to do in any case? Because if that's so then this woman isn't really the problem. It's that your partner decides to believe whatever it is that someone else tells him without giving you any benefit of the doubt, without trying to have a conversation with you about the situation and instead decides to jump to ultimatum town.

That is an issue and that is something that I think he should apologise for. However right now he's in mourning and that is a difficult thing. So it's not necessarily about who's right or wrong right now. I think that you need to suggest that you have a face to face conversation about this— in person conversation, when he's around you when you can talk and when you both are calm, and you can say “This is a person who is my friend. I am not having sex with them (if this is true). And I want to stay friends with this person, and I have a right to my friends and you are allowed to be uncomfortable about it and that's fine. However, this is a non-monogamous relationship and I'm allowed to have relationships with whomever I like, and you do not dictate to me who I'm allowed to have relationships with. So I'm going to continue my friendship with my friend. Regardless of whether or not they're an ex or not, they are my friend and I'm going to continue to have a friendship with them…”

“You're welcome to tell me how you feel about it, or welcome to talk about it. But I'm going to continue being friends with them. And also, whenever you hear something about me or about anything I'm doing. the first thing that you need to do is to have a discussion with me about it instead of jumping to ultimatums” and I think that that is something that you should do. For right now while he's away, you can just say, “I understand that you're upset. I have no intention on stopping being friends with somebody. We can discuss this when we are both in the same room, because it's not helpful to have these types of discussions abroad. Maybe you should focus on mourning and trust me and then when you come back, we can have this discussion”.

And if he is going to force the relationship to close because you won't stop being friends with someone that you're friends with just because they're an ex, then honestly, you might be better off because even if he's — and he might, you know, he might say “Wo, no, you have to break” you know “I don't want you to blah blah blah”. And if that's the case, and he's speaking from a place of pain because he's in mourning, and he doesn't know how to deal with it. I mean, losing a parent is a huge deal. It's by no means something easy to cope with.

So it may be that his grief is causing him to have a lot of fear and a lot of reactions to things and he may break up and then he may come to his senses a little down the line and apologise. It really depends on what those other issues are between you because you've only been dating for a few months. But I just feel like you need to hold your ground. Stand your ground. Do not stop being friends with somebody. Whatever— it doesn't even matter what the motivations are for this woman. It doesn't matter who was whose exes or what regardless, it doesn't even matter if technically in my opinion, unless you made some type of rule against sleeping with exes or you promised to be monogamous to him, it doesn't even matter if you did sleep with him because you're in a non monogamous relationship.

And unless you have negotiated and agreed to not date or befriend exes, he has no right to ask that of you. I mean, he can ask you, but you do not have to comply. You can decide to not comply and say that you don't want to do that. And if he genuinely wants to end the relationship from that, then let him end it. But I don't know, I want to give him a little bit of benefit of the doubt, because he is grieving, because he might going through some stuff and may not be thinking about it and who knows what that person told him about what.

It doesn't necessarily make me that interested in what's going to happen— like the fact that this woman said “oh—“. She probably made it seem like you went to this person for a booty call. But I don't know why that would upset him because you're in a non-monogamous relationship. I mean, I understand why it would challenge him, why he might be scared, why— you know, feelings of exes do definitely bring up a lot of fear with people because you know, there is a fear of abandonment there just as much as you may be fearing abandonment, he might also fear that and that's okay.

But to jump straight to the ultimatum is a very curious thing to me. I don't know how necessarily— I don't like pretending like people who have been non-monogamous for a long time are “experienced” because the type of lessons that you learn really depend and it's not a matter of years. But it strikes me as a sort of very— a very new move. A person who's newer to non-monogamy to make the move of giving an ultimatum like that, just because I don't know they might not have internalised the sort of shame that the community kind of encourages people to feel about this type of ultimatum.

I do feel like it's unfair and I don't agree with any partner or any friend or any person trying to dictate to you who your friends are. I'm very, very much against that. I don't even like it when random people come to me and tell me that I shouldn't be friends with such and such because they're “problematic”, whatever. No, like I decide who my friends are. I decide who I associate with. I decide who I follow. If you would like to give me some information about somebody, okay, but I'm not going to decide— I'm going to make the decision myself. I'm not going to just do something because you told me to. So it's really important that you stand your ground and I think you have some good instincts in terms of like, why— is it acceptable in non-monogamy?

I mean, technically, technically “ethical non-monogamy” is about everyone knowing that there are multiple partners. It's not like, you know, technically don't ask, don't tell is ethical in so much as all the people know that it's the policy, but a lot of people would say Don't Ask Don't Tell is unethical, because it involves secrecy. So it's a really tricky question as to you know, Is this acceptable? Well, some people would be fine with this.

Some people— two people who get together who don't like the idea of their partners dating their exes won't have any problems with this so it won't be an issue for them. But it's less of what's acceptable to other non-monogamous people and more of what's acceptable to you that's more important. If it's not acceptable to you, then that's much much more of a gauge you should follow, even if you're new to non monogamy than what's acceptable to other non monogamous people.

Because easily for example, some people can do long distance relationships. That is acceptable to them. Some people can't. Some people want their partners to talk to them every day and want to talk to their partners every day for hours and hours. Some people don't. Some friendships have, you know, weekly Skype calls, where they talk to each other every week. Some people barely speak to each other maybe once every five months.

What's acceptable really depends on the people involved, so worry less about what's acceptable, and if it's not acceptable to you then stand your ground and don't allow someone to bully you out of friendships or any other connections in your life and even if they're speaking from a place of grief or pain or fear. That may be something you can relate to, but it doesn't make their actions okay or mean that you have to listen to them.

So yeah, as a recap, I don't get why this is a problem. It's okay if you're uncomfortable with it. You can say no. I would try to create some type of stasis of saying like, “Hey, you're clearly going through something. We need to have a talk about this in person. You— let's drop this subject until we confer in person and talk about this”. And then in person make it absolutely clear that this is a friend who happens to be an ex but is a friend who you do not plan on dropping like a hot log just because this guy has a problem with it.

And then you can negotiate from there. And understand that he may in his grief, break off the relationship and then come to a census come back later and apologise, but depending on what the other issues are in between you, after only a few months, you may decide “You know what? It's not worth it”. So yeah, but overall, your initial feelings of not wanting to do this are pretty spot on. And it's not something that is fair to you, because you don't want to do it and because you have the right to decide who is in your life and who is not. I hope that helps and good luck.

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