It is human nature to want to share our experiences with the one we love. In our intensive couples therapy retreats, we teach that a person’s desire to be “known” by their partner is a foundation of healthy intimacy. It is also human nature to be curious about your partner’s relationship past —a key to learn more about who your partner really is, what they’ve been through, and their relationship style. You get clues about your partner’s “stuff” or issues. We can discover if he had his heart broken or if she is a serial heart breaker.
We can’t help it. Inquiring minds want to know. Or do we, really?
Without exception, sharing tales of past love is inordinately revealing. They provide an intimacy short-cut — a portal to information that may confirm your intuition or solidify your hopes and dreams about your beloved. On the other hand, you might be surprised by aspects of your partner that you had not seen or suspected. Past relationship history fills in the blanks and colors the template, tipping you off to a partner’s attractions, flights of fancy, and patterns.
Remember the old adage that curiosity killed the cat? We advise you to use caution and tip-toe around these talks about past relationships. Test the waters by making tiny disclosures a little at a time. Pretend you are walking on thin ice (since you probably are) and be aware of the great potential of falling into the icy waters. That is, be aware that they might bruise your partner as you wax on nostalgically about a whirlwind tour of Europe, a bed of rose petals, a Rodeo Drive shopping spree, or that Olympic medal orgasm. And, yes, be cautious despite your partner’s superhero stance– her curiosity may be falsely emboldening her in the moment.
Inevitably your partner will be measuring him/herself against your former lover(s). Even the most secure and well-balanced among us find it difficult not to feel competitive or jealous. And even at our most clairvoyant, we may not know the insecurities that hide inside our partner. Our memories can bruises, be long lasting and in some cases highly destructive. In couples therapy it is not unusual to uncover shards of hurt that are the result of careless disclosures. The hurt can stay raw for many years.
So how do you quench your thirst for those lusty tidbits and remain true to the spirit of your stalking curious mind?
How do you safely respond?
How much do you reveal? How honest must you be?
Do good manners apply?
Here are some elements to consider when discussing past relationships :
- Focus on yourself and what role you played in a former relationship, and what that relationship meant to you.
- Recognize that you are permitted to have aspects of your experience that you keep to yourself. There is no obligation to be completely transparent.
- Remember that your current partner is likely to feel competitive with whatever you reveal. If you are under financial pressure, it’s not helpful to mention how your ex gave you carte blanche on his credit card.
- Time and place are important. After making love, don’t talk about how great your ex was in bed, if ever.
- Be compassionate, knowing that your partner could be hurt by what you choose to share.
- As you disclose, take your partner’s temperature. Check expression, body language, etc. Even though he might let curiosity get the best of him, you don’t need to let it get the best of you.
Save the cat.
- Remember that whatever you share about your past becomes part of your current relationship and will likely reverberate for a long, long time.