What does your partner’s past look like? Some of us have accepted this narrative that the past doesn’t matter with a new love interest. Enthralled and excited by a newly discovered passion, we root ourselves firmly in the present moment and refuse to look around (for fear of disappointment).
That doesn’t work if you’re serious about creating a relationship that lasts, however. Successful relationships are those which can combine the past, present, and future into an accepting and compassionate plan. There’s no judgment there, just honesty. That honesty enables both parties to make the most informed and well-matched decisions for their futures.
Does your partner's past really matter?
On the Real Housewives of New York, a cast member (Luann) spent an entire season saying, “Nothing that happened before me matters” as a catchphrase when talking about her soon-to-be-husband. The philandering New York bachelor had a sketchy history and set rumors off everywhere he went. Luann, also known as “The Countess”, ignored these rumors, though, and it ended in disaster.
This is just one simple example of why your partner’s past matters.
When Luann ignored the warnings of her friends, the warnings from her own fiancé’s past, she set herself up for heartbreak. Only a few months into the marriage, it was dissolved, and “The Countess” Luann ended up drunk and alone in a jail cell on Christmas Eve.
The places our partners have been can reveal patterns. Not just the patterns of their own lives, but the patterns our relationships may follow with them as well. People rarely change without great internal shifts. We have to pay attention to the history of our partners so that we can make informed decisions about our lives with them in the present.
How to know when more digging is necessary.
Understandably, many people get uncomfortable with digging into their partner’s pasts. Some see it as disrespectful. Others may think that it’s too “triggering.” The reality, though, is that if you’re going to combine your life with someone else, you have a right to know how they’ve treated former partners and how the course of their life has gone.
Not all partners need you to do more digging, but some do. If you notice these patterns or behaviors, it may be a sign that you need a little more transparency where your partner’s past is concerned:
- Refusal to answer questions
- Never talking about the past
- Extreme substance abuse
- Jealousy and control issues
- Too many (still involved) exes
- Zero ties with family
- Total lack of social circles
- Endless crises to solve
If you’ve found yourself with a partner who refuses to talk about the past, who won’t answer questions, or talk about past hurts — you need to take note. A refusal to address the past can be an indication of two things: having no past, or having a past that’s problematic. Both need to be addressed.
The same applies to the partner who shifts all the blame. This is the person who explains everything away on the back of a ‘crazy’ ex. Refusing accountability can be just as dishonest as outright lying and denial.
Is your partner trying to hide what’s behind them? Do you have the nagging (and reasonable) feeling that there is something you need to know about? Our partner’s pasts matter. You have a right to address the red flags that fill you with uncertainty, and that’s exactly what you have to do next.
The warning signs your partner's "crazy ex" may not have been so crazy after all...
The behaviors and patterns listed above can be a part of the numbing or hiding process. What doesn’t your partner want you to know? If you spot these issues lurking in their past, then you need to take action to protect yourself and ensure that it doesn’t become your reality in your relationship.
Making major excuses
Imagine you’ve gotten to the root of your partner’s past and you ask questions. What happens? How do they respond? Maybe you’ve already asked these questions and have been met with a stonewall. Many of you will have gotten a laundry list of excuses when you tried to bring up the problems in your partner’s past.
Pay close attention to these excuses. Some of them may be true, but you must use caution if your partner blames everything in their lives on everyone else. That’s a major red flag and can reveal someone who doesn’t know how to be accountable for their mistakes.
To this partner with a problematic past, they are never in the wrong. Everything bad is always someone else’s fault. They have an excuse for everything and everyone (except themselves). It’s a common pattern to see in covert narcissists and other toxic personalities. They would rather protect their egos and lose their connections than admit they could be humanly fallible.
A pattern of helplessness
When you have a partner who makes a lot of excuses for the past, you can also find a partner with a pattern of learned helplessness. This is for the toxic person who goes a step further than simply blaming the world for their issues. The helpless person actually creates crises that the world has to rescue them from.
Look at your partner’s history. Was it year after year of chaos? Were they always broke? Always homeless? Always in need of someone to provide something they couldn’t provide for themselves?
A person who has learned to be helpless is dangerous to their partners, because they expect everyone to manage their life and their success for them. They demand so much from their partners that they these partners struggle to manage their lives.
Beware the partner who is always in crisis. They may create that crisis so people will rescue them from themselves and the life they’re too scared to hold on their own.
History of toxic behavior
While you’re digging into your partner’s past, you may find things you don’t like. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable they make you. Hiding from the truth is not an option. That’s especially true when you discover a potential pattern of obsessive, abusive, toxic, jealous, dangerous behavior.
This is the biggest red flag you can see in a potential love interest. Whether you discover the trend in rumors, or the stories of their many exes, pay attention to the cloud of abuse that follows the people you love.
Some of these shocking red flag behaviors can include:
- Physically abusive outbursts
- Blackmailing for material gain
- Manipulating partners with children
- Holding the relationship hostage
- Mental or emotional warfare
- Coercive sexual behavior
You cannot ignore these patterns because they apply to you, too. Anything your partner or spouse will do to others, they will be willing to do to you. These are issues which you have to address.
Ultimately, you must yourself: Am I going to subject my body and my mind to this treatment? When there are so many who would love me without this pain? You never have to accept abusive treatment. You are always worthy of more than a partner who treats you like a toy to break.
History does not exist
Sure, finding a history of abuse or control is alarming. It’s scary to realize that your partner has a lot of exes, or a pattern of getting things wrong with the people that they love. There’s something that can be a lot scarier, though, and that’s having no relationship history at all.
Beware the love interest who has never been in love before; the person who has never bothered to commit, never bothered to go more than surface deep with the people they bring into their beds and their love lives.
If they’ve never no one to their family, if they haven’t ever told anyone they loved them — you need to pay stark attention. Like abusers, those with commitment issues will behave the same with you. Get your ego out of the way. You’re not going to magically change someone who has been operating the same way for years.
Never ignore the giant walking red flag that is a partner with no relationship history. That’s especially true for those who are committed to the idea of commitment, marriage, monogamy, or a traditional family unit.
All for me, none for thee
Let’s say you have a partner who talks openly about their past. Maybe there’s been no digging involved. They have been open and up front about their former relationships and how they ended. Let’s say, however, that you notice a pattern. Specifically, that your partner always ended the relationship at the first (and slightest) issue.
Having strong boundaries is a good thing. Being willing to walk away from a bad relationship is also a “green flag”. The problems occur when someone shows a consistent pattern of harshly discarding all the people who get close to them in their lives.
This could show someone who is afraid of commitment, but it could also reveal someone who doesn’t truly value the people that they’re with. If they are willing to discard someone they claim to love over the smallest of disappointments, that means a certain desire or empathy is lacking. The connection is only surface deep.
That’s a pattern that will, again, extend to you. Are you willing to invest in someone who may walk away if you refuse to perform or satiate the desires that they have of you?
Preference for performance
It’s important to look at the big picture when you’re spotting the patterns in your partner’s relationship history. What is the overarching theme? What draws all your partner’s or spouse’s crises and breakups together? Look at the pattern of those relationships too. Why were they founded? How does your love interest choose their partners and why?
For some, relationships are a game of thrones. They use their partners to increase their esteem, or to grant them access to certain echelons of society. There are people out there who get into relationships not to form connections or to feel love. They do it to get families, attention, money, access, safety, etc.
Pay close attention to your partner’s history of exes. Were they all deep connections? Or, at the very least, obvious attractions that were formed in fun and mutual values? Or did your partner use their partners? Did they only value them for their looks, what they could provide?
It’s a major red flag if all their exes fit a pattern of being used. If your partner used them as tools to look better, that shows some serious problems. Don’t ignore someone who only dates people who can give them mobility (social, financial, material, or otherwise).
Putting it all together…
You can’t afford to act like your partner doesn’t have a past. Like your new love came out of the cabbage patch and neither of you has hangups or problematic behaviors. On some level, we are all learning how to navigate our connections with others, and we make mistakes. Those mistakes have to be addressed with honesty and with clarity for us to create healthy and stable love.
Look at the history behind the people you love. What do their patterns say to you? It’s not about punishing your partner. You’re not judging them. You’re simply looking at what has happened to ensure you are making the most informed investment you can for your relationship and yourself.
Be aware of the patterns and behaviors that could affect your connection in the future. You have a right to be informed, just like they do. Anyone who can’t give you that isn’t looking out for your best interests (just their own). Communicate openly with your partner and keep it focused on empathy as much as possible. Hold space for their humanity, but hold fast to your standards and boundaries, too.
No matter what, make sure you are being true to yourself and your needs. You don’t have to settle for someone who can’t hold you in softness. Trust your instincts. Take action if necessary, and know there is love out there that is peaceful, compassionate, and drama-free.