Why is it that we instantly despise other people sometimes? Not in the “I have a gut feeling that this person is bad news” way, but in the “I just don’t like them, and I don’t know why” way. Have you ever thought about that? It’s a natural instinct that we all get, and one that I, for one, don’t often bother to internally argue with; I just accept the fact that I dislike someone for no reason at all. Before getting the “ick” was even a thing, I got the ick about my significant other’s exes—even ones I never met. They could be the nicest person on the planet, but guess what? I hate them. Point blank period. And there’s no way in hell that I am alone in that.
After the recent drama with Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber, our office got to talking about why it’s so common and natural to automatically hate our significant other’s exes. And with a total lack of reasoning why, does that make us bad people? Are we wrong for it? Is it irrational? Or can we not help it, and the annoyance of their existence is something we have to live with? None of us had the answers. So, we decided to dig deeper and ask an expert: Is it wrong to hate our SO’s exes? And furthermore, why the heck is that our instinct in the first place? What they had to say was interesting as hell, so we’re sharing it here:
Licensed Mental Health Counselor & Founder of NYC Therapeutic Wellness
Elisabeth works alongside her clients to help gain insight and a well-developed understanding of their inner workings, thought patterns, and connection to self and others. Elisabeth assists clients in identifying patterns of behavior that have become barriers to happiness, helping transform conflict into opportunities for deeper intimacy and connection.
The actual reasons we dislike our partner’s exes
Looking at this from the perspective of not knowing enough about the ex to have any sort of opinion of them, there are a few main reasons why you might automatically hate them: insecurity, competition, and jealousy. Gulotta is breaking down each, so we can gain a better understanding of why this feeling might be presenting itself.
If you are an insecure person, you may be more likely to idealize your partner’s ex to be someone that is so great, attractive, and perfect and compare yourself in a way that makes you feel less than or not good enough. You may feel threatened by them and start to question why your partner chose you or if they love you.
In order to feel worthy or equal to the image you have created of your partner’s ex, you may behave in a way or do things that prove your superiority or worthiness. These acts may not be genuine to who you are and you may resent the ex for driving the need for such acts. Essentially, you are allowing your partner’s ex to take up a lot of space in your head in and your relationship, and this will continue to perpetuate the dislike.
What is your partner doing or not doing to make you feel secure in the relationship? If you are not in a securely attached relationship, you are way more vulnerable to feelings of distrust and jealousy. If your partner is not helping you feel secure in the relationship, you may project feelings of jealousy toward the ex instead of examining your partner’s actions or what their actions are triggering in you. Lack of security will also drive distrust. Instead of displacing that on your partner’s ex, it is important to take an honest look at your own relationship dynamics.
How to handle these feelings so they don’t ruin your relationship
Gulotta believes that there is a great responsibility on the shared partner to bridge the gap between the two partners. For example, “has this shared partner not done anything or enough to cultivate clarity, transparency, and security for both parties (old and new partner)? Have things left unsaid or unclear allowed space for tension to exist?” Gulotta explains that “the less we know about someone, the more we assume or conjure an image or idea of a person… the version you create or is created for you [by your partner] can be very reasonable to dislike in your mind.”
By bringing clarity to our emotions and thoughts with the following questions, we can be more mindful of how rational these narratives are:
- What is triggering these emotions and feelings?
- Are they rational?
- What are they rooted in?
- Am I creating an image of this person that is false or untrue?
Have a conversation with your partner about how you are feeling and why you think that might be. If it is because they compare you to their ex or they bring up their memories with them, set boundaries. Gulotta recommends leaning on statements like these to set valid boundaries with your partner:
- “I do not want you to compare me to your ex.”
- “I do not feel comfortable when you share about past experiences with your ex.”
- “I would prefer to not go to an event we know your ex will be at.”
Alternatively, if insecurity or competition is presenting itself, know that picking apart someone else to make yourself feel more worthy and secure in your relationship is an unhealthy coping mechanism. Instead, “reflect inwardly and explore your feelings of worthiness and security in self,” recommends Gulotta.
The bottom line
I am happy and relieved, to report that no, it’s not “wrong” to hate your significant other’s ex, but Gulotta says that it is “unhealthy and unproductive to the success of your relationship and your emotional well-being to dislike your partner’s ex if you have no reason not to like them.” She added that “while it is perfectly normal and valid to not want to think about your new love with someone else, it is irrational and unfair to judge someone solely based on their ex status or what your ex may or may not have told you about them,“ Gulotta added.
Nothing good comes from hatred, especially if it stems from jealousy, competition, insecurity, or a similar feeling. I always say that it takes more effort to dislike someone than it does to be cordial and kind. Going out of your way to be mean-spirited is never productive, and TBH, is a bad look. Looking at you, Hailey.