There’s a relationship problem that often surfaces with my younger clients. The increasing connectedness of modern technology means that you can keep in touch with many people from the past. It also means that your exes, friends with benefits, and one-night stands, never go away!
It may seem harmless. A woman you used to sleep with randomly texts to see how you’re doing. You have a girlfriend now, but she doesn’t know that. A few messages later, you’ve slipped back into your usual pattern, sending flirty texts and photos. Or, you’ve had a boyfriend for the past few months. Then you get a private Facebook message from an old college boyfriend. He comments on how hot you look in your profile photo. You start catching up and reminiscing.
What’s the problem?
It is so easy for this to happen. But it’s not harmless, IF you’re hiding these interactions from your current partner. Any time you share personal things with someone you’re attracted to, but consciously choose to hide these actions from your partner, you’re creating distance from your partner, and closeness toward the outsider.
You may be sure that you would never cross any inappropriate lines, but it’s important to ask why you’re doing it at all. Does it alleviate boredom? Boost your self-esteem? Keep the door open for future interactions? Whatever your motivation, the lack of mindfulness around it can be dangerous.
What to do?
Two words: boundaries and transparency. First, you need to learn to be comfortable drawing boundaries around flames from your past, even if you’re afraid of hurting their feelings. Then practice being transparent with your current partner around contact with exes. Finally, discuss boundaries around flirting with others so that you’re on the same page about what kinds of interactions you’re both OK with. This isn’t about controlling or being controlled by your partner; it’s about building healthy communication, closeness and trust, and the chance for a mature, healthy relationship.
(This article by Jennifer Gunsaullus was published in the February 2016 issue of Pacific San Diego Magazine.)
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker