In late 2020, during lockdown, I met a nice guy. We started dating and our relationship developed at a rapid pace.
Six months into our relationship, I found an email on his computer from his university sweetheart. When we first met, he had told me about her, and how, 20 years before, he was in love with her and wanted to marry her, but his family disapproved. She later got married to someone else, and he moved on with his life. The email was a short correspondence about general things, nothing “out of line”.
Still, I was upset he was still in touch with her. A month later I confronted him and he explained that she had contacted him before we met to tell him that she forgave him. He told me that getting back in touch with her was a relief to him, as the heartbreak he experienced never left him – and even acted as a barrier in future relationships.
Soon after, we moved in together and got married. Then, one day, I was able to access his phone and saw messages between them. They had been talking to each other for months over Facebook. Two hours of video calls – we never talked for more than 20 minutes over the phone! The last phone call was two weeks before he asked me to move in with him.
I try to tell myself that this was a turning point for him – that it was only after talking to her that he realised things were serious between us. I would like to believe that he told her about me moving in, which is why they stopped talking suddenly. But I am deeply hurt. I know he loves me, and I love him. I just don’t get why he did that. What if she gets in touch with him again? What would happen?
If she got back in touch, why should the message from your husband be any different from what it has been since he’s met you? What do you think might change? I don’t know if you are obsessed with the past (or more accurately, his past) because you do sense something is going on – or because you are self-sabotaging, for whatever reason. Some people do stay in touch with exes, and some don’t.
What about your exes? I know when I had my first serious relationship I couldn’t believe my then partner was in touch with his ex, but as I grew up and accrued my own “past”, I realised that, sometimes, things aren’t straightforward.
There’s no point reasoning away your doubts and fears and pretending they don’t exist
Clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Stephen Blumenthal had some interesting perspectives. First, he felt that the fact you met in lockdown is not to be underestimated: “It wasn’t at a normal social pace, where you see each other in between going back to your normal life; you were forced together. In these situations, the relationship can develop very rapidly and be idealised, then there’s a crash when reality intrudes.” You mention yourself, in your longer letter, that this was at a rapid pace for you; I wonder if it was too quick. You mention you didn’t know about the Facebook conversations until after you were married – would they have changed your mind?
I earn more than my partner, but get irritated about him not paying his way | Ask Annalisa BarbieriRead more
Blumenthal wanted to stress that “you have every right to confront this and you shouldn’t feel you had to wait a month to do so”.
It’s important to know yourself, and ask for what you need, thereby giving your partner the chance to provide that – or not. There’s no point reasoning away your doubts and fears and pretending they don’t exist. Doing so negates those needs and provides fertile soil for resentment and separation to flourish.
You mention, in your longer letter, about needing to feel safe. “We all have a need for ‘psychological safety’,” says Blumenthal. “You’ll need to fully explore how you feel with your husband, and he’ll need to understand those feelings.” Telling your husband how his being in touch with his ex made you feel is a clear communication of your needs. That’s scary, because it makes you vulnerable, and he may not meet them, but it’s also ultimately empowering. However, you will have to admit you went in to his phone.
Sign up to our Inside Saturday newsletter for an exclusive behind the scenes look at the making of the magazine’s biggest features, as well as a curated list of our weekly highlights.
Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to email@example.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see theguardian.com/letters-terms
Conversations With Annalisa Barbieri, series 2, is available here.
Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.