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Tags: partner | platonic | srpd

Hanging on to Your Romantic Past Can Be Perilous

romantic past hanging on
(Kirill Kurashov/Dreamstime.com)

Wendy L. Patrick By Monday, 03 October 2022 04:19 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Should We Keep in Touch With Ex-Partners?

Most people can relate to reminiscing about past romance.

Many people retain some level of contact with ex-partners, whether platonic, personal, or professional. Some specifically view ex-flames as unfinished business, hoping to rekindle the spark. But when it comes to relationships, prolonged investment in relationships past can significantly complicate the present, through divided loyalties, and divided attention.

And as a practical matter, is continued contact with a past paramour emotionally healthy to begin with? Research has some answers.

Positive Attitudes About Past Partners

Regarding contact with an ex-partner, thinking about them is the first step. Such thoughts can be positive or negative, influenced apparently in part by gender. Within heterosexual relationships, researchers (Ursula Athenstaedt et al., 2020) found that men tend to view women ex-partners more favorably than women do.

But the analysis heats up with actual contact.

Playing With Fire

John A. Banas et al. (2021) examined the dynamics of digital communication between ex-partners in a study aptly titled "Simmering on the Back Burner or Playing with Fire?"

They describe "back burners" as potential candidates for future romantic relationships. They studied a sample of noncollege adults involved in committed relationships to examine how a prior relationship with a desirable back burner impacted digital communication and sexual activity with back burners, as well as negative affect of the study participant.

Banas et al. (ibid.) found that when a desirable back burner was also an ex-partner, there was an increased amount of digital communication, increased communication was associated with sexual activity with the back burner, and sexual activity was linked with participant negative affect.

They further found that even without sexual activity, both increased communication and having an ex-partner as a "most-desired back burner" were linked with negative affect.

Why the negative thoughts? Banas et al. (supra) suggest that as compared with non-ex-partner back burners, romantic past relationships may create rumination which produces negative memories.

This might occur, for example, by reminding someone of the reason they ended the past relationship in the first place. Accordingly, particularly for those keeping an old flame alive out of fear of being single, contact with back burners can replace fear with other negative feelings.

Marital Separation and Continued Contact

Karey L. O’Hara et al. (2020) studied the impact of continuing contact with an ex-partner after marital separation on separation-related psychological distress (SRPD). Studying 122 recently divorced/separated adults, they found that more frequent in-person contact with an ex-partner led to a greater amount of SRPD 2 months later, separate from demographic and other relational variables.

Contrary to expectations, however, they did not find in-person contact with an ex-partner to be a significant predictor of concurrent SRPD.

The bottom line appears to be that for many people, controlling for co-parenting and other relational entanglements, continuing contact with past partners is not a particularly healthy component of present relational functioning.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, Ph.D., is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.

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WendyLPatrick
For many people, controlling for co-parenting and other relational entanglements, continuing contact with past partners is not a particularly healthy component of present relational functioning.
partner, platonic, srpd
539
2022-19-03
Monday, 03 October 2022 04:19 PM
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