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Healthy Living

Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My boyfriend is still in contact with his ex-girlfriends

Dear Virginia,

My boyfriend has no friends other than the people he's met through me. So he wants to stay in touch with his "only friends" – two ex-girlfriends. One uses him to boost her ego, and the other is in an unhappy marriage and contacts him constantly to tell him how much she misses him. My partner had an addictive relationship with sex for many years, though he's been faithful to me during our three years together. But I feel very uncertain about these women. Should I insist that he gives up all contact?

Best, Rhiannon

It's all very well to "insist" when it comes to children, but I don't really think this is a useful word in a relationship. In fact, if you really want to know, I think it's a pretty terrible word, and one which, if used to your boyfriend, is guaranteed to rebound on you.

What it really gets down to is this: do you trust your boyfriend or not? If the answer is "No" then either you dump him or you accept that you've got a boyfriend who's a bit shaky when it comes to fidelity. If the answer's "Yes" – then what have you got to worry about? Even if a thousand lap dancers came and lap-danced in his face while a million belly dancer wobbled in the background and a busty blonde fed him champagne on a double bed, you'd know in your heart that he was absolutely certain to be faithful to you.

Let's take the first girl first. What's wrong with wanting a bloke to boost her ego? Eventually she'll get fed up with getting her ego boosted by your boyfriend and find someone who's more available and boosts it more.

As for the other one, I think you'd be justified in saying you feel terribly uncomfortable about it – if you didn't, then he might assume you didn't care – but then it's up to him to tone it down. If he then were to continue, you'd be justified in feeling pissed off – not for his having a rather intense relationship with the girl so much as for not being considerate of your feelings.

It sounds to me as if both of you are rather insecure – and heaven knows, who isn't? He needs these girls to make him feel good about himself – firstly it helps his feelings about himself as a man, and secondly it makes him feel that he is capable of having his own friends, rather than leeching off yours all the time. And you, because your own insecurities, feel dreadfully threatened by a couple of unhappy women. If it were just one woman he was going out with behind your back, obviously you could say: "Her or me", but in a way the fact there are two of them makes them surely less threatening.

You may rather wish he had some male friends to go off and do male things with, but perhaps he just isn't that sort of person? Maybe what you like about him is his very ability to have good relationships with women? Some men are much better at it than others.

So lay off the "insisting". How would you feel if he suddenly "insisted" you always wore red? Or that you cut your hair? Or that you dropped some of your friends that he disliked? You would, I'm sure, call him controlling and bullying. So tell him you're feeling a bit anxious, but don't, by laying down the law, risk courting those adjectives for yourself.

Readers say...

Has he had treatment?

I wonder if your partner has ever had any treatment for his "addictive relationship to sex". In my experience, this addiction can be just as destructive, and just as difficult to recover from, as addictions to drugs or drinks. To be honest, I'm not too surprised that he doesn't have many friends, as sex addiction can lead people into very cruel behaviour that is less obviously attributable to addiction than, say, falling off a bar stool, and can be hard to forgive. If he has not had treatment, you are right to be wary, as it's highly unlikely he will be able to fully recover on his own.

Like many addictions, this one springs from a deep self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness, and if your partner has never addressed these then it's unlikely that he's ever really dealt with the problem. I don't doubt that he loves you and his intentions may be good, but if I were you I would stop fretting about his ex-girlfriends and help him get some treatment. But I don't think you should be too ready to trust him, either.

Gerald Mills

By email


See how he likes it

Why not get in touch with a couple of old boyfriends yourself, and start texting and phoning them, and meeting them for drinks? See how your boyfriend likes it when the boot is on the other foot!

Pat Henry

By email


You need to discuss this

Does your boyfriend know how you feel? If you can discuss it with him, that would probably be helpful for both of you. Just make sure you bring it up calmly, without it sounding like you are accusing him of being unfaithful or trying to force him to ditch his only friends.

If he realises how much this worries you, maybe he will see them less, make more of an effort to find other friends, or at least realise he needs to reassure you when he does meet up with them. Being honest with him and admitting that you need this assurance of his love and fidelity might seem difficult, but is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a reasonable request to make of a man who is determined to see his exes!

Have you met these women? Again, it might help – then you can suss out more objectively if they are any kind of a threat. It sounds like your boyfriend spends time with, and has got to know, your friends, so it's fair enough you for you to want to get to know his. This might also alleviate your fears: you might even get to like them yourself.

Of course, you both need independent lives and friends, but if you meet and connect with these girls then any uncertainty about their intentions would surely be eased. And if he guards them jealously and refuses to let you meet them, then maybe there is more of a serious problem here, and you'd have greater reason for making demands and ultimatums.

Sadia Green

By email


Don't let him go

I think it says a lot for your boyfriend that he is still in touch with these two girls. It shows that his relationships go really deep – beyond sex. He's managed to turn two exes into friends. I think you should feel lucky to have such a man. Don't let him go. One day, if you ever break up, you'll be glad he doesn't just dump you and wants to preserve what is good about your relationship.

Sally Bowater

By email