Ask iris: "How Do I Stop Ruminating About My Boyfriend's Past?"
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for over a year. Our relationship is incredibly healthy with a lot of mutual respect and love, and open communication. When we first started dating, he informed me of a two-time incident of him drunkenly fooling around (not sex) with his best friend’s younger sister. Their moms are best friends as well. I’m around his best friend at least once a week, the parents often enough. I’ve only been around the girl around 1-2 times. Nevertheless, she is brought up A LOT. Whether it be from mutual friends, his best friend, the parents, etc. I trust that my boyfriend would never do anything. But I find myself having obsessive ruminating thoughts about this girl, like a scab that is continually being picked with her always being talked about. How do I navigate this? How do I grow to be more comfortable with this situation, as she is not going anywhere?
Dear The Ruminator,
This is definitely a sticky situation to be in. It’s one thing if you’re dealing with an ex or past friends-with-benefit that you don’t see often, but it’s a whole other situation when almost everyone around you brings up your boyfriend’s past.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how jealousy can chip away at a great relationship. The fact that you want to be okay with the situation means you have a healthy sense of self-awareness. Regardless of logic and the “mature thing to do,” know that jealousy is entirely normal. You’re not the first person to be experiencing these ruminating thoughts, and you most certainly won’t be the last.
With that said, let’s focus on two things: becoming okay with your boyfriend’s best friend’s sister’s presence in your life and managing those obsessive thoughts.
I’m going to suggest something that might be wild and out of your comfort zone. If so, ignore this bit completely. But I’ve found that the best way to manage an awkward situation where you feel like you’re harboring a secret is by talking about it. No, I’m not suggesting you talk to your boyfriend’s best friend or their moms. But maybe there’s an option where you talk to the girl all of this is centered around. Perhaps next time she’s in town, you could ask her to grab a coffee. Let her know that you want to be on good terms. Explain that you'd prefer to clear the air, rather than pretend like nothing happened. Sure, things might be weird AF at first, but this kind of conversation might do both of you some good.
If that option is completely off the table, then let’s refocus on your relationship. What’s important for you to remember is that your boyfriend is choosing you. Everyone has a past, but what matters is their present. Sure, this girl’s name might be brought up in conversation, but she’s simply his best friend’s sister, not your competition. I know it might feel like every time you hear her name, you’re being attacked, or you feel like recoiling, but no one is bringing her name up to hurt you. Chances are, she has a full and thriving dating life without having a second thought about your boyfriend and their past encounters.
Try this: when her name is brought up, and you start feeling that secret distress inside you, actively try to change your mindset. Instead of thinking, “ugh, I hate hearing her name. This sucks,” think, “it’s okay that my boyfriend has a past, and I wish [insert girl’s name] nothing but the best.” Even if you don’t believe that thought at first, merely repeating it in your head can change your mindset around the situation.
Now onto your obsessive thoughts. There are a couple of tips that help with ruminating thoughts.
The first is to limit how much time you spend worrying about this girl. Next time you start ruminating, I want you to turn your phone on, set a timer for two minutes, and allow yourself to feel and think about anything that comes to your mind. But when that timer goes off, I need you to do something that distracts your mind. Maybe that’s going for a walk, calling a friend, reading a book, or playing with your dog. Do whatever you need to make sure your obsessive thoughts stay within those two minutes.
Another great tool is journaling about everything that’s eating you up. If you go to dinner with your boyfriend’s mom and she spends twenty minutes talking about this girl, and it upsets you, write it all down later when you get home. Sometimes just putting those thoughts down on a piece of paper gives them less power.
Lastly, have another conversation with your boyfriend. Let him know that you’re struggling to be okay with this situation. Explain when it’s difficult for you and how you feel. Maybe there’s a solution you can both come up with together that makes you feel more at ease. Perhaps that’s a simple hand-squeeze whenever her name is mentioned.
Jealousy and obsessive thoughts are powerful, and you might feel that it's unfair you have to experience them. But just know that with a little intention, acceptance of your feelings, and dialogue, you can lessen the grip they have over you.