We’re supposed to be a priority in our romantic relationships, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

Some people think they’re the back-up to their partner’s memorable “first love,” and those dating a widow or widower may feel anxious and insecure when comparing themselves to their partner’s deceased spouse. 

Relationship experts say it’s a common feeling, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your romance is doomed. However, it’s important to address these feelings before they become a bigger problem.

Gabrielle Applebury, licensed marriage and family therapy, says, “If someone feels that they are the backup relationship,” it is worth reflecting to find out why. It does not matter whether it is caused by you or your partner.

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Why does it feel that I don’t “the one?” 

We may be second-choice for a number of reasons. Sometimes, we get jealous when thinking about our partner’s past relationships. Other times, we feel competitive when hearing rosy recollections about a loved one’s past flames. These feelings, in any case, can have a negative impact on your relationship and mental health.

Pepper Schwartz is a professor of sociology at Washington University who specializes in sexuality and relationships.

But sometimes, these feelings have less to do with our partner and more to do with deeper feelings of internalized insecurity and self-doubt. 

Applebury says, “If your relationship with your partner triggers feelings of being second-best,” Applebury suggests. “In general, we tend to be drawn to partners that feel similar to what we experienced in childhood because doing so reinforces the underlying beliefs we established about ourselves during childhood.”

According to her, someone might unknowingly look for these relationships if they feel inadequate.

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It can be especially challenging if your partner lost a loved one. Applebury explains that the relationships you had with your spouse during their lives helped to shape who you are today. 

“In healthy relationships, there is room to respect and honor your partner’s former relationship, while still understanding that what you have together is unique and special in a different way,” she says. Your partner might have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with their partner who has passed away, but that does not mean that you cannot have an extraordinary relationship.

Schwartz adds people often have multiple loving, memorable past relationships, and that doesn’t invalidate yours. This is simply an “alternative experience.”

“All relationships will have their own dynamic. But you need to understand and accept that each relationship has its strengths. Even if your partner had a previous relationship, it is still a good thing.” she said. 

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If it turns into a problem

However, it is important that your partner feels loved and reassured. 

Schwartz clarifies that although ex-partners may be great friends, it should not feel as though your partner has a level of intimacy with you.

It’s difficult to know if you are the backup, or whether it is your brain. Schwartz and Applebury listed out some common red flags:

  • You are made to feel inferior by your partner who openly compares to you to former partners.
  • If your partner doesn’t fully believe in you, it is not committed to maintaining a loving and healthy relationship.
  • The partner claims they prefer to be with someone other than you.
  • Your partner won’t accept or even respect your concerns.

Keep in mind that healthy relationships require open communication and honesty. Applebury advises that, in healthy relationships, communication is open and honest.

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Source: USAToday.com


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