You Need Help: I Live With My Partner and Their Ex-Girlfriend and It’s Getting Hard


I know, I know, maybe I make it out to be more of a mess than it is. I’m a lesbian in my early twenties and I have been in a relationship with my enby partner for a year and a half. We share a flat with several other (queer) people in Copenhagen, one of whom is my partner’s ex-girlfriend.

They split up about two years ago (when we got together it had been a little under a year) and left their joint apartment to go live in a bigger flatshare, which is where we all currently live (since affordable apartments are scarce). Space-wise, it’s not a problem, and I get along with everyone else, but I can’t help nor explain it — my relationship with my partner’s ex has been a rather distant one.

When I moved in, my partner and their ex were still very close, but over the last year and with me living there, that changed and their ex has kept more and more to herself. My partner was initially reluctant to talk about what it meant to all live together, and when I spoke about my hesitations, they repeatedly assured me that they “were over each other romantically” but in a queer-platonic relationship. Whenever they spend a lot of time alone together, and hugged or cuddled or made inside jokes however, I felt miserable.

Recently, she has not been picking up her share of the housework and has been withdrawing from the flat’s social life. I’m annoyed by that, but at the same time I’m afraid that my annoyance might be amplified by my jealousy, so I’m not going to speak out.

How can I get over that? In the queer circles we move around, different approaches to relationships and polyamory are not only common but kind of expected and I know that lesbian culture of “I’m dating my ex’s ex” is pretty similar — so am I just too conservative and not open-minded enough? Do I need to “just get over it”? Is it not worth the trouble agonizing over?


If you’re agonizing over a roommate situation while in your early twenties, you’re having a quintessential early twenties experience. So, right there, it’s okay and perfectly normal. Living with others is never easy all of the time! And sometimes, certain personalities clash, and it doesn’t mean anyone’s done anything wrong; it’s just that sharing living space (which we often need to serve as a safe place and sanctuary) can bring out tensions that would otherwise not be present.

Now, generalities aside, your situation is definitely specifically tense. Firstly, I can sympathize a lot with your discomfort and also, specifically, don’t enjoy that your partner wouldn’t engage in deep discussion with you about the situation. You definitely deserve to be able to talk about things between you and your partner and how your actions affect each other. Talking about it is not unreasonable.

Secondly, when I read this, I started to feel bad for your partner’s ex. I’m going to tell you why. You mention she and your ex used to be closer, but now they’re more distant. Now she’s withdrawing from the flat’s social life and keeping to herself. Chores aside, it’s sounding to me like she may be having a hard time, too, and is possibly feeling uncomfortable as someone who is an ex, who perhaps senses your discomfort, and who is also now less of a close friend to your partner. She went into this flat situation with a friend, and over time, seems to have lost some of that support. It makes sense to me that she’d be withdrawing. She may even be looking for a new living situation. You also might not know everything about the interpersonal dynamics between her and other flatmates, your partner included.

It also sounds like you haven’t spoken with your partner about what you’ve observed. Considering their unwillingness to discuss may be a barrier, you might get further if you approach the situation more with concern: “I’ve noticed [Name of Ex] has been kind of withdrawn lately. Do you know how she’s doing or if everything’s okay?” This might be better than bringing up dirty dishes as the opening to your conversation. If the ex used to help out with chores and there’s an emotional component making it difficult for her to want to contribute, then solving the interpersonal/emotional issue is more likely to help than taking a hard line with the chores.

And if your partner doesn’t want to talk to you about things, then it’s a good idea to have a conversation about why, especially if you’re careful to not be malicious or jealous about things. I understand your frustration, but it seems like what you’re after at the end of the day is a harmonious living situation and a sense of security when it comes to things between you and your partner. And not that you’re after this, but obviously any attempt to “punish” or further alienate the ex probably won’t solve your problems.

Sometimes, in group roommate situations, a person can feel excluded or actually become excluded or ganged up on (as in, it’s not in their head). You don’t mention how many people are in this flat, but how do they act toward the ex? Does she have any other friends in the flat? How many other people are there, and are they coupled or close friends with each other, leaving her out of the loop? I’d just take a look at the situation as a whole and put yourself in the ex’s shoes to see how you would feel.

Now, after you talk to your partner about this, you can try a couple of things, depending on what you learn.

1. I know you don’t necessarily care to be friends with the ex, but asking someone out for tea or drinks or desserts as a kind of truce hang is a gesture that, in my personal experience, has at least a 50% success rate (sometimes you do lose lol). If you’re brave, you can actually confront and talk frankly about the dynamic between you two. It might make things feel lighter, easier if you can tell her you were jealous of her, and if you could hear her side of things, too. Sometimes being honest about how very human negative emotions have colored a situation is refreshing, and clearing the air might make for nicer living conditions for all. Maybe you’ll actually get along.

2. You and your partner can make an effort to spend time with their ex at the same time. Similarly, the goal here is to heal the dynamic a little and leave all of you feeling a bit more sure about where you stand with each other. You don’t have to hang out together all of the time, but one friend date can go a long way!

3. You can look to resources from people practicing polyamory for dealing with your own internal feelings of jealousy. Jealousy around people we’re in relationships with is a normal thing to encounter. At the root, we’re socialized to feel relationships are a scarce resource and that we must defend them against any threats. This makes sense, because romantic relationships offer support, comfort, love, intimacy, social capital and a range of other benefits. But the thing about relationships is that they actually contain two or more completely autonomous people who cannot be owned and who each have their own histories, complex emotional landscapes, and personal lives.

I think you should look at resources for combatting jealous feelings in yourself from a point of insecurity. You and your partner can look at resources together (like this reddit thread on unpacking jealousy or the Just Between Us episode on polyamory) for confronting jealousy and working on communication. One thing people practicing polyamory and doing it well do, in my opinion, is stay mindful of how their partners feel and make efforts to help each partner feel secure, and therefore less jealous. Just because you’re monogamous, it doesn’t mean you and your partner can’t practice being mindful of helping each other feel secure in your partnership and also mindful of its opposite, which is inspiring jealousy — intentionally or unintentionally. That might help alleviate those icky feelings as well.

You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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  1. To OP.

    So…let’s make this clear. Your partner still lives with their ex and has thrown you into the mix too (you couldn’t pay me enough to do this, how deeply awkward and uncomfortable) and even worse…

    “Whenever they spend a lot of time alone together, and hugged or cuddled or made inside jokes however, I felt miserable.”

    Yeah I can totally understand why you feel miserable. This entire situation is perverse and very odd.

    I’d seriously start learning about self advocacy and finding yourself a healthy, safe environment to live in because the one you’re in isn’t it. You’re worried your partner’s ex isn’t “involved in the social aspects of the flat”?

    I’m worried you don’t see how strange it is that your partner placed you in this position in the first place. Has your partner even started talking about you guys moving out and working towards that together? Surely?

    This is a minefield for poor mental health. How can a loving relationship grow and be nurtured into something beautiful when an ex is living under the same roof as you both and there are weird dynamics to the social aspects, including your partner hugging and cuddling their ex in front of you?

    My oh my. Time to move out.

  2. Rare L for Autostraddle advice. OP, you don’t need to explore this uncomfortable situation or center the ex at all. You need to move out, and stop living in such an uncomfortable situation. You don’t have to twist yourself in knots for other people.

  3. OP if you read this, please please please do not listen to Nico’s advice. They missed the target by such a huge gap that I am staggered their response to you was allowed to be published. It’s so unaligned and so unhelpful it’s actually gobsmacking.

    You need to figure out why you’re going the extra mile to make your PARTNER’S EX comfortable and sociable instead of finding ways to get yourself into a healthier living situation. Rentals are scarce everywhere on the planet, that is literally no excuse to put up with this. And shame on your partner for placing you in this scenario to begin with.

    If any of my partners even suggested this idea I would have laughed them out the door, let alone actually doing it.

    • Hi, please be advised that while you are entitled to disagree with Nico, they use they/them pronouns and it would be wonderful for you to adjust your comment to reflect their correct pronouns as to not misgender them. Again, disagree all you’d like!

      • HI Motti! Thank you for this. Since Autostraddle commenters are not able to edit their comment, I am going to proactively edit this one to the correct pronouns.

  4. 1) Nico uses they/them pronouns
    2) I agree that this response fails to explore the possibility that this living situation is not a good one for OP and that OP and gf may consider moving out…. But OP states that moving out is not her goal; improving her experience of her partner and ex’s friendship, and her dynamics with her partner’s ex are. Appropriately, Nico’s advice took the lead from OP and responded to that.

  5. Wow so many cranky people with pronoun problems that don’t even go here. What would you say if I told you that you could disagree without being gratuitously terrible? Have a snack, your blood sugar’s low.

    I think this advice has some solid considerations for someone who sincerely holds the ideals that the LW is trying to live into around polyamory/relationship anarchy/etc., communal living, and so on, and who likes or wishes to have a decent social relationship with the ex. I do think there’s some conjecture around what the ex might be feeling, and I don’t know that there’s enough about her here at all for her to be the focus. Even if the suggestions about what she may be feeling are plausible (and I think they are), it is also just not uncommon that when you break up with someone and they repartner, you’re not going to have the same closeness as before- or that when exes and new partners are sharing living space there might be a fair amount of discomfort to go along with that.

    The original letter is not particularly clear about what the LW is presenting as the problem. There are some red herrings about the ex, but I think the issue is kind of fundamentally that they are living with their partner’s ex and having weird and bad feelings about it despite what they think they should be feeling based on the people they run with and the ideals they hold or are trying to embody.

    To -that- I would like to say to this queer person in their early 20s that this is a great time to practice divesting from what other people choose for themselves or even preach for others and lean into understanding what feels best for you. It can seem like what is “kind of expected” in “the queer circles we move around” is the thing you have to do; it’s not. “Lesbian culture” kinda sorta does but also doesn’t really exist, and it happens a lot that bad actors or immature people appeal to that concept to shut down conversation, make it seem like there is One True Right Way to Do Things, or otherwise sweep bullshit under the rug. Many lesbians and other queer people practice polyamory; many don’t. Many lesbians and other queer people have many kinds of relationships with their exes: weird enmeshed pseudo-relationships; genuinely healthy and boundaried friendships; none at all.

    Queers are also really prone to prioritizing ideals and what we think we “should” be feeling–whether that’s based on our social circles or our heartfelt politics–over the reality of feelings, and while it is possible for that to help us reflect and grow, I have also seen many times how this leads people to maneuver themselves into and/or force themselves to stay in situations that don’t actually work for them. In this case it seems possible that your feelings mostly aren’t even about your partner’s ex, but about repressed feelings doing the thing that repressed feelings do (finding unfortunate ways to leak out). So: are you able to just claim what you actually feel about this living setup? How does it feel to hear that many other people would also not be into it and you’re not wrong for not being into it even if you initially agreed? How does it feel to consider that you do not have to keep living in this place if it’s making you miserable? You’re encountering a situation that’s teaching you something about yourself (and your relationship/partner). How are you going to integrate that learning?

    • Thank you hihello! This is so good. Esp the part starting with this:
      >Queers are also really prone to prioritizing ideals and what we think we “should” be feeling
      Yep, that sure was a paragraph I needed to read today, regardless of the OP!

  6. This is not great advice and comes to the letter with a LOT of assumptions. If the letterwriter were actually into the dynamic within this household, then that’d be one thing. If they genuinely felt not only poly/open relationships were for them AND they wanted that with these two people, again great. It’s time to explore their feelings, find more resources on sorting those feelings out.

    That said, the letter came off to me, personally, as though the letter writer is not happy. They’re not happy and they don’t understand why. There may be a lack of communication between them and their partner. Or maybe they had initially thought they would be more okay with the loved one’s ex being around than they actually are. Either way, I think what the letter writer needs to hear is they don’t have to stay. If they want to, they can try to work it out. But they need to hear they don’t have to.

    I don’t like how you’re describing others treating relationships as a “scarce resource” to protect. That feels like a bizarre, condescending way to view other people and their relationships. Many folk are capable of having healthy monogamous relationships. What matters is not that you feel jealousy but what you do about it. Any emotion can be constructive or toxic, it all relies on how you channel said emotion.

    If you come to the conclusion you want to stick around, then you will need to find a set of boundaries that works for you AND your partner, letterwriter. Don’t feel that you need to compromise your sense of self and your boundaries, just as your partner deserves to have their own life and space outside of you. Frankly, they are not going to drop the ex that they’re very close with for you, and you can’t force yourself to be buddy buddy with the ex for your partner. If that’s something you two can’t work with, then you may need to consider whether you two are that compatible after all.

    And, no offense, you can’t “argue” yourself, or “research” yourself, into being into a polyamorous relationship, if that’s not something you’re into on a personal level.

    • I don’t think this advice format is working. This is part of a handful of actively poor responses published. Generally advice columns are done by a single person with a published record of consistent beliefs, I’m not sure if sharing the responsibility between authors works as well. Much as I appreciate Nico’s effort and compassion, this is bad advice.

  7. Dear LW,

    I’m not sure what you want. Your feelings are very normal. You’re jealous that your partner is/was still very close with their ex (inside jokes and touchy-feely). And you and your partner live in the same house as the ex. Not living with your partners’ ex would help resolve this situation. You should consider getting out of this mess. You need to talk to your partner about this assuming you and your partner are living together as a couple versus as roommates who share a communal house.

    This is normal. And while in some corners of the lesbian/queer world polyamory is standard, in others it’s not. Polyamory is not for everyone. Me, my partner, and most of my friends are monogamous. And none of us are close friends with our exes either.

    I thinks it’s a rare breakup that both partners can remain friends, especially close friends, without one wanting more at least when the breakup is fresh.

    You need to think about what you want, but if you want to get out of an uncomfortable situation you should consider moving out.

  8. OP, please listen to the “ick.” Healthy relationships aren’t found and created by denying our emotions and feelings. They are formed by finding people who (1) remind us that our emotions are real and come from a real thing our subconscious is trying to tell us; (2) listen to and respect our boundaries; (3) try their best to be a friend to us in the good times and the bad; and (4) share real compatibility regarding our preferences and values.

    It’s really hard for us members of the LGBTQ+ community to remember that issues around our sexuality and gender are not the only issues we have. Cisgender and straight people have hella issues too, because everyone, irrespective of our sexual orientation or gender identity, has a history that marks us in ways we don’t always realize. So, OP, word of advice, please seek out a therapist if possible to help work through what your needs are, how to listen to them, and how to get them met in healthy and constructive ways. You deserve love where you feel whole, seen, and validated.

  9. God forbid someone be given advice that doesn’t advise young queers to “burn your life down to escape uncomfortable feelings” rather than attempting to unlearning reactive insecurity and jealousy. Yeah, sure, maybe they aren’t polyamorous per se but its totally appropriate to recommend polyamorous advice on coping with feelings of jealousy as a way to processing interpersonal insecurity over the end / redefinition of relationships without just completely giving into atomizing social impulses to avoid processing things.

    • Right?! Folks out here projecting a lot. Also, telling someone “just to move out” is wild to me. You have to make so many assumptions that someone could be in a position to do so. Even if that is the move eventually… for most folks it might take some time to secure housing, and in the interim it might be healthy to use some of the above advice to find a way to alleviate some of the awkward until a new living situation can be arranged.

      Advice isn’t a directive. It’s just meant to give you some insight and you can choose to do with it whatever you want.

  10. I don’t understand why the situation is suggested to be a monogamous one, when the LW’s partner and partner’s romantic ex are in a queer platonic relationship?

    And LW, I don’t think you’re making it out to be more of a mess than it is. I think the way it is, it’s a mess, and while making friends with all involved is a great idea, I think it’s at least as important to talk to your GF about how insecure you’re feeling in this dynamic. Their relationship doesn’t have to be romantic for you to feel insecure about it! Yes you can learn a lot about your own jealousy and take responsibility for it, and you should if you want to stay in this relationship, but I don’t think you have to do it alone.

    • I wonder if there are regional or subcultural variations on “queer platonic relationship” as a label? And that’s causing the confusion here.

      Because most of the time when I see that used, it’s referring to someone’s primary emotional bond. Sometimes in the context of people who are somewhere on the ace spectrum or who choose to be celibate, and sometimes for people who just separate out their sexual relationships from their emotional ones. And sometimes people who just have marriages of convenience for family or tax purposes.

      So I would understand OP’s issue as growing out of having been told that they aren’t the primary non-sexual bond for their partner. But I’m not in Copenhagen and I’m probably 20 years older than OP, so maybe it carries entirely different weight for them. And maybe different again for Nico and yet again for the commenters complaining about the advice as well?

  11. OP please don’t take advice about communication, boundaries, and healthy relationships from
    someone who just published an essay on this very website about flying halfway around the world with
    an alcoholic guy they hardly knew who put everyone, including them, in danger by traveling
    unmasked while extremely contagiously sick, and who they then wrestled (drunk) while they already
    had a concussion, thereby giving them a second concussion. (I’ll spoil the end of the essay for you:
    They think the other person, not them, needs to learn how to make better decisions.) Your partner’s
    putting you in a really unfair situation, especially by refusing to even talk about your feelings. Follow
    your gut on this, including completely ignoring this terrible advice.

    • I think this is an uncharitable reading on Nico’s other article. That article was very much about the fact that Nico DID know that this guy’s behaviour was appalling but struggled in asserting themselves throughout the trip – which is a thing lots of people struggle with. It should’ve been clear after the flight that agreeing to wrestle the guy was a very bad choice, and I do question Nico’s decision making at that point, but to frame the article as “Nico paints themselves as doing nothing wrong and suggests the only person at fault was the other guy” is a bit unfair – the article is very much about Nico knowing they should leave and caving into social pressure not to do so for way too long, and while a chunk of it is about Nico being proud they left when they did, to me the article suggested a good deal of (justified) shame at not leaving earlier.

      It’s hard to leave a situation that feels bad if you feel like you should stay – which is basically the situation LW is in, too. In this case it feels like Nico’s advice lines up with LW’s question, but I think myself and plenty of other readers think there’s more to dive into than just “help me deal with these rubbish feelings”. To me, the letter suggests LW should consider whether their partner is being sufficiently thoughtful about their feelings, and if it’s worth considering alternative living situations longer term. LW writes about worrying that they come off too jealous or controlling for a queer living space and this is a thing that so many queer people struggle with – the pressure to behave in a specific way that aligns with a set of values that have been held up as ideals, without any real thought as to whether this is what actually makes you happy. It feels like this is a component of the letter that isn’t sufficiently discussed in this response, which is a bit painfully ironic given that Nico has just written a piece that, to me, is about realising it’s ok to assert boundaries in the face of social pressure.

  12. I know we all bring our own baggage and background to reading these, so I’ll give one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned (through lots of therapy lol) don’t mind read and don’t try to manage other people’s emotions. Whatever you do, I would definitely not have a sit down with the ex. I get you want to live in harmony as roommates, but it is not in any way your job to manage her experience in the house. She is, presumably, a grown ass adult capable of dealing with her own responsibilities. Maybe she’s withdrawn because her work is stressing her, or a family situation, and it’s not your job to be her therapist. Ime, the best roomates are people you can pleasantly discuss chores with and not become to entangled in. If you need to, have conversations about chore division and leave it at that.

    You, LW, are in a relationship with your partner, not your partner’s ex. It seems like the partner is unwilling to have tough conversations about the situation, and tough shit for them, being in a relationship sometimes means tough conversations. They owe you the ability to talk through things.

    Look, I know the ideal in the queer community, and what the LW seems to be struggling with, is that we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya in a field of flowers with everyone in our dating webs, but sometimes that just isn’t realistic. Outside of queer communes, it’s actually a really reasonable thing that your partner CUDDLING WITH AN EX is not acceptable behavior within a relationship. Is your partner working to build that kind of intimacy with you, or are they happily getting it from the ex and leaving you in the dust? It’s completely reasonable to desire a commitment where you feel prioritized, don’t let anyone guilt you about wanting your partners attention and affection. Frankly, the fact that your partner calls the other person a “queer platonic partner” still I’d a huge red flag to me, it sounds like they have not properly divested and made a switch to focusing on building a life with you in any way.

    If the LW were my friend, I’d be telling them to breakup so fast I’d already be at the door with moving boxes and an offer to stay at my place. But since we are internet strangers, I’d say reflect on what YOU want. Don’t worry about the ex, figure out what you want the relationship with your partner to look like, what will give you joy and fulfillment, and then work on communicating with them about it. They might not be able to, or choose not to, give you what you need, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in the situation due to relationship inertia. It’s tough, I know, but you deserve respect and to be a priority. Don’t beat yourself up so much, don’t feel bad for speaking up for YOUR needs.

  13. Obsessed with how this comment section really resembles a nightmarish queer group living house meeting. Form meets subject. Someone just needs to comment with some photos of dirty dishes in the sink, and then we’ve done it. Great job, y’all.

  14. People in this comment section are so nasty but im having a hard time believing this many people actually think this is bad advice (its so innocuous!) and its not some bitter resentful collective house tyrant having their say behind a bunch of aliases. Have fun with your life of endlessly obsessing over dyke drama you were probably the cause of and fostering poorly-behaved dogs, ya bitter freak!

    • Arielle, I have been thinking about this since the comments started rolling in. And it’s like — I can see this comment section is full of people who never learned to deal productively with mild emotional discomfort and who have instead decided to flee into the psychological “safety” that normative structures and behaviors promise to provide (deliverability is debatable). I truly did not, do not see an abusive situation, but rather, a group of 20-something queers living together to have company and save money in this highly expensive world and a person who is a whole ass autonomous adult who is choosing to continue in a living situation (it’s in the question) asking about how to deal with some communication issues and some tensions and how to tackle jealousy. It’s actually a great age to learn to deal with uncomfortable situations, including the fact that the LW’s partner should be open to having conversations with the LW about this situation and these feelings.

      My only guess is that it struck a nerve…to suggest that you should not treat partners’ exes like villains?

      Anyway, the transphobia and anti-poly sentiment has been neat.

      • Sorry i can’t respond right now – the comments section has decided to hold me accountable by making me homeless for overfeeding the collective house kombucha scoby and lovebombing the foster pitbull

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