“My husband still loves his first love.”
That was me five years ago, just months before my first divorce.
Realizing it was a fact and that it made my relationship with him impossible hit me hard.
Because it wasn’t just that he still loved his ex, it was that he was actively pursuing her while married to me.
If you’re in a similar situation then I want to share my thoughts on what to do and how to tell the difference between normal affection for an ex and cheating-level obsession.
12 tips for you if your husband still loves his first love
1) Don’t compare yourself to her
Comparing yourself to the other woman is a waste of time and will hurt your self-esteem.
It’s also liable to sink whatever’s left of your relationship with your husband.
Your husband’s first love may have had a lot going for her or she may be outwardly unremarkable but special in his eyes.
Either way, all you’re going to do by comparing yourself to her is engage in a competition you can’t win.
Even if you’re “better” than her in various departments, I can guarantee there will be at least one or two areas where your husband’s first love outshines you or makes you feel insecure.
In a similar way to how comparing yourself to those around you can lead to a lot of bitterness and low self-esteem, comparing yourself to the special woman from your husband’s past is going to hurt badly.
My advice for step one is to not do this.
2) Stand up to his gaslighting
If your husband is using his first love to insult or undermine you then you need to do your best to ignore it.
At the same time, I don’t recommend giving him a pass on it.
You’re not perfect I’m sure, but there’s no reason you should tolerate being treated like dirt by the man who is supposed to love and cherish you.
Amber Garrett writes about her experience as a wife whose husband still loved his first love:
“As our relationship progressed, he would make small jokes about how her boobs were bigger than mine, and how they loved the same video games, and how I didn’t cuddle with him the same way she did. The jokes began to get hurtful, and I just dealt with it.”
What Amber is writing about there with the breakdown of her marriage is how her husband would talk about his ex and all the ways she was better.
But instead of standing up to his gaslighting, she let herself sink into the trap of comparison.
This amplified and intensified the pain of her marriage’s problems even more than they had to be and caused her immense pain.
Don’t be Amber.
3) Work on your own past
If you’re saying “my husband still loves his first love” and wracking your brain for what to do then one counterintuitive option is to work on your own past.
There may be unresolved heartbreak or abandonment issues that are also taxing you emotionally.
All of us have energy blockages and problems in our somatic system that interrupt our ability to love and be loved.
Try shamanic breathwork as one major boost to whatever is holding you back.
This is not at all about you being broken or faulty in some way, it’s simply about empowering and aligning yourself to the maximum.
This will clarify a lot for you including whether the relationship with your husband is salvageable and how to respond to his wandering heart in a calm but firm way.
4) Make sure you’re not in a “rebound marriage”
You need to have clear boundaries for what you’ll accept from your husband and stick to them.
An example is when a man calls you the name of his ex on more than one occasion.
This is pretty jarring.
“It means that in his mind she still is his girlfriend and you are simply there to fill her shoes. If this has happened to you more than once then you need to rethink your status in the relationship, you don’t want to end up as the rebound!”
We’ve all heard of rebound relationships, but a rebound marriage is 100 times worse.
A rebound marriage might sound crazy, but unfortunately, they happen all too often. If you’re stuck in one you need to have your boundaries and not back down on them.
5) Check if he’s on autopilot
If a man still loves his first love then he’s simply not going to be switched on for you.
The best way to check if this is the case is to find out if he’s running on autopilot.
Typical signs include:
Vacant eyes and lack of eye contact,
Preoccupation and many late nights at work,
Telling you he loves you but not meaning it,
Perfunctory, obligatory “pecks” instead of kisses,
And telling you look good or getting into sex in a showy way that just seems a bit “off.”
These are the classic signs of a husband on autopilot. He wants to avoid drama, but he’s just not that into you anymore.
Or – quite possibly – he’s so into his first love that you’ve just faded from the picture for him.
6) Trust your gut
“I tend to follow the principle that people should be guided by their ‘inner voice,’ or by their instincts.”
Schwarz is right. Your gut doesn’t lie.
And if your gut is telling you that your husband’s fixation on his first love has crossed the line into emotional cheating or prep for actual cheating then you need to be honest with yourself about it.
Your husband still loving his first love is no small matter.
And if it’s not approached the right way it can be a total dealbreaker.
That’s why the more you ignore your gut instinct telling you something is not right, the more you run the risk of living a lie.
Some people have done that for years.
Don’t be them.
7) Is the bedroom light still on?
Your sex life with your husband matters. In fact, it matters a lot.
If the bedroom light hasn’t been on and he’s physically absent, it’s a very bad sign.
As much as he may still be fond of you or appreciate you, if he’s not into sex much anymore it can mean that he’s not just emotionally hooked on his first love, he’s also physically lusting for her.
And not you.
Lindsay Tigar for Woman’s Day writes:
“If he says your first name in the midst of sex, it’s a sign that he’s fully present in the moment with you and doesn’t want to be intimate with anyone else. Another clue is eye contact in the bedroom.”
That’s an example of what it should be like in your bedroom.
If it’s nowhere near that then you need to start asking the hard questions about just how obsessed he is with this ex.
8) Don’t shy away from an ultimatum
Giving your husband an ultimatum may sound petty or wrong, but sometimes it’s just the only way to go.
You give him a time limit and a strict choice between her or you and you let him know you’re walking.
If he chooses you he can’t just fluff it either. You want to really see that he’s back in this marriage or you’re out.
And if he won’t make a choice you hit the road too.
It can be devastating to leave somebody you love, but if he’s going to pursue another woman while married to you there’s a limit to how much you can tolerate.
Never believe that too much pressure will sink your marriage.
If he loves you he will choose you.
If he loves you both he will not want to choose, but you’re going to have to make him (unless you want to live with a man who loves somebody in addition to you).
9) Find out more about why he loves her
Earlier I was saying the reasons you shouldn’t compare yourself to his first love, and I stand by that.
But finding out more about why he loves her can be useful to figure out just how bad his straying heart has gotten.
Was it her physical beauty, their shared interests, an ineffable spark that he felt only with her?
What was it and why is it affecting him so strongly now.
Ask him to tell you in a neutral way and promise not to use it against him.
Then you will know what’s going on and whether your marriage is still salvageable – or if you’d even want to save it.
10) Turn the tables on your husband
This piece of advice is going to be highly controversial, but I don’t care.
Because it can really work.
What I’m talking about here is doing some flirting and extracurricular activities of your own.
If you’re not comfortable cheating then obviously don’t do that.
But you can sext a hot guy, or talk about your high school flame or that brilliant and gorgeous banker you dated when you used to live in the UK.
If your husband wants to devalue you and chase his ex then why can’t you do the same?
You may think this will drive him away, or that he’ll just use it as justification for doing what he’s doing.
But the truth is that if there’s love left to save he’s going to wake up like he just had a bucket of cold water thrown on him.
And he’s going to hold you and not let go. Or walk away forever. It’s a foolproof litmus test.
11) Don’t compete in any mind games
The thing about the Mind Game Olympics is that every time they’re held, nobody wins.
In fact, the biggest winners are actually the worst off of all.
They end up taking the podium alone and everyone boos them. So don’t even bother.
If your husband is trying to play you off against his ex or try to tell you to change or do things for him to match up to her level you just roll your eyes and walk away.
That’s his issue to deal with, not yours.
And you need to hold yourself to a high enough level of respect that you don’t fall for his petulant games.
If he’s playing mind games show him that you walking away isn’t any game.
12) Get help during this hard time
There’s no shame in seeking professional help.
In fact, it’s often the very best thing you can do if your husband still loves his first love. This is a real problem and you don’t want to just throw your relationship in the trash.
But at the same time you have had absolutely enough of your man wanting to play you off in his heart against another woman.
It’s also a very good idea to seek out friends and family who can be by your side and support you if you end up deciding that you are leaving your husband.
Dr. Sanjay Garg advises:
“If you feel you have had enough of this relationship, seek support from your friends and family and take them into confidence.
Have an open discussion with your husband and inform him of your decision. Once decided stick to it. It may initially cause distress but over a period of time you will better.”
3 situations where your husband being in love with his ex isn’t an issue
There are some situations where your husband still being in love with his ex really isn’t a problem.
It not only shouldn’t cause any insecurities or jealousy in your relationship:
It can actually be a good thing. Let me explain.
1) He just likes to fantasize sometimes
Sometimes your husband isn’t trying to get his ex back at all. He just likes to fantasize a bit and think about “what if.”
As long as you’re sure he hasn’t cheated and doesn’t genuinely want to cheat then this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Having a healthy fantasy life can be a good thing for your marriage.
This is especially true if his “love” for this former love of his is more sexual and fantasy-based than emotional.
If he has a deep-rooted passionate love for her in his heart that could become an issue, but if it’s more that he sometimes fantasizes about how she looked in a bikini at 25 then just work it into some bedroom fun and roleplaying…
2) He and you both want an open relationship
I’ll be frank with you here: open relationships aren’t for everyone and they can be a fucking disaster.
But for some couples, they can also be an excellent way to explore new partners, their sexuality and each other.
And if that second option is you and you and your husband both want an open relationship then who am I to stand in your way?
Whether it ends up being with his first love and she’s available or not is a different matter.
But openness to it happening from both of you fully consensually can be a positive thing.
3) He’s going through a life crisis
Let’s be clear:
Your husband going through a crisis doesn’t make it “OK” that he’s chasing his first love.
But it at least makes it a bit understandable.
It also has a good sign that he may not actually be falling out of love with you, he’s just undergoing some kind of regression and temporary re-infatuation with his youthful romantic exploits.
This doesn’t give him a pass, but it does at least give you more clarity about what’s going on and why.
Still, his problems are not your problem, especially if he’s going to deal with them by going on a fantasy trip down memory lane.
Should you hit the road or try to make it work?
Ultimately, that’s 100% up to you.
My advice is that if your husband still loves his first love, he needs to choose.
Her or you.
If he won’t choose then you may have to choose for him and say adios.