Past loves cast shadows on marriages

By Hai Hien   April 18, 2024 | 11:00 pm PT
The day Mai Phuong found a series of text messages and photos of her husband with his ex-lover, she was knocked for six.

Phuong, 28, from the northern province of Nam Dinh, and her husband have been married for five years and have a three-year-old daughter. Phuong knew that her husband had a deep first love back when he was a student. The relationship was ended by his mother, who insisted that the woman’s family background was not good enough for her son.

Phuong met her husband through matchmaking, when he was in his 30s. Their wedding was held only a few months after they first met.

Aware that her husband did not have strong feelings for her, Phuong held on to the thought that their love would eventually spark, since they were living together as a married couple. In everyday life, Phuong’s husband behaved properly and responsibly towards her, but hardly expressed loving gestures or sweet words, about which Phuong never complained.

Recently, she accidentally saw a birthday message her husband sent his former sweetheart, followed by an exchange that communicated an affection Phuong had never experienced. Later, she found in the corner of his cabinet a collection of letters and photos from that woman, carefully arranged.

"The letters and photos were very clean and well-organized," Phuong said. "Perhaps he had opened and read them again and again."

In a recent 300-respondent survey carried out by VnExpress, 50% of participants said they had discovered that their spouses still cared about, or even still communicated with, their exes.

According to La Linh Nga, director of the Psycho - Pedagogy Research and Application Center in Hanoi, there are multiple causes for this, most of which are related to dissatisfaction in married life.

"When a couple is facing problems, it is easy to think of or turn to an ex for psychological support," said Nga.

A woman holding a mobile phone. Illustration photo by Pexels

A woman holding a mobile phone. Illustration photo by Pexels

Thanh Loan and her husband reside in Hanoi and enjoy a marriage based on love. However, ever since her husband got promoted and engrossed in his work, the 32-year-old woman has always felt lonely in her own home. Loan started thinking of her former lover, imagining that she would not be suffering this loneliness had she married him instead.

Feeling empty, Loan contacted her ex.

Via text messages, they started sharing all their joys and sorrows like friends do. They went down memory lane, recalled the days when they were together, and sometimes sought each other’s advice before making important decisions. Loan longed to see her ex’s messages, even though deep down she also loved her husband and children.

It was a secret until Loan’s husband discovered the conversation. Thinking that she was having an affair, he suggested that she end it or else he would file for divorce. Loan insisted they were just friends.

‘White moonlight’

According to Nga, it is sometimes true that old flames easily burn anew, especially when to some, their earlier sweetheart is so significant they cannot be replaced. In addition, a lack of sympathy and responsibility or sexual incompatibility experienced with their current partner can also push spouses towards their exes.

Psychologist Truong Huong Thao from Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City said that not all marriages are built upon reciprocated love. For example, in Phuong’s case, love was not felt by both from the start, so thought of a past relationship could be a response to one spouse’s desire for things that were not achieved.

"This phenomenon is called ‘white moonlight’ by the youth," said Thao. "It refers to the person you have a deep yearning for, who’s like the bright moon, close as if they are in front of you, but untouchable."

In marriages based on love, fantasizing about or following exes can be a result of a spouse’s feeling of abandonment when passions and enthusiasms die down after the so-called "honeymoon period," Thao said. This bitter feeling prompts curiosity about how their old flame is getting on in life.

Another reason to cite could be the nostalgia for a love that was once "engraved in the heart" but had no happy conclusion.

"No matter what the reason is, thinking about your ex when you are married definitely threatens your marriage," said Thao.

Moments of weakness

As with Phuong, finding her husband treasuring memories he had with his ex-girlfriend cut her deep. She decided not to tolerate it anymore and revealed the secret to her in-laws. She reproached him every day to relieve her resentment, behaving as the victim of her husband and his former relationship. She refused his explanation that they were just friends, and that he had never done anything wrong to his wife or children.

According to Nga, in reality, everyone experiences moments of weakness, but not all those who run into a past fling intend to leave their family for their ex. There can be a struggle, but many choose their responsibility towards family and children instead of the "passions of love."

She added that every failing marriage is the result of unsatisfied needs. The dissatisfaction is often within both husband and wife. Clearly defining each other’s expectations and making efforts to meet them are keys to successful marriages, according to Nga.

Therefore, she advised that lovers who learn their partner is still fantasizing about or contacting their ex need to frankly state their opinion, clearly express their feelings, and sincerely share their expectations with their partner.

In addition to firmly asking your partner to end all relationships with their ex, one should actively let them understand that loyalty and wholehearted devotion to family shall be the highest priority. Partners must listen to each other’s concerns about family, marital relationships, and children. Only upon realizing shortcomings in their marriage does a couple have enough confidence and effort to change and cultivate happiness.

But if after trying all this, one partner is still "infatuated" with their ex – and the other finds it intolerable – the marriage should be reconsidered to avoid furthering the pain.

Nga believes that temporary feelings never last. It is the family that needs to be respected and preserved. Therefore, if you accidentally fall in love with your ex again, you should consider the "gains" and the "losses" in order to know when to stop, she said.

"Every marital relationship faces its own challenges," the expert concluded. "If you make an effort to understand and nurture your marriage, your feelings for your former lover will eventually be suppressed and only remain as a beautiful memory in your life."

go to top