I Can’t Get Along with my Hubby’s Ex

Dear Robin:

I have really enjoyed your perspective on divorce and blended families and perhaps you can help me. Like the person who wrote to you Monday, I can’t get along with my husband’s ex-wife. However, I have really tried! She seems bound and determined to hate me even though she doesn’t know me at all. They have been divorced for 7 years, by the way.

I had nothing to do with their divorce and have often remarked to my husband that we should try to get along better with his ex-wife because of the kids (now grown). He agrees but seems resigned to the situation as it is now, which is essentially that we cannot all be in the same place at the same time without her acting really awful.

Last month my stepson told us he and his wife are having a baby in February and I am already dreading the inevitable discomfort of everyone trying to schedule baby showers, seeing the baby, etc. around this woman’s anger. In hopes of creating a “new normal” I reached out to her twice, once by email and once by phone and leaving a voicemail, asking if we could all meet to clear the air. I got no response.

Should I keep trying or just let it go? Should I speak with my stepson and see if he has a solution? I just want him and his wife to have the happiest experience possible when their first child is born.

-Ingrid in Tucson

Dear Ingrid:

This is a great graphic for you:

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It is not your job to navigate the tumultuous waters that still churn despite 7 years having passed since your husband’s divorce. While I admire and applaud your attempts to put your stepchildren’s happiness before your own ego, there comes a time when such efforts can be viewed as overbearing.  Regardless of how anyone else interprets them, the ineffectiveness of your campaign will only cause you further frustration.

Thank you for chatting with me and giving me the history of your husband’s post-divorce relationship with his ex. It is replete with instance after instance of attempts on one side to reach détente and utter stiff-arming from the other.  I’m not surprised your husband is now shrugging his shoulders and saying, “meh – let it lie.”

You strike me as a bit of a people pleaser: you suffer from a pernicious and serious condition that, left unchecked, can result in severe cases of selfless yet useless activity and bad decision-making in efforts to get others to like you. While I formerly suffered from this affliction, the past few years have taught me that such indulgence in optimism is rarely satisfying or ratifying.  I am now thrilled to say that most everyone dislikes me, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

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You do not need to prove yourself to anyone, most especially a woman who apparently holds you responsible for the breakdown of a marriage that began its slow yet inevitable slide into divorce at least 12 years before you met your husband. That’s like blaming the delivery guy when the dress you ordered on eBay is too tight (I may have kicked that guy’s ass but in my defense, felt very bad about it later. Details to follow after the case is settled and I finish court-ordered anger management).

You brought up Monday’s blog and although your two situations were similar I still thought your letter demanded publication. I am keenly aware that some people think I have unreasonable expectations when it comes to managing relationships in families that have undergone reorganization, or as divorce lawyers like to call it, “funding the purchase of my new Bentley.”

Please don’t mistake my repeating of this admonition for laziness since I wrote about this on Monday, but a successful post-divorce family can only work if everyone is on board. You and your husband (and from our conversation I know the kids as well) are on the boat, ready to have a nice sail, while Wife #1 stubbornly pouts and stomps her foot on the dock, refusing to come aboard.

I suggest you cease all efforts to normalize the relationship and just accept the way things are. It is incumbent upon you to maintain civility and a happy face when you are forced together (as you told me you did for your stepson’s wedding) but unless and until she decides to loosen herself from the bonds of the past, your overtures will be deemed obnoxious, intrusive and inappropriate.

Maybe things will get better when and if she partners with someone else and moves on, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up about that.  When I was single and dating one of the biggest red flags for me (besides a man showing up for a date on a city bus and then asking me for a ride home, and yes that happened) was a man who spoke often with anger and bitterness about his ex.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have dated divorced people know this type: they bitch and moan about the ex and you realize there is a third person sitting at the table who you don’t know, don’t want to know and don’t care about.  An Ex-Hater is often still in love with their former spouse and who wants to date someone whose heart is held by another?

The opposite of love, after all, is indifference, not hate.  Hate is the flip-side of the love coin, indifference is a debit card in the same emotional change purse.

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It’s not really surprising she hasn’t dated anyone else in all these years, is it?  She’s still married, after all, but not to your husband.  Her husband now is named Bitterness (middle name Anger, last name Resentment) and there isn’t room for anyone else until she divorces that guy and makes a new life for herself.

In the end, the children will know it was you and your husband that made the efforts at reconciliation and if their mom doesn’t come around, the history books written in their hearts will not judge her kindly. Anyone still playing the blame game after all these years must surely believe in reincarnation, because they are throwing away this life being unhappy about events in the past that they can never change and in which they were almost certainly equally culpable.

Should you speak to the stepson? I’m wavering but I have to say no. I don’t think there is anything he can do to help and he hardly needs the additional stress of worrying about all this bullshit, although if he brings the subject up with you I encourage you to be open, honest and supportive about the difficulties presented here.

Lastly, you might take a good hard look at your own motives. Every gesture, even those that would appear at first blush to be entirely altruistic, has two sides: one that faces the light and one that faces the dark.

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Is it possible you want to keep reaching out so that you are awarded the label of the “good guy,” or worse yet, because you know it will actually cause additional problems? After all, the relationship has been this way for years, and your stepson’s wedding was a royal shit show because of her behavior.

What made you think she would come around now? Babies are cute but they aren’t magical with the exception of Prince George, who we all know will save the world one day from global warming, the demise of the newspaper industry and exercise-indifferent cellulite.

Speaking of babies, congratulations on the impending birth of your first grandchild. I loathe the prefix “step” because I’ve never really understood it, so I hope if the ex is reading she will forgive me for that.

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Babies are a wonderful and awe-inspiring addition to life, especially when they don’t live with you.  This is going to be an exciting time for you and your husband!

Take a deep breath, buy a nice baby present, and be nice. Everything will be fine, and even if it isn’t, it is.  Your interaction with this woman will be limited and if I were you I’d just let it roll off my back.

Did I mention Xanax and Chardonnay?  Those can help during the awkward times when you run into this woman, although I don’t advise holding the baby.  That’s OK, she probably won’t let you anyway.

-Robin

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Chad

    Great article Robin.

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