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Divorce Issues/How Close it too close with an ex-wife

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QUESTION: Hi there,

My boyfriend of 5 years and I are having trouble with the relationship that he has with his ex-wife..We got together probably too soon after they became legally separated, (4 months) but not divorced, and so for the first few years I was understanding to the transition and issues that he was dealing with. However, its has been 5 years now and sometimes it feel to me that the relationship between his ex and him come first before our relationship and he constantly says its "for the kids sake". His children are now 9 and 7. I understand that children come first, that is to be expected, but I don't feel that the relationship that they have is appropriate considering we are trying to work toward living together and building a life together. Examples of the relationship behavior that I don't like are family nights once a week that I am excluded from, they have taken many family vacations which I have not been invited to go on, and the relationship that his family still has with the ex-wife is kind of strange to me as well..His mom and the ex-wife go to lunch and dinners with the kids, as well she is invited to the family cottage for a week every year with his mom..again this is all stated that its for the children's sake because they want their mom to be part of everything, which is understandable, but what I cant figure out is if they all wanted to keep the family together, then why did they separate? Also, about 2 years ago he did have an affair on me with the ex-wife, and we got past that. They tried to give it one last go, which is understandable, however, now that they have decided not to get back together and he says he wants to build a life with me, I cant understand why there is still the need for family nights, without me, and why the ex-wife still feels like to me, a bigger part of his life and his families life than I am? His children and I get a long very well, and he says this all the time. The kids always ask about me and want me to come around as well, however when they are doing family things, of course as this is what they know, they would prefer having their mom their instead of me, and I am fine with that, I don't want to replace their mother, I just want to limit the relationship between my boyfriend and the ex-wife. Also, I have tried to build a relationship with the ex-wife, however it has become increasingly difficult due to the affair that took place a few years ago. Also, it bothers me, that she gets welcomed with open arms into his family and with him, all the time and she doesn't show them respect at all. When they are not doing family time, she is constantly guilt tripping him into going over there, or wants to drop the kids off at his place or his mom's place, which is fine, but it is so she can go out to bars, and parties as she is a very social woman. I guess what bothers me about that is, I guess I feel, I don't understand why he would give her so much more respect than me, want to do all this family stuff with her and exclude me, when she is constantly trying to have free time away from the kids, and plays games to guilt trip him, and I am talking 4-5 times a week, every week? We are considering going to counseling and he feels that I am wrong that the better relationship they have, the better for the kids, and I will hear this from the counselor, which I somewhat agree with, as I don't want them arguing all the time or anything like that, I guess I just want to know if maybe I am being too critical of this situation and concerned as they did have an affair previously, or If the close relationship they have is actually better for their children?

ANSWER: Hi Tonya

It's complex, this situation. In some respects, he's right, in that the better the relationship they have, the better for the kids.
On the other hand, you're right. You should not be excluded from this.

I would say that one critical test of the "goodness" of the relationship between him and his ex is the extent to which she honors and respects and appreciates your role in his life. Their relationship has to contain a mutual understanding and appreciation of your relationship.  

Otherwise, (and this already happened) they have an affair, or they become the primary couple and you and he become the secondary couple and it's like you are the one having an affair.

In a way, this is your complaint. YOu are like the mistress he lives with while he continues to develop his primary relationship with the woman he was married too.

The way this shifts is by having him make the change.

Now it's possible that he will resist this. This is the major test for the future of your relationship and so yo have to be very clear and insistent and at the same time. you have to give him time to come to grips with what you are saying. He will resist at first.

If he refuses to change, then you have to decide whether you are willing to stay in the mistress position or whether you will have to leave the relationship. You will be delivering an ultimatum.

As to the the affair she had with your mate, she owes you an acknowledgement and an unconditional apology. That will be a large part of the healing and that, too, needs be to understood by your boyfriend.  

So this is a big step you are about to take.  I suggest you absorb what I've written and decide whether you agree with it and then present this perspective on the situation to your couple counselor.

You might want to grab an consultation with me first, before that meeting, to clarify what I've told you. If so, write me directly at drbelove@drbelove.com

Please send me feedback on what I've told you. It's a very strong recommendation.

Philip Alan Belove, Ed.D.
www.drbelove.com
drbelove@drbelove.com


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your advice. This was helpful..

So to clarify, from what I've told you, it is ok for the ex-wife and my boyfriend to spend a lot of family time together as long as I am included? It is healthy to have her around for the kids sake at many family functions and to maintain a daily relationship with him and his family as long as I am there? I just don't want to bother with counseling if it is not reasonable to ask him to curb the relationship they have, because I don't want to see her everyday or week. I'm not asking him to cut it off completely, but I just feel like the priority is their relationship and not the four of us. I would like to build a relationship that maybe once a month involves her and doesn't involve him over there with her without me. I feel like, although I have a good relationship with the kids, and I don't want to replace their mother, it is important to start a weekly family routine for the 4 of us not including the ex-wife..to also clarify, I may have been misleading with not being invited all the time, they do the family night at his ex's house because it is easier for the kids to go to bed after, but I am not comfortable in her home for obvious reasons. I feel it would be more comfortable for me, if they were to do it at his place, but he wont because the ex says its better at her place and so I was uninvited because I had to go along with their rules because I was the outsider coming in, not part of the unit. I guess what I am asking as well is, because we are together, should the relationship between the ex and my boyfriend be more important for the kids sake then making our relationship the priority? and I mean focusing on family time with the four of us without her or including her all the time? Thanks!

Answer
The kids need to see clarity. They will intuitively study both relationships, dad's with moms, and dad's with you. They will study the relationship between those relationships. They will draw conclusions about how such things work.

They will wonder what a divorce is and why mom and dad got one. They will make up reasons and explanations.  If mom and dad seem pretty happy together they will wonder about you and how  you fit into the picture. They will make up explanations about that as well. So it's okay to have a lover and also visit your wife?  How do these arrangements work?  They will appreciate that there is kindness and respect among the three of you. They will want to see what that is.  Is it necessary, for example, to keep certain relationships secret? They will wonder about that.

If I were working with the whole family, I would ask them in front of all three of you adults, to describe the relationships between the three of you
You guys would be fascinated and you would understand much about what you need to do.

The other question I would ask is how the three of you handled the aftermath of the affair. What were the conversations between you and the ex?  Were you all satisfied with those conversations.  Did you speak the man in the center about all this?

(And by the way, i'm doing a research project on the effects of affairs and if you can give me some input, I would be grateful and perhaps that could help you as well.)

So finally, to your questions;

"because we are together, should the relationship between the ex and my boyfriend be more important for the kids sake then making our relationship the priority? and I mean focusing on family time with the four of us without her or including her all the time? "

It can work either way. If you want your relationship with your boyfriend to have a long future, then I suspect there will have to be some shift in the priorities from where they are right now. I suspect that your intuition says that you need your place in the whole situation given a higher priority and that if you don't get it, you will be unhappy and eventually leave.  maybe someone else could live with it as it is, but you can't.  You feel uncomfortable making this demand because it's huge and you need some support in doing it.  Am I right?

Philip Alan Belove, Ed.D.  

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Philip Belove, Ed.D.

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Divorce is the beginning of a life review process. For many people, it`is the first intentional decision they make about their lives. The transition into the next stage of life is difficult at first, but it gets easier. The questions I can help you with: What happened? How do I take care of our children? How do I get over my anger? How do I plan a future for myself?

Experience

I am Philip Belove, psychologist and coach. My specialty is helping people do their midlife transformation work, a psychological project that creates a foundation for happy and satisfying second half of life.

Midlife Work, because it involves so much careful attention to inner truth, is notoriously stressful on marriages and on dating relationships.

The challenges of the midlife project are echoed in the typical questions asked me as a dating-at-midlife expert:

?Learning to reconcile what you say with what you do. This challenge is echoed in questions like: Why does he say this when he does that? What is really happening?
?Learning to create your own dreams instead of being the victim of someone else's. This challenged is echoed in questions like these: How do I say that I don't want to xyz? I've been lying about some things and what should I do now?
?Learning to live a life that suits you. This challenge produces questions like Is what I'm doing normal? What if my kids think I'm crazy? How can I say that this is starting to bother me?

A person doing Midlife Transformation Work needs to develop 1) A Working Vision, 2) Skills and Strategies to realize that vision, and 3) External sources of support for the project. My role for people is to be part of the support system. I help people clarify their visions, develop the strategies and skills they need, and I help them review their progress.


Education/Credentials
M.A. Counseling Psychology
Ed.D. Counsulting Psychology (Family Therapy)

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