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Divorce Issues/Boyfriend spends a lot of time with ex-wife and refuses to tell his kids about me!

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Hi Philip,

Iíve been dating my boyfriend for almost a year now.  He had been in an unhappy marriage with a miserable woman for 17 years, and has two children: a 16-year-old son (with whom heís very close), and a 14 year-old daughter (who he doesnít much like, as sheís a lot like her mother).  He and I started seeing each other three months after he had moved out and filed divorce papers.  For the first five or six months of our relationship, we had to keep things under wraps because the divorce was still underway, and there were some bad feelings between my boyfriend and his soon-to-be ex-wife.  He didnít want her getting wind of his relationship with me, and using it against him in court.  So I agreed to keep things quiet, essentially taking on the role of Ďmistress.í  He saw the kids a few times a week, as they didnít have an official parenting agreement in place yet, and that seemed to work for everyone.  Additionally, he runs a business out of the home he shared with her (he moved out, but kept the business there, and she charges him monthly rent), so he gets daily access to his kids.

Once the divorce was finalized, which was about seven months into our relationship, we began to go out in public.  I had already met all of his friends, but his ex-wife, children, and immediate family (brothers and mother) still knew nothing of my existence, and I found it quite frustrating, but I listened when he said he didnít want to tell the kids yet because his daughter would go right to his ex-wife and would make his life a living hell (from how people Ė not just my boyfriend Ė  have described her to me, it sounds like she has borderline personality disorder).

As time has gone on, weíve become incredibly serious.  Weíre talking about buying a house and getting married next year (which will mark two years that weíve been together), but I canít help but feel like we canít be all THAT serious if he wonít tell his kids about me.  He tells me that theyíre the most important people in his life, and then tells me that Iím so important to him and that he canít imagine life without meÖyet he insists on keeping these two areas of his life separate.  Itís downright hurtful.

To add insult to injury, about five months into our relationship, he and the ex have started getting along better now, meaning they call and text each other all the time (not JUST about the kids, either).  He says he still canít stand her (she did some horrible things to him), but says heís doing it just to ďkeep the peaceĒ for the sake of his children.  Whatís even more hurtful to me is that theyíre back to doing things as family unit all of the time now.  They go out to dinner, sporting events, sledding, etc.  He brings his camera and shows me pictures of him sitting next to his ex with his arm around her, and it actually feels like my heart has been stabbed.  When I ask about those pictures, he says that his daughter wanted to take one and made them stand like that.  I donít care if those pictures are staged; seeing them is still hurtful.  

Itís not enough that heís over there at his old house because of his business ALL of the time.  I work the midnight shift, so I donít even get up at night until close to ten p.m., and heíll stay over at the house with them until nine or ten, saying heís helping his daughter with her homework or watching sports with his son in the basement.  Again, itís always for the kids.  And when Iíve brought it up to him that heís over there all the time, I get, ďWell, you work nights, and I donít want to have to cook for one, and I figure if youíre sleeping, why should I sit alone all night?Ē  What am I supposed to say to that?

I do trust that he hasnít been sexual with the ex-wife at all.  Sheís morbidly obese and he says heís disgusted by her.  I trust him with that, but I donít like feeling like his dirty little secret, especially as heís saying that weíre getting closer and closer and building our future.  I mean, if he had his way, Iíd already be moved in with him (WITHOUT meeting his kids first!), end of story.  

I get that he wants to spend time with his kids, especially his son, while theyíre still relatively young and have the time together, but seeing happy family photos and knowing heís over there all the time just hurts me.  I would feel better about it if the ex-wife and kids knew about me, but I donít think heís going to let that happen anytime soon.  Heís finally told his brothers and mother about me, and we all get along nicely, but I just donít feel like itís ďofficialĒ until Iíve met his kids.  And every time I bring it up, there is always another excuse on why they canít know about me yet, including: ďIím going through a divorce and sheíll use this against meĒ, ďthe holidays are coming up, and I donít want to upset everyoneĒ, ďthere are birthdays coming up and I donít want her to keep me from seeing the kidsĒ, ďI want to wait until the parenting agreement is in placeĒ, ďI want to wait until I get my money from the house buyout from herĒ, and now itís, ďIím using her for free storage, and I like coming and going as I please to see the kids.Ē

I feel like heís putting his ex-wifeís feelings before mine.  I get that she can try to keep the kids from him, but thatís WHY they have a parenting agreement in place.  Heís worried that if itís not his day or time to see them, she can just be like, ďWell, I know youíre done working here, but itís time for you to leave, so bye!Ē so heíd only be able to see them on his set days and times.   Is it selfish of me to want them (and by extension, her) to know about me, even though I know sheíll flip out and try to keep his kids from him (at least for a while)?  I donít know.  

Unfortunately for me (and fortunately for him?), Iím a co-dependent.  A pretty serious one.  Iím currently in therapy now to work out my issues, and Iím finding it hard to build ANY self-esteem about myself when I donít feel like boyfriend is ready for the world to know about me yet.  That, and Iím so concerned with making him happy that I say ďyesĒ to the STUPIDEST things when it comes to him.  Heíll ask me if he can do something with the ex and the kids, and Iíll say ďyesĒ like an idiot.  And after the fourth request, suddenly they ALL start bothering me.  But I feel like some of his requests are unreasonable.  Christmas Eve was supposed to be our day together, and he was going to spend Christmas at the house with the ex-wife and her extended family (ouch, but okay), and at the last minute, the ex-wife invited him to church that evening with the kids, and of course he really wanted to go, so I said yes, and when he got back, it was going on eight p.m., and he had to make the dinner for their Christmas party the following day, so I helped him stuff shells.  By the time we were done, he was exhausted, having been up for nearly eighteen hours, and our Christmas Eve was a complete bust.  

I guess that brings up another issue.  I feel like him spending holidays over at the house with the ex-wife and the kids is too much.  I get that he wants to see his kids for the holidays, but why see them with the ex-wife?  Why canít he see them separately from her?  Especially if heís making the food, and itís all her family thatís there, too.  Again, he says itís for the kids, but isnít that the point of being divorced?  You donít do ďfamilyĒ things together anymore, outside of things that revolve around the kids?  I donít know.  Maybe holidays are an exception.  But I feel like there are so many exceptions now.  Every outing that heís invited to join them in is an exception.

I know heís making up for lost time with them.  While he was married, his ex-wife and kids would often go on vacations and trips and not even bother telling him until they were leaving, which hurt him a lot.  Now that the ex-wife seems to want him around to do family things again, heís eating it up, but says itís always just to see the kids.  Even though I KNOW that, I canít stop from feeling hurt, excluded, and jealous.  If he were to do these things with ONLY the kids, that wouldnít bother me.  Thatís how the first few months of our relationship were, and it was fine.  But now that sheís included, or rather, now that she makes plans and includes him, I find myself in knots over this.

He and I have talked about where I fall in his list of priorities.  I told him that Iím tired of feeling like an option instead of a priority (especially when he keeps telling me how serious we are), and heís been better with that, considering that my days off are precious and rare since I work the midnight shift.  But I still canít help but feel like an afterthought every time he does things with them as a family unit.  

Iím not even sure what to ask here, so bear with me.  I feel like I canít demand that he tell them about me, because forcing the issue never really works.  He and I have recently talked about how I feel about them NOT knowing about me, and we ended the conversation with me saying, ďWell, I get where youíre coming from [Iím such a codependent], so thereís no pressure for now.Ē  His response was, ďGood, because I donít need anymore bull**** in my life right now,Ē effectively shutting down THAT conversation.  

Iím not convinced that his ex-wife has moved on, and this adds to my discomfort.  Heís shown me texts where she has said, ďI miss youÖwhat the hell happened to us?Ē  Heís also repeatedly told me that itís nice to be getting along with her again, for the sake of the kids, meaning he doesnít want to jeopardize their burgeoning  friendship (or whatever the heck it is), but thatís heís VERY happy to be away from her.  He told me that she tried to kiss him goodbye at least once, and he politely pushed her away, saying that they canít be like that anymore.  Iím inclined to believe him.  But by him going over there every day, and participating in family things, and NOT telling her that heís seriously dating someoneÖwhat sort of message does that give to her?  Even his fourteen-year-old had told him, ďMy friends think weíre weird because our parents are divorced and youíre over here all the time now!  Are you guys getting back together?Ē  What sort of message does that send to the kids?

I just donít know how to proceed from here.  I love him very much, and I know he loves me very much too, but I donít know if/how I should draw a line, or try to teach him how to set boundaries when it comes to the ex-wife, or if heíd even be open to that.  One night we were going through the pictures on his camera, and he was showing me pictures from their various outings, and as he scrolled through, I got quieter and quieter, and he said, ďI know seeing this has to hurt you.  If the shoe were on the other foot, I know Iíd be hurt, too.  But you have to understand that Iím only doing this for the kids.  She and I are over with.  So thank you for being patient with me.Ē  I felt like crying, and nearly did.  

I feel like a witch, demanding that he stop treating me like a frigging mistress and more like the serious girlfriend he claims I am.  I truly believe if he had his way, the next few years (yes, YEARS) would pass by without them ever learning of my existence, until his son is in college, and I CANNOT live like this for much longer.  Iíve about reached my breaking point.  I get that he HAS to see this woman for the rest of his life because of the kids.  But why canít he do things just with the kids instead of as a family?  Whatever the event, she usually pays, so itís free for him Ė why would he even want to say no to these offers?  As for having the kids just come over to his place, I have some things there, so heís put a stop to that, because heíd have to hide so much, moving my things into boxes in the garage.  Iíve offered to move some of my clothing and toiletries out, but he said heíd rather they didnít come over anyways.  

I just donít know if an ultimatum of, ďTell them about me or else we need to cool things,Ē is appropriate or if thatís just inflammatory.  I donít have children, nor do I want them, and I wonder if heíd be better off dating someone who DID have kids, so theyíd be more likely to understand where heís coming from.  That, and Iím not sure if he even would tell them about me.  Iíve caught him in lies before (nothing major, but he often lies to avoid confrontations, even about the stupidest things Ė like he still has yet to tell his son that he cancelled his TV cable service, though it was about five months ago, so heíll listen to sports games on the radio and tell his son heís watching the game.  When Iíve asked him about it, he just says, ďI donít have the heart to tell him,Ē or, ďTo avoid bull****.Ē).  He hasnít lied to me about anything big (and believe me, since I came into this relationship with trust issues, Iíve been hyper-vigilant about making sure of that), but do I think heíd lie to appease me?  Absolutely.  So unless I actually meet the kids or listen in on them talking about me while heís on the phone (he always holds his phone when heís on with the kids or the ex so I can listen in Ė he doesnít hide that stuff from me, which does make me trust him in that respect), I wonít believe it.  

How do I say no when Iím programmed to say yes?  Iím scared that if when he asks, ďAre you okay with me doing x, y, or z with the ex and the kids?Ē and I say, ďNo,Ē that itís going to cause a fight.  I guess maybe thatís my answer right there.  If heís willing to ask, like my opinion matters, then maybe heís willing to take my feelings into account.  The other option is that heís only asking out of a courtesy to me, and that my feelings really donít matter to him, and he wonít change whatever he wants to do, despite what my feelings are.

So in all of my ridiculous rambling, I guess it boils down to is do you think this relationship can work, what changes need to be made in order for this to work, and how do we (meaning him and me) going about implementing said changes?  Iíve often thought about just putting this relationship on hold until heís ready to tell them heís dating.  Again, Iím not sure if thatís too drastic.  I know that on my end, Iím getting more pain than happiness from this relationship, and I donít even know how to broach the subject.  Talking about his kids is a sensitive subject, and heís made it quite clear in the past the his kids come first, period.  He amended that statement when we talked about where I fall on his list of priorities, which is good that heís willing to change, but at what point do I finally say, ďEnough is enough.  Iím tired of playing your mistress.Ē without coming across as a complete selfish monster?  Please help!

Thank you in advance for even reading through this monster question.

Answer
Hi.
Quite a saga!
Still, it helped me get a picture.

My first question is:  What does your therapist say?
Second is: Why, if you have a therapist, have you reached out to a second therapist?
What does that say about you? your therapist? your therapy?

Third, Does it seem to you that in many ways you and this man are very much alike and that both of you
have the same difficulties with boundaries?   Is it possible that this story is a story of shared co-dependence?

Having said all that,
what changes need to be made?  Well, someone has to start setting limits.

this is of course the reason you are in therapy.

How can you set simple limits without feeling that you are a "complete selfish monster'?

There is a voice in your head that says, when you get close to setting a limit, t hat you are a monster.
I imagine the same is true for your companion.  

That voice will need to be challenged

There is another voice in your head that is screaming for you to stop.  "I am at my limit"

(Also it's funny that you feel like when you ask for something you are being a monster and then you describe this question as
a "monster" question.)  

Well, everyone gets tested. You are being tested. You are learning your limits.

When you finally set those limits, try to be generous to him.  

Please feel free to follow up.  I know this is incomplete.

Maybe answer some of those questions.

Philip  

Divorce Issues

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Philip Belove, Ed.D.

Expertise

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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