QMy husband recently took his son on a backpacking trip. It’s a family tradition that I thought was going to stop now that we are married. When they returned, I found out that my husband’sand brother ex-wife’salso went father along. I feel uncomfortable with my husband continuing to associate with his ex’s family. I feel like they are always comparing me to my husband’s ex and what they really want is for them to reconcile. This infuriates me! I want my husband to stop! What’s good ex-etiquette?
AOK, there are a ton of red flags here. To begin, although intellectually, most understandof co-parenting,the parameterswhen it comes to their own new relationship, all reason goes right out the window, and they revert to high school — “You can’t talk to her, she’s your ex.”
That mentality is completely impractical when your new partner has a shared custody plan. The children go back and forth between parents and extended family play a huge part in the child’s life. Good ex-etiquette is based on the needs of the child, not the needs of the new partner.
Reframe these relationships — the child has a tradition of going backpacking each year with his dad, his grandpa and his uncle. Your husband broke up with his child’s mother — that’s the relationship that changes. New partners should not expect their partners or their partner’s children to cut off ties to the former extended family because of their personal insecurities. This should have been discussed before marriage and clear boundaries established from the beginning. In other words, you should have known what you were getting into before you signed the marriage license. Your husband has a child.
Granted, it was awful ex-etiquette to keep the backpacking trip a secret — you should have been in on the planning; the more transparent, the better. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward.”) But it was apparently kept a secret because you’re openly having a problem with your husband continuing these relationships. If he’s lying to you it’s because he felt as if he had to make a choice. Ask him to choose and you will lose. Your husband has a child.
In regards to feeling that you’re being compared to the ex and “I feel like the extended family wants a reconciliation.” Any time you start a sentence with “I feel like …” make sure it has something positive following those words. Otherwise, you’re reaffirming a negative expectation and undermining your own impact on this relationship. Dad married you for a reason. Reinforce that. Don’t get wound up in a battle for position. Work toward no preconceived notions — a clean slate for each meeting, holding no grudges, no spiteful behavior and giving that little boy the best life you can. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 5, “Don’t be spiteful,” and No. 6, “Don’t hold grudges.”)
That’s what “Put the children first” means (ex-etiquette rule No. 1). The boy didn’t ask for the divorce, and since you joined the club, your responsibility is to help, not hinder. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and the founder of Bonus Families — bonusfamilies.com. Contact her at email@example.com