Q: My ex and I have been divorced for six years. He had an affair and he married her. We have two adult children. About a year ago he called, asked me out for lunch and told me he had made a horrible mistake and wanted to know if there was anything he could do to get me back. I did not say yes or no. I just left. I still don’t know if I would ever go back to him.
Yesterday I found out he was very ill and in the hospital. I’m wondering if I should go see him. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Before we get to the ex-etiquette portion, I want to say that I’m reading between the lines in much of my answer. First, make sure you aren’t having any made-for-TV-movie-true confession fantasies about walking into an ex’s hospital room and both realizing that you are each other’s true love. Of course that is a possibility, but more importantly, remember this man is MARRIED to someone else. Yep, he was married to you and you have children together, but the truth is, he is someone else’s husband.
If you go to see him, good ex-etiquette dictates it should be with his wife’s knowledge. He’s ill and it is commendable that you want to pay your respects, but check your motives before you do anything.
Many might ask why consult his wife since she became his wife under questionable circumstances. And, you may be telling yourself that he told you a year ago he made a mistake and that means he really always loved you – so why shouldn’t you go?
Not to diminish this revelation, but when he was telling you those things, he was someone else’s husband. If indeed he did make a mistake, good ex-etiquette suggests that he tell his wife first, they deal with their issues and then he pursues a reconciliation with you. Instead, he took you out to lunch behind his wife’s back, told you he made a mistake, and asked you to reconcile. The implication was that she had no idea and he hadn’t left her prior to this confession. Doesn’t sound like he’s changed much. It doesn’t make it OK because you were his first wife.
The other item of concern is that you did not reply when he asked you to consider reconciliation. Your response of just leaving may have seemed to say no, but not addressing it once and for all left it a possibility in both your minds. Now he is ill and if you are the romantic I think you may be, you may want to throw caution to the wind, walk into his hospital room, and tell him all is forgotten. Be careful, because if he gets better it does not mean he will change. He will always be your children’s father, but unfortunately, he may not be forever-after material. Under the circumstances, you may want to consider a card that offers a sincere wish for his speedy recovery.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.