Q: My boyfriend of two years and I broke up for a short while, but we have reconciled and I moved back in about two months ago. His ex-wife, who is constantly causing trouble with the kids, continues to ask him out for coffee, for dinner, to join her skiing. It’s really maddening and she won’t stop! What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Although your question sounds like “How can I get my boyfriend’s wacky ex to stop overstepping her bounds?” it’s more about your boyfriend not being honest with everyone concerned (Ex-etiquette Rule No. 8, Be honest and straightforward). The reason his ex is asking is because she thinks she will get a yes – no one continually invites someone somewhere when they know they’ll be turned down. So, I don’t know what happened for that “short while” you broke up, but if she’s acting differently now than she did prior to your leaving, it’s time to talk to your boyfriend. If this is the way she has always acted … it’s time to talk to your boyfriend. What I’m trying to say is just about any way you look at it, it’s time to talk to your boyfriend.
When faced with an aggressive ex, it’s their ex’s responsibility for setting the record straight. That means it’s your boyfriend’s responsibility to set clear boundaries so his ex understands where she stands. He may like all the attention – or he may feel letting her think there is something between them will enable him to see the kids more often. Truth is, if he’s leading his ex to believe anything but the truth, it may all backfire. Know the old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” Well, “Hell really hath no fury like a woman scorned twice!”
He’s playing with fire when he’s playing with the affection of the mother of his children. Really bad ex-etiquette. And, although it sounds as if you don’t think it’s a possibility, if he’s not being straight with his ex, then he’s playing you, too.
Even if it’s all an innocent misunderstanding, your guy still has to take control of the situation so that there will be no misunderstanding in the future. Aside from being aggravating for you and his ex, his kids are watching and the longer he vacillates, the more they will be placed in the middle trying to figure out where their allegiance lies – mom or dad. (Ex-etiquette Rule No. 1, Put the children first.) And now that you are in the mix, the kids also have to figure out exactly where they should put you in their heart(s) as well. If they can see that liking you hurts mommy, your relationship with them will be an uphill battle – and you live with their dad.
Bottom line: Whether its dishonesty or not liking confrontation, dad has to figure out what he’s doing – his actions affect too many people. If he doesn’t soon, then your choice should be obvious.
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 email@example.com.