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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ask Dr. Gilda: Is He too Close to His Ex?

From Match.com, and reprinted from MSN.com

Her boyfriend still spends a lot of time with his ex-wife. Perfectly normal, or perfect cause for concern?

Dear Dr. Gilda,

I’m dating a guy who is still friends with his ex-wife. Their son is 30 and he has three kids. My boyfriend’s son and grandkids recently came to visit. My boyfriend took them to see his ex-wife, and he stayed the weekend in a hotel. Am I overreacting? I don’t know why he has to take them to see her, why he and his ex-wife have to travel together to see the grandkids or why she has to stay at his house whenever the son and grandkids come to visit. My boyfriend says his ex-wife was there for him and he won’t turn his back on her. He calls her his "friend for life." 

To what extent do I have to accept their relationship? They talk on the phone a lot. I feel like she is an ex for a reason, so why act like this? Please tell me how to handle it without sounding too jealous.

—At a Loss for Words 



Dear At a Loss,

It sounds like there are a lot of people competing for Boyfriend’s attention. He’s got his ex, their grown son and their son’s three children, who are their grandkids. All these people legitimately share a family and a history. Your complaint is that his family and history are intruding on your life with him. Yes, you already sound jealous! What is it that you really want? Would you like him to argue with his ex, storm out and never be in touch with her or his grandchildren again? Come on, get real! At the point at which someone has become a grandfather, he has already lived a life with many involvements. The fact that Boyfriend honors his commitments, even though he is no longer married to his ex, says a lot about his ethics. He obviously enjoys this family unit, and he can distinguish between a romantic involvement and a "friend for life" without blurring those boundaries. So why are you not feeling secure enough to see the glass as half full rather than half empty? Your jealousy may actually be revealing something you should work on: your own neediness in any relationship.

Do you have a career you’re passionate about? Do you have hobbies you look forward to? Do you have relatives yourself, or even exes as friends that you’d like to see on occasion? If you are feeling overly needy with Boyfriend, the best antidote would be to enrich your own life while he’s enriching his. The benefits of life enrichment would: Deepen your interests and make you a more exciting partner; create boundaries that would earn you respect; switch the focus from Boyfriend’s “faults” to your own happy experiences. You ask, "To what extent do I have to accept their relationship?” The answer is, “To the extent you want Boyfriend in your life." You are observing the family package that accompanies him wherever he goes. You can either accept it or look for someone without any ties. (But keep in mind, a guy without any ties might be much more into himself — which could also turn you off!) 



If you try to change Boyfriend, you’ll strike out. As my Gilda-Gram advises, "Accept, rather than expect." If you follow this guide, Boyfriend may elect to spend more time with you and less with his past. Or, he may invite you to join the whole clan during their family jaunts. 

Of course, there is always the possibility that Boyfriend enjoys seeing you steam over this triangle. Perhaps this is how he wants you to "prove" your commitment to him. If this is the case, you two need to have a truthful discussion. 

The future of this romance is in your hands. Unless you date someone who has just been hatched, the person you find will be encumbered by something or someone: a big mortgage, payments to an ex, elderly parents, a sick sibling or whiny kids. Would you expect a guy to dump his involvements just to be with you? Before you try to empty someone’s baggage, you must clear out your own. 



XXX
Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle (www.DrGilda.com) has a private practice, and is a motivational speaker and associate professor of business, psychology, and communications at New York’s Mercy College. Her best-selling books include Don’t Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting On Yourself. Her E-Books are “How to WIN When Your Mate Cheats,” immediately downloadable at http://drgilda.com/ebook/WhenYourMateCheats.htm and "99 Prescriptions for Fidelity," downloadable at http://www.drgilda.com/ebook/99PrescriptionsforFidelity/

XXX
I received hundreds of e-mails from my loyal readers regarding this topic. Below are just a few of them:
RESPONSES FROM READERS

Hello Dr. Gilda,
This is in response to "At a Loss for Words," the woman whose boyfriend had a questionable relationship with his ex-wife. I feel as though her concerns were legitimate. She did not write that she was against him having a relationship with his son and his children. The real concern was the husband taking the son and children to see his ex, which poses an interesting question: Why can't his son take his own kids to see his own mother? I don't understand why he boyfriend has to be the facilitator, being that his son is 30 years old for crying out loud. You mention that they are a "family unit." If this is so, why are they divorced? It sounds to me like the boyfriend wishes he still had a relationship with the ex-wife and is going out of his way to prove himself. I also do not understand why the boyfriend and the ex-wife travel together to see the grandchildren. What commitment is he proving by doing this? Why hasn't he invited his girlfriend on any of the trips? This man is longing for the "family unit " he no longer has and this should be acknowledged.

Perhaps there is not enough information in the letter to really make a determination, but unless the ex-wife is disabled or terminally ill, I am at a loss for words as well.
Hmmmm...

Hi, Hmmm…,
Perhaps the questions you raise are answered in the next e-mail below.
Dr. Gilda

XXX
Dear Dr. Gilda,
I just read your response to the woman who felt her boyfriend was too close to his ex-wife. I think that relationship may be becoming more common.

I had a friend a few years ago who had an unusual relationship with his ex-wife. They had married really young and had one child. Eventually they decided that the marriage was not working and called it quits. Within a few years, they had both remarried and shared custody of their son.

They lived in the same town. All four of the adults involved went on joint vacations so they could double their time with the child involved. They became best friends and took care of each other in the later part of their lives. The grandchildren called them all some version of grandma and grandpa.

My friend told me that he had been best friends with his ex-wife before they had gotten married but had felt pressured to marry. They soon discovered that they were better friends than lovers, so they went back to being best friends.

I thought it was an amazing relationship that only enriched their child’s life and his children’s lives.
Helen

XXX
Hi Dr Gilda,
I am married for 2 years and must say that my husband is a wonderful person who is very caring, loving and co-operative. However the only thing I don’t like about him and is the only cause of spats between us is his parents and brother. The parents are still back home and the engaged brother shares the apartment with us. My husband is a mama's boy and can’t make any of his decisions without asking her. She is very much of a politician type lady who would guide his moves in a way it suits her. Also, whenever there is any kind of situation where I have a different opinion from them, my husband always goes with his brother or mother and would never support me so that the family doesn’t feel hurt (even if he knows they are wrong and I am right).

I feel disgusted and unhappy about my husband’s behavior. I have told him a couple of times to do justice and go with the one whoever is right (not me or them) but he always sides with them. I feel rejected and not cared for and don’t know how to tackle and resolve this. Please help!
Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,
Clearly, there are too many people in your marriage. Let your “wonderful person” hubby know your true feelings. It’s not fair to the relationship to leave him in the dark about how you’re feeling. When he has all the information, perhaps he’ll finally grow up to be a husband instead of a “mama’s boy.” If not, I’m afraid you’ll have to continue to let him know what your expectations of a husband are. Obviously, he is currently clueless. But you’re feeding the problem by remaining silent.
Dr. Gilda

XXX
Dr. Gilda,
I read your article on, "Is He too Close to his Ex?” I got to tell you that I was not happy with your advice at all. I don't know if you are divorced or what your story is but I happen to agree with the writer of the question.

First of all, there is a reason why the divorce took place - what was it?

Second of all, why is the father taking his 30-year-old to visit the ex-wife (the mother of the son)? Isn't the 30-year-old son capable of driving himself without getting everyone involved, including the new girlfriend? If family and staying together was so important to this father, why get a divorce?

Thirdly, if the exes are so tight and are friends, why in the world are they dating other people? When other people are brought into the picture, there are opinions which are just as important as the opinions of the original family.

You told the writer to get real - why don't you get real!!!! Family dynamics change when divorce takes place and when remarriage takes place the definition of "family" changes as well. Everyone has a role to fill but that doesn't mean they should all "hang" out together as family. Someone screwed the first family up and it isn't the newcomer after the divorce. There should be consequences to divorce. You should not be allowed to divorce, have a relationship with another individual, and still hang out with the ex family. That is completely dysfunctional and abnormal. There is a reason why they are called the exes!!!

Maybe this new person shouldn't haven't got, involved but at the same time, when exes are involved in new relationships of their ex-spouse lives, hell is going to break loose eventually. This new girlfriend has a right to be jealous and worried about sparks flying between the exes with visits and phone conversations. The reason they do this is for their kids is bogus and stupid.

The new girlfriend has the right to feel insecure and maybe she should get out of the relationship because it sounds like her significant other is not finished with business regarding his ex-wife. But your advice to her was unacceptable and did not sound like someone who had any experience in this arena of life.
Michelle

Hi, Michelle,
This IS truly a different world with so many step-families interacting. The rules of the past are no longer the way things are today. It surely takes a strong mate to include her partner’s ex in their festivities. Like Helen, above, I have a friend who invites her husband’s ex and all their grown children to holiday celebrations. And my friend gives this woman advice as to how to find a second loving husband! This sure ain’t the good old days as many of us have known them!
Dr. Gilda

XXX
Dr. Gilda,
I have only one question for you. Are you nuts????!!!! This guy is absolutely too close to his ex. His grown son who is 30 does not need him to take him to visit his mother. The boyfriend does that because he wants and chooses to. If he is choosing to spend that much time with his ex, then he is still way too committed to a past relationship. Yes, they share children, but come on. This woman has every right to be wary and put off by his behavior.

She is the woman in his life now, not his ex, and he should act like it. Letting the ex stay at his home when the grandkids come to visit is way above and beyond the call of duty to an ex, and he should realize that it would make his girlfriend uncomfortable. Besides, it doesn't sound like he's asking the girlfriend to stay there so that she knows everything is above board and has no questions in her mind.

You mentioned that he should not be expected to give up his commitments and obligations for his new relationship, but other than possible alimony, he has no obligations to his ex. His present girlfriend has every right to expect less involvement with the ex and more involvement with her. If you ask me, it sounds like this man is having his cake, and eating it, too. If I were his girlfriend, I would not have had to write to you. I simply would have kicked him to the curb ages ago. Sorry, Dr. Gilda, but you got this one totally wrong.
A Strong Woman

Dear Strong Woman,
The real test of emotional strength is to let bygones be bygones. Some GF’s can and some can’t. The same goes for BF’s. Many men come to me raging that their GF’s and wives are still friendly with their exes with whom they have kids. In my mind, there’s a difference between being “friendly towards” and “friends with.” For the sake of the kids, parents who are civil to each other provide healthier role models. Of course, if there are no children, and if a current mate has reason to believe there’s more than meets the eye, a confrontation is in order! It is true that some people can’t let go of their past. If THAT is the case, it’s better to find a mate who’s living in the present.
Dr. Gilda

XXX

Dear readers, DONT FORGET ABOUT US KIDS. Dr Gilda is right i come from a family like this. My mom and dad got divorced when i was young. I am so glad that they are still friends for life. Yes I understand that they will never be together again. He has a new girl friend in his life and i know she feels this way to but we care for her as part of our family. She does not see it, she only sees my dad talking to my mom as a plot to get back together. As if they are going to get back together again LOL I don't think so. Get over it girls we too need our families to work for us and for you. I am sure you would be welcome into our families if you just stop the crap and live as part of the situation. Remember our dads had a past and we are part of it. So if you girls and i say girls for you are not women when you act like this would just STOP and step back you might find out that you are part of something that could be great. You are getting an instant family. Remember that sometimes family is not your blood but it could be thicker, bigger and better if you just hang on and trust your new partner. Remember we grow up and move on and you stay and live happily ever after with our dads. So thank you DOC for telling the women(Girls) of today to get real and think of the whole situation for we all need to work together.

17 year old Daughter of a divorced Dad

Dear 17-year-Old Daughter,
I LOVE hearing from our youth! You guys are in the front lines of fire when divorce occurs. You will appreciate your parents' civility more and more as you get older. Thank you for sharing your feelings!!
Love,
Dr. Gilda

XXX
Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle (www.DrGilda.com) has a private practice, and is a motivational speaker and associate professor of business, psychology, and communications at New York’s Mercy College. Her best-selling books include Don’t Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting On Yourself. Her E-Books are “How to WIN When Your Mate Cheats,” immediately downloadable at http://drgilda.com/ebook/WhenYourMateCheats.htm and "99 Prescriptions for Fidelity," downloadable at http://www.drgilda.com/ebook/99PrescriptionsforFidelity/

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear readers, DONT FORGET ABOUT US KIDS. Dr Gilda is right i come from a family like this. My mom and dad got divorced when i was young. I am so glad that they are still friends for life. Yes I understand that they will never be together again. He has a new girl friend in his life and i know she feels this way to but we care for her as part of our family. She does not see it, she only sees my dad talking to my mom as a plot to get back together. As if they are going to get back together again LOL I don't think so. Get over it girls we too need our families to work for us and for you. I am sure you would be welcome into our families if you just stop the crap and live as part of the situation. Remember our dads had a past and we are part of it. So if you girls and i say girls for you are not women when you act like this would just STOP and step back you might find out that you are part of something that could be great. You are getting an instant family. Remember that sometimes family is not your blood but it could be thicker, bigger and better if you just hang on and trust your new partner. Remember we grow up and move on and you stay and live happily ever after with our dads. So thank you DOC for telling the women(Girls) of today to get real and think of the whole situation for we all need to work together.

17 year old Daughter of a divorced Dad

DR. GILDA CARLE said...

Dear 17-year-Old Daughter,
I LOVE hearing from our youth! You guys are in the front lines of fire when divorce occurs. You will appreciate your parents' civility more and more as you get older. Thank you for sharing your feelings!!
Love,
Dr. Gilda

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Gilda,
I read your posts quite a bit---I've never posted a blog on any site--ever--so please know I don't say any of this lightly. 99% of the time I agree with you, but as someone who is an ex-wife and maintained a close friendship with both my son's father for the last 20 years, as well as his new wife,I can tell you, you have missed the mark by a mile on your advise to "At a Loss". She has every right to be concerned and alarmed.
Dr. Gilda, telling this woman that she is being tested to see if she is jealous was right---but YOU'RE chastising her for it..why?? Any woman SHOULD have a red flag of jealousy at a time like that---jealousy is NOT a bad thing--it's one of the intuitive red flags God gave us that keeps women from making mistakes! Nowadays women are advised to squelch their intuition--that is dangerous.
I will tell this true story then be done: My ex came to me after 4 years into his new marriage and told me he realized he still loved me and wanted to leave his new wife....we'd been divorced TEN years at that point and up until then I'd assumed he was always there for me just as a "friend" and for sake of our son---his wife had always been very accepting of us talking on the phone, him coming by to fix my sink or odd jobs around the house, etc...I recognized how my closeness affected his perspective from putting her first and honoring their marriage and immediately backed off...I didn't call him, didn't let him come over...I just ceased being so close. In the interim, his wife and I became close and I let him know how special she was and fortunate our son was to have her in our life--- But the larger point here is,if I'd wanted to, I could have gotten him back at that time and held more power than even his wife realized. I was ready to let go...some "ex's" are not. So yes, "At a Loss" should be concerned...and you should re-think the next time someone asks you a question like that. Because you were wrong.

Leslie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DR. GILDA CARLE said...

THANK YOU, Anonymous, for sharing that. I do believe that every situation is different. YOU are a lady, without a doubt, and a WISE one, at that. Your ex is obviously confused. If you had returned to him, you would have had a mush of a man. And would you ever have trusted him around anyone? You have honored your son's interaction with your ex's new wife, and that's really important. And you rejected your ex's push to have you back. Congratulations for being such a wise woman!
Dr. Gilda

May 14, 2009 3:00 PM

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Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Gilda, I agree with the masses and couldn't believe what I was reading when you answered. You were so off the money. I am a second wife and while my situation is different, I can certainly relate to the writer. My husband was married some 30+ years to his ex-wife and has adult children. His ex refused to cut the apron strings, and during the first two years of our marriage every other month she was calling him as her go to person for support, money etc. Of course I never allowed any of it and I put my foot down with my husband who said he thought they would just be friends because they had always been friends; even during the divorce. She was only calling him for support or when she had a problem, and it was immediately following and during the divorce. I informed him that he could be anything he wanted to be with her, but I would not be married to him. His ex has tried every trick in the book to get him back and has even come right out and told him I know you are remarried, but I'd take you back if you want to give it a shot. She has even told me she hasn't gotten over the loss of him and doesn't know if she ever will. She's extremely passive aggressive, and tried her very best to keep pulling at my husband. I never thought my husband wanted her back or I would not be with him, but I don't trust her. Their children are 30-35 and there is no reason for her to be in the picture. She was popping up at his business, and he was telling her not to but she'd do it anyway. If you have divorced a person, and moved on, why subject your new spouse to the disrespect and uneasiness? I got rid of my ex who would love to just talk to me or see me under any circumstances. I did it out of respect for my husband, and I expect the same level of respect. The new wife or girlfriend should always be the priority. I can acknowledge that if there are minor children involved, they may have to communicate. Sometimes there are emotional affairs. I threatened divorce early on because I am too good to put up with that type of nonsense, and I meant it. I love myself more than anybody. We teach people how to respect us and that goes for our spouses too. I have always been considerate and respectful of the ex but I drew the line. I never wanted my husband to disrespect her either, but when she refused to stop calling him after he asked her verbally and in writing several times, I expected him to get firm. Anyway no woman should have to be uncomfortable because of an "ex". The writer had every right to write and be concerned. As a matter of fact, she needs to get more aggressive, or leave the jerk alone. Let him be friends with ex and find somebody that has let their ex go who is ready for her.