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The Unexpected Dinner Guest – An Ex-Etiquette Refresher

Establish clear boundaries. That will make your life plus extended family get-togethers something to look forward to rather than dread. That’s good ex-etiquette
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Dr. Jann Blackstone
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation

The Unexpected Dinner Guest – An Ex-Etiquette Refresher

In the last week I have received tons of emails from people, mostly women, concerned about their current partner’s relationship with their ex. Most talk about how the ex is all over their partner’s life, and there are too many texts or phone calls.

The holidays were particularly troublesome because the former in-laws put the ex before the new person in their lives. I can’t tell you how many said they walked into Christmas dinner and wife or husband #1 was sitting at the table and they had no idea they would be there. No one knows how to handle past and present and they all want to know if they should say something. What’s good ex-etiquette?

First, of course, you should say something—not to the former in-laws, necessarily, but to your partner. Communication is all important, that’s why I included Ex-etiquette for parents rule #8, “Be honest and straightforward,” in the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette. Everyone must know where everyone stands or else you develop animosity, there’s confusion and chaos.

It’s your partner’s responsibility to make the boundaries clear to everyone. Ironically, the boundaries should be openly established way before you move in with someone, let alone marry them—and this is where it gets tricky. Too often, after a break-up, divorced parents take it day by day in order not to make waves. The thought is, if I put my foot down with my ex it will upset him or her and they will prevent me from seeing my kids. So, people get wishy-washy, don’t say anything to the ex or former in-laws and their new home life is miserable—possibly because people are operating with an old school break-up mentality, but must maneuver a new school coParenting lifestyle.  

Your mindset and parenting plan have to match. To coParent correctly, you can’t share the kids and not talk, but a new partner can’t feel threatened by that relationship or else no one is happy.

So, what does that mean in real life? It means whomever you are in a current relationship with comes first, particularly if you are now married.  However, an ex has a place in your life because you share children. They are no longer your wife or husband, their title is “my children’s mother or father.” They deserve respect simply because you brought a life into this world with their help, but if you have made a commitment to someone else once your romantic relationship with your child’s parent ends, that’s where your relationship allegiance lies—and that’s the boundary that must be made clear to the ex, friends, and extended family. No one should walk into a room on a huge holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas and be surprised that an ex is present. Someone, whether it’s your partner or their extended family, is avoiding conflict by not saying something. That’s disrespectful to all concerned and really bad ex-etiquette.

For the record, conflict is not necessarily “bad.” It’s an opportunity to address things and establish clear boundaries. So, it’s time for your partner to set the record straight. That will make your life, plus extended family get-togethers something to look forward to rather than dread. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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