Dear Dr. Jann,
My ex had an affair and married the woman five years ago. Although our adult children were hurt by the divorce, they have chosen to have a relationship with him. This is true, as well, with some friends and family members. To add insult to injury, our children have befriended his new wife with no regard for my feelings. I am very bitter. It seems like I’ve lost everything and even my children are not returning my phone calls. None of this was my fault! What’s good ex-etiquette?
First, I’d look after your mental health. It sounds like you may be suffering from depression (or possibly something else) and if that’s the case, get to a doctor and possibly a therapist as soon as possible to help you get a clear picture of what’s going on.
Next, it sounds like you may have to accept the inevitable. You don’t have to be around your ex and his new wife, but it appears expecting your family members to side with you is further tearing the family apart. Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #5, “Don’t be spiteful,” and rule #6, “Don’t hold grudges,” certainly apply here–and if the kids aren’t calling you back, you, not dad, may be doing something that’s pushing them away. It could be as simple as badmouthing, (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #3, “Don’t badmouth.”) Calling dad or his wife names and reminding the kids exactly what he did over and over again are examples of bad mouthing. Wanting revenge may be understandable, but you’ve been holding this grudge for five years. If people want to move on, being spiteful, holding grudges and badmouthing will just drive them away. It’s time to let it go.
I don’t say this lightly. Everyone who has faced betrayal understands it’s possibly the most difficult thing you can encounter in a relationship. And if there are kids and you must stay in contact with the one who has betrayed you, it makes it even more challenging to interact and co-parent properly.
Bottom line, if you can’t stand to be around your ex, then stay away, but do your best not to undermine your children and grandchildren’s relationship with him. If the kids want to stay connected with dad and his wife, any bad word from you may just further estrange you. They have made their choice to forgive him and reiterating all the bad things that he’s done will not improve your relationship with them.
I know this sounds very unfair. Why do you have to make changes when dad was the one to bring all this on? Like you said, “It wasn’t your fault.”
I wish there were a perfect response. There’s not. Your original question asked what you could do under the circumstances to prevent estranging others whom you love. The essence of good ex-etiquette is simply good behavior after divorce or separation. Better said, displaying dignity and poise at a trying time draws more people to you than spouting anger and resentment.