Dear Dr. Jann,
I’m currently engaged, and my new fiancee feels that my ex-wife is a constant in my life. She feels my ex-wife is intrusive and uses any reason she can with our kids to call or text me. This is all new to me but maybe I didn’t set boundaries when we first got divorced? I have a feeling that if the calls and texts keep coming, my fiancee is going to break it off because it really upsets her. What is good ex-etiquette?
Breakups are never simple. You have to sever ties that have been in place for quite a while, and they can take years to unravel. There may be financial concerns like a home to sell or a business to divide but, after all that’s been settled, the only residual common interest you still share with an ex is your love and concern for your children. Depending on how young they are, that could mean you’re in contact a lot and that can be quite upsetting for a new partner, particularly if he or she has never had children and doesn’t understand the demands of coparenting.
You are right though, the answer is clear boundaries but not only with the ex, with your fiancee as well. Your ex must understand her interaction with you is as your children’s mother. The primary thing you talk about is the kids. If she’s calling to tell you about her day, she needs to stop. That’s bad ex-etiquette. Time to get a grip.
Your fiancee must understand that you coParent your children with their mother. That will not change. You MUST speak to each other concerning those children, and it’s your fiancee’s job to support the coParenting rules that are already in place. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #4, “Parents make the rules; bonus parents support them.”) If she thinks she can impose her ideas on how you co-parent, your relationship is doomed. It will have nothing to do with your ex’s phone calls.
Here’s something else to consider: Your fiance’s concern may be fear based. It has been my experience that women who have never had children romanticize the parental relationship. Many have told me that that they think having a child produces this unbreakable spiritual bond between two people and it’s quite intimidating. Divorced parents will tell you that’s definitely not true, but it will be helpful if you understand that could be at the root of your fiance’s concern.
So, it’s up to you to set the record straight. Don’t be wishy-washy. You must be clear with both women or the chaos will continue and it will take far longer to settle into your new life. Bringing it back to the children, they are watching everything you do. If you think they don’t know there’s conflict between your fiancé and their mother, you are wrong. Any perceived struggle could impact their relationship with your fiance. Take care of this immediately. That’s good ex-etiquette.