Q: My husband recently took his son on a backpacking trip. It’s a family tradition that I thought was going to stop now that we are married. When they returned, I found out that my husband’s ex-wife’s father and brother also went along. I feel uncomfortable with my husband continuing to associate with his ex’s family. I feel they are always comparing me to my husband’s ex and what they really want is for them to reconcile. I want my husband to stop! What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: OK, there are a ton of red flags here. To begin, although intellectually, most understand the parameters of co-parenting, when it comes to their own new relationship, all reason goes right out the window, and they revert to high school — “You can’t talk to her, she’s your ex.”
That mentality is completely impractical when your new partner has a shared custody plan. The kids go back and forth between parents and extended family play a huge part in the child’s life. Good ex-etiquette is based on the needs of the child, not the needs of the new partner. Reframe these relationships — the child has a tradition of going backpacking each year with his dad, his grandpa, and his uncle. Your husband broke up with his child’s mother — that’s the relationship that changes. New partners should not expect their partners or their partner’s children to cut off ties to the former extended family because of their personal insecurities. This should have been discussed before marriage and clear boundaries established from the beginning. In other words, you should have known what you were getting into before you signed the marriage license.
Granted, it was awful ex-etiquette to keep the backpacking trip a secret — you should have been in on the planning. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8, “Be honest and straight forward.”) But it was apparently kept a secret because you’re openly having a problem with your husband continuing these relationships. If he’s lying to you it’s because he felt like he had to make a choice — ask him to choose, and you’ll lose.
In regards to feeling that you’re being compared to the ex and “I feel like the extended family wants a reconciliation ...” Any time you start a sentence with “I feel like ...” make sure it has something positive following those words. Otherwise, you’re reaffirming a negative expectation and undermining your own impact on this relationship. Dad married you for a reason. Don’t get wound up in a battle for position. Work toward a clean slate for each meeting, holding no grudges, no spiteful behavior. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 5, “Don’t be spiteful and No. 6, “Don’t hold grudges”), and giving that little boy the best life you can. That’s what, “Put the children first” means. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 1) He didn’t ask for the divorce, and your responsibility is to help, not hinder.
Dr. Jann Blackstone the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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