Ex-etiquette: Play nice even as ex holds dogs as ransom

Jann Blackstone

Q. I always laughed when people shared their animals after a breakup. It seemed so silly to me to share a dog, but here I am three months after my breakup with my longtime girlfriend and I miss my dogs. She kept them because I didn’t immediately have a place to stay, but now I do and I’d like to adjust our agreement. She won’t hear of it and says, “Suffer! You left, the dogs stay with me. You come back, you can see the dogs.” She’s holding my dogs for ransom! What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. The essence of good ex-etiquette is good behavior after a breakup. In other words, if you must stay in touch with an ex, you put your own interests aside so you can communicate about whatever you continue to share. Usually, it kids, but more and more it’s animals, businesses, even property. Marriage is a legal contract of sorts, and it establishes guidelines for a breakup. That’s not necessarily so when you are living with someone — and that’s not necessarily so when you shared an animal when you were together.

That said, it does sound as if she’s holding your dogs as ransom in hopes you will return, and if she really told you that you can see the dogs if you come back, she’s desperate. She wants you back so badly that she will deny you contact with something you love to get your attention.

However, manipulation rarely works in the long run. Sooner or later, the other person resents the need to control, and that’s additional fuel for another breakup. If you want someone back, look at why they left, and if there is a way to fix it, do it.

Manipulation in any form rarely gives you a permanent solution and is very bad ex-etiquette. (Ex-etiquette rule #5, “Don’t be spiteful,” #6. “Don’t hold grudges,” #7, “Use empathy when problem solving,” #8 “Be honest and straightforward.” Just about all the rules apply.

To get to the root of your problem — you want to see your dogs. First, you have to decide if seeing the animals is worth the stress of seeing your ex. If it is, then you could approach this like a custody agreement and share your dogs. Another possibility is splitting the dogs — one with you, one with her. We don’t really know how animals feel in these cases. Owners know when their animals are hurt or depressed, but we don’t know an animal’s coping mechanism.

If your dogs are old or sick, you have to take a look at what is the most humane way to approach the back-and-forth life. If you don’t want to split up the dogs, you may want to consider each keeping them for a month or so … but all this boils down to getting your ex to talk to you and consider your suggestions. You can’t make her do anything, so negotiation is crucial. Is there a bargaining chip that will help insight a discussion? The key is to talk, listen and as ex-etiquette rule #10 says, “Compromise whenever possible.” Don’t be afraid to call in a neutral third party for help — even for something like this. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.