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Qipaogirl's avatar

Boundaries in a second marriage?

Asked by Qipaogirl (701 points ) February 26th, 2013

We both have children, all about the same age. The difference is in the way we handle our exes. My ex and I deal with all things regarding our children cordially but keep our words to things kid related only. My spouse and his ex have this relationship that is still contentious, and my husband cannot seem to not get pulled into it, and it makes things uncomfortable. His ex openly disparages me to her children, and to those of you who are wondering: I did not break up the marriage, insist that the kids call me “mom,” try to get in the middle of the kids time with their dad, or disparage their mom ever. So, his ex just constantly berates him, and rather than just communicate solely about the kids, he’ll go out of his way to be ingratiating. When he does this it only makes her more hostile, and frankly it hurts me that he goes out of his way to be overly kind to a person who does nothing but spew venom about the two of us. I have asked him if he feels guilty about something because as far as I know the marriage broke up due to incompatibility openly acknowledged by both. His response is you get “more bees with honey.” I just don’t get it? His kindness makes her anything but friendly. Thoughts? Advice? Please, thank you!

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13 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Stay out of his relationship with his ex. That way lies madness.

zenvelo's avatar

I’ll give you a dear Abby type response: You and your husband need to get into counseling. He needs to see how his non-support of you is hurting you, and won’t do a damn thing to make life easier with the ex.

His kids already know the truth, and will learn to distrust their mother because of her lies about you. It always seems to make the vindictive parent alone. But the kids also need to know their dad supports you, and in turn that he will support them when they need it.

But the best way to do this is through a few counseling sessions, so that a 3rd party can communicate how his failure to recognize boundaries is affecting you. And it may point out to him that boundaries are a better way to get things done amicably with his ex. I found that boundaries have made thins with my ex much easier.

gorillapaws's avatar

”...frankly it hurts me that he goes out of his way to be overly kind to a person who does nothing but spew venom about the two of us.” (emphasis added)

You need to get over this in a very serious way. If he wants to be pleasant to other people then you have absolutely zero right to get on his case about it. He’s probably trying to keep things as amicable as possible for his children’s sake and I don’t blame him one bit. Do you think he enjoys being berated by his ex (how does him getting nasty back at all help things for his kids)? and then his current wife is giving him grief too. I feel bad for the poor guy.

zenvelo's avatar

@gorillapaws He doesn’t have to be nasty back, just stand up for himself and his family. That’s why he needs to learn to set boundaries with the ex.

Qipaogirl's avatar

Counseling probably would help, and is a good idea zenvvelo, thank you. Gorillapaws, being pleasant sadly, has not helped things, the kinder he is the more she acts out, which does bother him. I am not “getting on his case,” but I am concerned that his actions do more harm than good for all, not only myself.

gorillapaws's avatar

@zenvelo What does “Standing up” for himself and his family really mean? How does that improve things?

If someone wants to act irrationally, then you’re not going to fix the problem by standing up to them. You keep being the good guy, and keep letting them look/act like the crazy jackass and bring that upon themselves. Ultimately you’ll give a judge no ammunition to ever be used against you in a custody battle if that ever arose.

wundayatta's avatar

When being reasonable doesn’t help, you can employ the “tit for tat” strategy. Tit for tat is the name a a strategy from game theory. Whatever someone does to you, you respond in kind. It is not a win-win strategy, but you aren’t always negotiating with a person who wants to maximize happiness. In this case, it sounds like the ex just wants to win everything, or burn everything trying.

If that is indeed her strategy, then you or your husband may have to go into tit for tat mode. Yes, you can get more bees with honey, but if only one person is getting bees, this is not a good strategy. You can try denying her any bees in the hopes that she will decide it’s better to get something than nothing.

Right now, she gets what she wants, and you guys don’t. Why should she change? It’s working for her. It may be time to make it not work for her, but tell her as soon as she starts cooperating, then she can have what she wants. I’d say it very explicitly. We will now be disparaging you to the kids and making your life as difficult as we can. If you want to cooperate, we will try one more time. You must stay nice after that. The next time you defect (game theory word which means lie or cheat or go against your word), we will go back into war mode and we will not come out of it. Again.

We will seek permanent custody of the kids, in other words. We will hire lawyers and make your life a living hell. That’s your choice. Cooperate, or we all go down in flames.

This is just an example. I’m making it stark and most people will be uncomfortable saying things like this. I’m sure your husband wouldn’t. But maybe if he sees it as a strategy—not something he has to believe in—just a means to an end, he might be able to carry it off. I doubt it, though. He sounds like a nice guy. SO that means she’ll walk all over him for a while and maybe eventually he’ll get the message and turn mean.

Your job, though, is to have nothing to do with it. You may deal with things related to you. So if she is trashing you to the kids, you tell him you don’t want her to do that any more, and he must make it stop. You have to pressure him to deal with her. Ask him to ask her to stop dissing you to the kids.

If he doesn’t do it, then you might start demonstrating what it is like to him to be hurt this way. Although I doubt if you really want to go there. But a steady drumbeat to get him to act might help.

gorillapaws's avatar

@wundayatta sounds like a recipe to turn your former relationship into the Israeli-Palestine conflict. He shot a rocket at me, so I’m going to shell them with white phosphorous… etc.

I think @Qipaogirl‘s husband is being the bigger man and she should support him for behaving that way. If this ex was physically harming the kids or the husband that would be one thing, but it’s just words. Just make sure the kids are ok and ignore her venom. Act like adults even if she wants to behave like a child.

burntbonez's avatar

You think, @gorillapaws? It works, though. It doesn’t sound civilized, and yet most humans understand it intuitively. Someone hits us, and we hit back. “Maaaah. He hit me first!” Only the second hit is ever seen. Using it as a premeditated strategy sounds cold, and perhaps doing it as an instinct rather than with deliberate intent might come across as more convincing. I don’t know. It’s just an idea. It’s a well tested strategy. And clearly, being the “bigger man” isn’t working.

Shippy's avatar

Boundaries? Make sure that he knows that you are not the kids mom. They have one. You are his companion and your ‘job’ is to make the home suitable for their visits. Plus hopefully to be a friend to them. Tell him you trust his ability to strive towards a workable relationship with his ex, solely for the kids sake (right?). As children suffer enough with divorce.

Don’t judge the ex you don’t know her, and never speak badly of her in front of the kids. Ban him from doing that too. Remind him that all of you are the adults.

diavolobella's avatar

What @marinelife said. There is no solving this problem. My ex-husband and I are cordial, but also talk only about our kids. He is also still very kind and helpful to my elderly mother, as she has always been wonderful to him and I appreciate that. We divorced due to incompatibility and nothing more (at my instigation) and there are no hard feelings on either side. He married again, divorced again and has gone through several more relationships that were uneventful as it relates to me and our children, but the woman he has been involved with for the past few years is horrendous. She was so hateful to my children to the point that they no longer have a relationship with their father and only see him on rare occasions without her present and no longer visit his home. She bad-mouthed me to the moon and back to to my own children and anyone who would listen, even though we’ve never met and she knows absolutely nothing about me. She seems to resent the fact that I ever existed, even though our marriage was over for many years before she even met my ex and my ex has never said a word against me to her. (Perhaps that is why she hates me so much)

You can’t win this situation, so just let it go. Some people are illogical and full of venom, no matter what, so it’s better to just take the high ground (as your husband is trying to do). I know it is hard, because you’d like him to defend you, but he’s probably well aware it would only inflame her further if he did (to the detriment of both of you), so he’s making the best of a no-win situation. My ex-husband tried to get his girlfriend to knock it off, but she didn’t and he’s still with her, so it did no good and he chose her over his own kids. It’s unfortunate that at some point, the children will see it for what it is and it will probably harm their relationship with her. That will be her sad comeuppance and the children will be happy they can say their father never stooped to her level nor did you.

Qipaogirl's avatar

Thanks all of you so very much for your kind and thoughtful replies. I feel deep sympathy for anyone in this situation, regardless of what side being unjustly maligned. It’s terrible. I do try to be the person who ignores and just carries on, but it is hard. I guess we just want somewhere to go where it is safe. I would never bad mouth either parent in front of their children. I just wish my husband could see that the nicer her is the nastier she is. In short, be polite, but no more. It only makes things worse. Staying out of the mess seems to be what most suggest. It is just so hard to sit by and watch a strategy that does not work being perpetuated.

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