Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend is Threatened By My Ex-Husband/ Father of My Kids”

I am a single mother of two children. Their father and I have been divorced for two years. I have been dating a wonderful man for over a year now. We’ve moved very slowly over the last year to introduce him and my children to each other (we waited six months before the initial introduction of “Mommy’s friend”), and the four of us currently get together about once a week for a meal or activity.

My children’s father and I have had an up and down co-parenting relationship since the divorce. Sometimes we cooperate wonderfully, and other times it feels as if we’re at each other’s throats (which we never allow the children to see). A year ago he relocated to our city from about 60 miles away so that he could be closer to the children. I have recently been making much more of an effort to support and encourage a relationship between my children and their father. I often go the extra mile, and out of my way, to encourage the children’s relationship with their father because I know it’s for their benefit.

My son has just started his new soccer season, and he has his first practice earlier this week. Due to heavy interstate construction, his dad was stuck in traffic for over an hour and unable to make the practice. I asked him if he would like to take them out for ice cream after practice instead. He obliged, and we met at a local shop, at which he’d already purchased ice cream for both children and me. The outing went off without a hitch, and I was very pleased that my ex and I were able to remain civil and kind, to engage in conversation together with the kids, and to just plain co-parent together.

The point I’m getting at is that my boyfriend seems to feel threatened by these interactions. He informed me today (in a calm manner) that he felt as if I was being a “family” with my ex husband and children, versus just my children. He states that he understands birthdays, sporting events, school functions, etc., but that for some reason these “extra curricular” times between my children, their father, and me threaten him and make him feel as if there’s a “third party” (my ex) to his and my relationship…

I’ve simply been pleased that, from time to time, my ex husband and I are able to set aside our differences and be there together for our children, even if it is just for ice cream. How worried should I be about my boyfriend’s concerns? Are they warranted, and am I crossing a line with my ex, or is my boyfriend not being understanding of what my children need from both of their parents?

A side note: my boyfriend and ex have yet to meet, and I wouldn’t say that my children and boyfriend have developed one-on-one relationships as of yet, which is something I’m okay with due to my desire to move slowly with involving my children in our relationship. It also doesn’t seem as if my boyfriend is ready, or interested, to be THAT involved in my children’s lives at this point. — Confused Mom and Girlfriend

First, I applaud you for making your kids a priority and realizing that maintaining a civil relationship and co-parenting partnership with their father is essential in maintaining their happiness and their sense of security. You’re also modeling for them what a successful relationship can look like, showing that, even when a romantic relationship or a marriage ends, a relationship beyond that, especially when there are children involved, can be stable, productive, and even friendly. Don’t underestimate the power of the message that sends your children. You are telling them — and more importantly showing them — what a healthy breakup and a healthy co-parenting partnership looks like. You are showing them how important they are to you, not simply by giving lip service to your love for them, but by making their emotional well-being a top priority. Their self-esteem, their relationship with you and their father, and their future romantic relationships will all benefit from the work you are investing now. Good job.

Unfortunately, your boyfriend is not as committed to your kids’ well-being as you are. And why should he be at this point? They are your children. He is merely their mother’s new(ish) boyfriend. But his being threatened by your ex and what he sees as you “acting like a family” with him in ways he deems “extracurricular” could be indicative of someone who is simply not cut out for dating someone with kids. It’s a red flag that I would file away as a warning sign. He’s acting jealous and not terribly compassionate. You also make sort of a throwaway comment that your boyfriend doesn’t seem ready or interested in being involved in your children’s lives, saying you’re ok with that because you don’t want to move too quickly. But… maybe, despite your desire to move slowly (which is totally healthy!), you’d appreciate some more interest on your boyfriend’s part, even if it’s interest expressed as a desire to eventually know them better and be move involved in their lives. After all, if things progress with the two of you, his relationship with your children will have to progress too. Do you have any sense that that is something he would want? Is it something you want?

It seems like taking a temperature of your relationship, and discussing what your long-term desires and expectations are, would go a long way in smoothing some of the feelings you’re both having. His jealousy over your friendly relationship with your ex could be tempered knowing that, if things continue progressing with you, you envision him as part of that family, too (if you indeed do). He needs to understand — and you need to explain to him very clearly — that your ex IS part of your extended family and always will be because you share children together. He will exist, at least as a minor character, in your life together, and, if your boyfriend can’t wrap his head around that and can’t appreciate how maintaining a friendly relationship with your ex — including joining him and the kids or inviting him to join you guys for ice cream after a game — positively affects your children’s well-being (and is the ONLY reason you continue such a relationship with your ex), then you should know that now, before you become more invested in your relationship. Even if your boyfriend isn’t ready to be to involved in your kids’ lives, he should be able to support your dedication to them and, by extension, your commitment to modeling healthy co-parenting for them. It’s your job to explain all of this to him, to help him understand how far you’ve come with your ex and how important it is for you to maintain a civil relationship with him.

If, in 2-3 months down the road, you still feel that your boyfriend isn’t being understanding enough, you might want to consider moving on. You can find a guy who is great in most ways, but simply isn’t a match for your current lifestyle.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Christy September 4, 2014, 8:25 am

    Wendy, you have really been killing it with the advice lately.

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    • avatar

      ktfran September 4, 2014, 8:49 am

      Agreed! I don’t really think there’s anything more one can say, but only to reiterate that what this LW is doing for her children is beyond healthy and if I were in her position, I would want a similar relationship with my ex.
      .
      I wish people could just get over all these jealous, insecure feelings and realize adults of the opposite sex or adults with a past can have non-threatening relationships.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy September 4, 2014, 8:57 am

      Thank you!

      Reply Link
  • suzyinthesky

    suzyinthesky September 4, 2014, 8:47 am

    As the new partner of a divorced man with children, I kind of get the boyfriend here.
    To be clear, I don’t agree with him, but I can understand where his feelings of jealousy and insecurity come from. I have those feelings from time to time, too.

    The thing in Wendy’s advice here that really stood out to me, and which I recommend the LW make very clear to her bf, is this (specifically the last part, in parentheses):

    “maintaining a friendly relationship with your ex […] positively affects your children’s well-being (and is the ONLY reason you continue such a relationship with your ex)”

    I will take that advice with me and remind myself of it the next time I feel a pang of insecurity/jealousy of my partner’s relationship with the ex. They have a very long history together, after all, which we (and the LW and her bf) don’t YET.

    I think that the bf’s jealousy/insecurity will probably lessen with time and as his relationship with the LW progresses and they build their own history. I know that’s what’s happening with me.

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    • avatar

      csp September 4, 2014, 1:07 pm

      I was thinking this same thing. I don’t think that the LW is out of line but that doesn’t invalidate the feelings of the BF. I think they need to have a state of the relationship conversation. Talk about where this is headed and where the boyfriend fits. He approached the LW calmly about it which I think sounds like a good stable man who is connected with his feelings and feels safe enough in the relationship to express them.

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    • avatar

      escapehatches September 4, 2014, 6:57 pm

      As a stepparent, I can chime in here. Those feelings do get better. It can take a very long time until you feel less like an outsider trying to learn a dance that started years ago, and more like someone who can introduce a few new steps that add to the flow.

      Patience!

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  • FireStar

    FireStar September 4, 2014, 8:47 am

    Wendy is right. You ARE a family. There isn’t a predetermined list of acceptable activities parents can do with their children. Even post divorce. You aren’t having intimate dinners with your ex under the guise of talking about the kids. You need to talk to him about where he got those notions of what activities are acceptable and which are not. You can tell him you are always going to act in the best interest of your children. That included not raising them together in a home with their father and it will include making sure they have a solid relationship with both their parents. You are always happy to discuss things and answer his questions and eventually include him more if that is what he wants but this is something he needs to sign on to…or not.

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  • avatar

    KMJ September 4, 2014, 9:35 am

    I think Wendy’s advice is great!

    I am the (35 year old) child of parents who divorced but remained cordial and I can attest to what a blessing that has been. My parents (dad, mom and stepdad) all attend important family events. Some people think it’s odd. I think it’s awesome. Their kids have never missed out on having all our parents there for birthdays, wedding, graduations, etc, because they handled things like adults who put their children first, just like this LW is trying to do.

    The man I am now dating (also around a year and a half) is totally comfortable with me being around my ex, the father of my child, because he is adult enough to realize that it’s not all about the grownups. It’s about what’s best for the kid/s.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. September 4, 2014, 10:42 am

    Wendy’s advice is great. There’s just one thing I’d like to add: the LW says she’s OK with the boyfriend not taking more of an interest in her kids’ lives, and he says he feels excluded. (That’s what I’m getting from what she wrote.) I’m all in favor of taking things slowly where kids are concerned, but are you sure that part of his feeling threatened isn’t because he is being made to feel like the third wheel? We are asking the BF to be understanding, but I think the LW should also be understanding of what it might be like to date someone who has kids that aren’t yours. Is this the first serious relationship she’s had since the divorce? If so, the last time she got seriously involved with a man, the playing field was more even. (There were no kids involved.) A little more empathy on both sides is called for, I think.

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  • avatar

    mertlej September 4, 2014, 11:24 am

    This letter was so refreshing! What sounds like a thoughtful, mature LW and the kind of real world issue/conflict that plenty of people can relate to. *golf clap*

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    • avatar

      csp September 4, 2014, 1:09 pm

      I think we need more golf claps.

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  • avatar

    Vathena September 4, 2014, 12:58 pm

    WWS – nailed it.

    One big point in the boyfriend’s favor is that he was able to calmly discuss his feelings. It sounds like they are both acting like mature adults in discussing the issue (as in, they don’t end up in screaming fights over it). I agree with what suzyinthesky said above – it’s tough to feel like an odd wheel in a pre-existing family unit, even when that unit consists of two divorced parents. You may just need some time to allow your relationship with your boyfriend (and his with the kids) to become more established. It’s not a deal-breaker unless he tries to “forbid” ice cream outings, or pouts every time you talk to your ex about the soccer schedule.

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  • avatar

    thatgirl September 4, 2014, 6:34 pm

    Totally WWS…although I agree with an earlier comment that maybe a little more effort on LW part could help ease the transition. Trying to maintain a healthy relationship with an ex is hard enough, and I can relate. But trying to foster a relationship between your kids and boyfriend is important too if there is going to be eventual acceptance of his place in your new dynamic. You get to decide the definition of family as it applies to you and your relationships.

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  • avatar

    Tone March 19, 2017, 3:51 pm

    I don’t agree with none of that your confusing the kids let the dad get the kids and when he is done drop them off period plus if it’s over it’s over your not a whole family anymore mommy has moved on all that sitting for ice cream and stuff with the mom is threatening to the boyfriend and it should be how could y’all say it’s about the kids if it’s about the kids here go the kids dad and when your done bring them home period y’all sound crazy

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  • avatar

    Frank April 6, 2017, 10:16 am

    I dated a woman with 2 kids, at first i was ok with the ex being in her life – but about 3 months into the relationship we all went to a concert together, me and her ex got along quite well.

    my ex got drunk and i was worried about her as she was starting to wobble (didnt know at the time that her and her ex had deep meaning to some of the songs at the concert) basically long story short when i said to her “hey baby maybe slow down the drinking or u might fall over” she got upset at me and said “u cant tell me what the fuck to do, i’m fine fuck off” and for the next few hours was giving me a cold shoulder and was talking to him – ended up grinding him with her arse rubbing into his dick.

    after that we had a massive talk i said i wasnt happy with what happened – she appologised and felt terrible for what happened. and we continued our relationship, and she was having less to do with him and wanted to be more serious about us

    however for months after that she was texting him a lot wouldnt come to me for things but went with him

    questioned her about it again and said hey i really dont like how much contact you have with him, u told me that you wanted to have less to do with him.

    ended up having a fight and she called him and stayed at his place

    our relationship from there on in we always had a fight atleast once a month when she wanted to go out drinking with him or go spend time over at his house etc

    i swear she was cheating on me, and was only with me to get to him

    but i was ok with him being in the boys life, just didnt like her being so close with him

    probably for good reason

    i personally think that if a father of children (or mother of children) is going to be in a new relationship it should only be for the kids – talk about school stuff / special events / birthdays xmas etc

    personal meetings etc should never be done alone – and if they do the new partner should be there as well so it doesnt send mix messages to the kids.

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  • avatar

    Ryan Bull June 4, 2017, 8:08 pm

    I have a girlfriend we have been going out now for 17 months now. She is going through a divorce. When we met she was still married they had been together about 10 years married quickly and then after 6 months into the marriage it broke down. He was abusive to her and the kids all throughout the marriage . He was verbally and mentally abusive to them all and did terrible things to them and they were very sheltered and cut off from the world because he made it so. When I met her they were still living in the same house but everything was all but over they just shared the house no bedroom or bed sharing no love no emotions no contact hardly spoke she and the kids were stuck there financially because she wasn’t working. She has 3 kids two girls 15 and 12 and a boy of 6 the girls at not his but the boy is his. We fell in love and started making all these plans for the future. It took her a year to get out of the same house as him and leave him. She always said the day she left she was going to tell him it was over but didn’t just left like she was at some point going to return. It was difficult for us both from her side because he was nasty and from mine because he always came first our life was dictated by his wants. When she left it was supposed to be different and an end was meant to be put to that but it didn’t and things got progressively worse after she left him he was constantly harassing her 300-400 text messages a day threats to snatch her kids, have her arrested, threatening to burn down their home, her stuff, verbal and mental abuse anything you can imagine he threatened or called her on a daily basis she was close to a full mental breakdown for months. Still even though she had left we were living by what he wanted everyone forced to pander to his needs because he is bipolar and delusional. We differ I’m not a person that will let people get away with things and because she wasn’t doing anything against her wishes I confronted him and it caused a lot of issues. Now we are 17 months in they are in the process of being divorced now but not much has changed we are still living pandering to his every wish he still abuses her by text and email he does the same thing over and over calls her a whore says sorry then next day repeats the process and it’s tiresome. The problem is they have a son together and they and she wants to be friends with him for her son rather then just being civil and friendly for the sake of the child. When I say friends I mean like texting him every day having conversations that are not divorce or related to their son. The problem is I’m not in the least comfortable with it if they spend time talking they argue and again he calls her a whore if she doesn’t answer within a certain amount of time she is a whore and then he sends the kids a long goodbye message about how awful she is and how he won’t see them again. She threats to block him but never does and this just goes on and on. Now their son needs his father despite his problems it’s his dad he comes by to have him for a few hours once every 2 weeks. His son loves his dad which is understandable but the girls want nothing to do with him. We are arguing because she wants to be friends with him for the sake of the child and it just doesn’t work just constantly abusive to her he may have 3 or 4 days of nothing but inevitably it starts again.she interjects herself into their time like when talking by Skype or when he visits his son which is just causing abuse and problems. I have been trying to tell her the is a difference between being friendly and civil for the sake of a child. Being just civil for their son is nothing bad rather then trying to be friendly and having massive problems but she seems to think just being civil will take away and damage the boys childhood because when her parents split they were nasty to each other. I am also trying to get her to step back from his and his sons time together to let them build the bonds they need on their own because it’s their time it’s what it’s all about again she says she has to or it’s going to damage their sons childhood. Everyone has exs and usually it really isn’t a problem you know if you date someone with kids there is going to be an ex but this one I do have a problem with because of all that is happening and I’m not keen on it. Am I asking to much or being unfair in anyway? We are kind of at an impasse over this whole thing. She lets him rule and ruin everything in life date nights, anniversaries, holidays everything and we spend everyday walking on eggshells to accommodate this monster and I just don’t know what to do.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy June 5, 2017, 7:56 am

      Your girlfriend wasn’t ready for a new relationship. Are you financially supporting her and her kids, or is she working now? Has she and her kids gotten therapy to deal with all the abuse? Are they living with you? None of this sounds healthy. She needed to deal with the end of her marriage and to process everything she went through and work with her husband on custody arrangements and child support and creating healthy boundaries before jumping into a serious relationship with someone else. Without knowing more details, I don’t really know what to tell you except this doesn’t sound like something that will be resolved any time soon, and not without some professional mediation and therapy. I’d put the brakes on the relationship and just be her friend while she figures all this out. She needs to be self-sufficient and decide what sort of relationship with her soon-to-be ex works best for her and her kids without the pressure of a new relationship and trying to make another man happy.

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      • avatar

        Ryan Bull June 5, 2017, 11:08 am

        She is working now she got a job and has been working the past 2 months. We are not living together with everything that is going on there is always doubt about how much good that would do for the situation. As for therapy no and I don’t think she would put herself or them into it. She has had a rough past and likes to skip along pretending to be happy. She never deals with issues she was raised mainly by her mom she has a lot of mental issues and is a psychopath so she suffered a lot of abuse growing up from her mom. Her dad is a retired ex army Colonel so he was no help as emotions are nothing but weakness one of his great sayings is ” don’t come to me with problems come to me with solutions ” and this has been consistent throughout her life. She has always been in abusive relationships guys cheating , beating her putting cigarettes out on her, verbal and mental torture . Her middle child was the result of a sexual attack I just can’t get her to talk to anyone professionally and it goes in circles all she gets is abuse won’t go see anyone won’t break the cycle and it feels like I’m failing her all I can do is sit there and watch it .

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