Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Husband’s Kids Want Nothing to Do With Me”

I remarried two years ago after a messy divorce. My new husband is really good to me: loving, calm, decent and all I wanted. We do have a problem though. When he goes to any party hosted by his children (he has four grown children), he can’t take me because the ex-wife is there and the kids are afraid she’ll throw a tantrum. Recently, his daughter came here to issue some invitations for a birthday party, and all the invitations she left had the names of husbands and wives in the family except for ours, which only had my husband’s name on it. It’s now eighteen years since my husband separated from is ex-wife, and he lived far away most of those years, so why only now is she going to throw a tantrum because of my existence? He had a serious relationship after her, and the children even visited them in another state. So why am I persona non grata?

One of my husband’s sons won’t have anything to do with me, the other is keeping me at an arm’s length, his wife won’t accept me on Facebook, and the daughter is sooooooooo cold with me. I certainly don’t understand.

I asked my husband if he could please help somehow, but he said he cannot do anything because his ex is a sociopath who is probably going to ruin the parties if she sees me there. And he is terrified of losing the love of his children. I’m a good, loving woman who gives them presents and messages and receives nothing from them. Why would my presence make my husband’s children love him less? How can a woman who is separated from her man for eighteen years have such a hold on him and the family? — The Second Wife

If this were just one occasion you were being excluded from and it was a big occasion, like a wedding, and there was reason to believe your relationship overlapped with your husband’s previous marriage or there was some other obvious factor contributing to his kids not accepting/liking you or not wanting you in the same vicinity as their mother, I’d probably suggest you suck it up and skip the event. But this is a regular occurrence and, from what you say, there’s no obvious reason your husband’s kids have to shun you. Furthermore, you are married to their dad. You are part of the package now and, if they want their father’s presence, they have to accept yours as well. Honestly, I blame your husband for letting them get away with their treatment of you. He should not be accepting invitations that exclude you.

But I’m curious: Have the kids always treated you this way? If so, has your husband ever offered an explanation? Did they treat his ex-girlfriend, the woman he was serious with after his marriage ended, this way? I would keep pressing your husband for more details. Does he honestly have NO idea why his kids want nothing to do with you? I’m also curious if you and your husband ever invite the kids to your home or to parties/dinners/family get-togethers that YOU host? If so, do they come? If you aren’t already doing so, this would be a great way to establish a relationship with them without their mother hovering about.

You also need to tell your husband how much it hurts you when he goes to family parties that you are actively excluded from. Let him know that, when he worries about losing his kids’ love rather than worry about hurting or losing you, it makes you question his commitment to you. You say he is “good” to you — loving and decent — but it isn’t loving and decent to leave you at home every time one of his kids invites him over and you are excluded. That’s unloving and quite hurtful.

If I were you, I’d pick one person you feel is the most receptive to you out of your husband’s four kids and their spouses/partners and tell him or her how important it is that you have a good relationship with all of them and ask if there’s anything you can do to soften their perception of you. Don’t come out and ask why they don’t like you (that presumes their feelings and puts them on the defensive); simply ask if there’s anything you can do to improve relations. If there’s nothing you can do, you’ll have no choice but to continue giving it time. And while you wait, avoid trash-talking them to your husband or demanding he cut ties with them. Continue sending them small gifts or cards and giving them every reason to accept you and no reason, other than their own lameness, for not accepting you.

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

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

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

39 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Mells July 23, 2015, 8:50 am

    LW, why on earth would you want to be FB friends with his sociopathic ex-wife???

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy July 23, 2015, 8:56 am

      I read it that way at first, too, but then realized she means the son’s wife (her husband’s daughter-in-law).

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray July 23, 2015, 9:04 am

      I was going to ask the same thing.

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh July 23, 2015, 9:08 am

    There has to be more to this story. There must have been some indication when you first met that there was tension between you and his family. Were you living far away from them when you did? When did you meet them? And how did that go?
    *
    I also dislike the way he seems to dismiss everything with a simple she’s a sociopath, I don’t want to rock the boat. Unless she is actually a sociopath that seems like a scapegoat. It comes across as he just doesn’t want to deal with talking to his adult children and explaining that while he doesn’t expect them to love you he does expect them to at least accept that you are part of his life.

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    • avatar

      for_cutie July 23, 2015, 9:16 am

      I agree. There is no way this is a complete story. Four adults don’t all decide to shun someone without some reason or history. Four adults should also know better than to rely on stories from their mother and use their own free will and judgement to make character assessments. I think that the LW is omitting some crucial details.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 23, 2015, 9:36 am

        I don’t know. I’ve witnessed first hand something similar. However, it wasn’t four grown adult children, it was only one. And it was bad.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh July 23, 2015, 9:45 am

        I think it’s hard to tell based on what we have been given. I think whatever it is as adults the children should be able to move past it and accept the new person in their father’s life. But, it just seems like there are some crucial pieces to the story that are missing.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 23, 2015, 10:55 am

        Oh, I agree. One would think that would be able to happen. But I’ve seen an adult child filled with so much hate torwards one of the parents that you just never know. All I’m saying is I don’t think it’s completely out of the ordinary for people to behave irrationally.
        .
        My aunt married a man that had a super toxic divorce and as much as he tried to be there for his son, the son wanted nothing to do with him, only his money. It tore my aunt’s husband up, as well as my aunt to see this happening to him. And she had absolutely nothing to do with the divorce.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom July 23, 2015, 11:39 am

        My aunt married a man who was a widower. She met him well after his wife died. Before they were married his kid’s maternal grandparents told them that if they accepted her in their lives they weren’t being loyal to their mother so they always acted out. The oldest son was 13 at the time and the daughter was 9.

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      • avatar

        Cleopatra Jones July 23, 2015, 12:20 pm

        I think whatever it is as adults the children should be able to move past it and accept the new person in their father’s life.
        .
        Except in the case of my very good friend, who’s dating a woman that is afraid to tell her adult children that she’s gay because she’s afraid that the adult children will cast her out of their lives. It’s really sad and frustrating for my friend, especially since they’ve been living together for the past 7ish or so years.
        .
        Not that I’m excusing these children because I think once you get a certain age you should understand relationship dynamics and why your parents divorced — just saying it’s some crazy people out there who refuse to move from a parent/child relationship to a parent/adult child relationship.

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  • avatar

    Unwanted_Truth July 23, 2015, 9:09 am

    I also want a little more info on the son not having anything to do with you, LW. Does he straight up ignore you if you were to say hi, or when /if he ever comes over?

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  • avatar

    Unwanted_Truth July 23, 2015, 9:10 am

    @jlyfsh got me thinking also, LW, did any of his kids attend you and your husbands wedding? How did that work out?

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie July 23, 2015, 9:25 am

    The husband could have brushed it aside during dating as “They’ll come around” or “When we’re married, we’ll do with the kids.” full well knowing that his ex would behave this way.

    What I want to know is why is the husband’s relationship with his kids so fragile that he believes that any expectation of them behaving like adults will make them stop loving him?

    LW – can you recommend that your husband meet with his kids and a therapist (one on one or all with the therapist) so that he has a safe space to communicate his fear of losing them and how their behavior keeps him at arms length?

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom July 23, 2015, 10:33 am

      If her husband lived out of state for many years he probably has a weak relationship with his kids caused by distance. It’s hard to maintain a close relationship when you can’t see each other very often. The kids may have felt betrayed and abandoned by their dad if he is the one who moved away. There may be a lot of unresolved anger and hurt and disappointment and it is still playing out even though they are all adults now. Add to that their mom who is nasty and manipulative and may leave her kids feeling like they aren’t loyal for all that she’s done for them if they associate with his new wife. There are people like that. They like to be in control and to be dominant and it takes their kids a long time to establish boundaries between themselves and that type of parent. Some never manage to do it.

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      • avatar

        ktfran July 23, 2015, 10:56 am

        Yes, this. I think this is extremely plausible.

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      • avatar

        LisforLeslie July 23, 2015, 11:54 am

        I expect the reality is very much as you’ve described. Still, 18 years is a long time to hold a person hostage and a long time to accept this as reasonable behavior. If the LW was responsible for the breakup of the marriage I could see reasoning behind the banning but that’s not the case here and I can’t imagine anyone expects a rekindling of romance between the husband and ex-wife.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh July 23, 2015, 12:05 pm

        I don’t think it necessarily has to be that they think they will get back together. If something along the lines of what Skyblossom has said is what happened, then it could just be that the kids see this as supporting the Mom in a weird and twisted way. If there is enough anger there, it would be easy to be petty and act out like they all are. Depending on how the Father reacted earlier in the separation he may have even laid the framework for the way their relationship is now. If he’s always given in to them because he felt say he owed them for leaving.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 July 23, 2015, 9:30 am

    Yeah this really does fall on your husband (unless you did something that you aren’t sharing.)He needs to have a talk with his kids and get to the bottom of this. They have seperated for 18 years and they can’t figure out how to be nice to the women their dad loves then there is something really wrong there. You aren’t the women that originally broke them up are you?

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  • avatar

    K July 23, 2015, 10:05 am

    I can understand, although do not approve of, the ex-wife’s reaction because my mom (sadly) would react the same way. She’s already made noises about how, if I ever get married, my dad’s girlfriend shouldn’t be at the wedding. I’ve shot that down, but she makes snide remarks about my dad’s girlfriend even though she has absolutely nothing to do with the reason my parents got divorced! They separated 22 years ago, and my dad and his girlfriend have been dating for about 5 years. Frankly, it’s childish behavior, and the ex-wife should suck it up and act like an adult. She doesn’t have to interact with the husband and ex-wife or have long conversations. But they’re all adults and she should have the decency to be cordial. Although, if it were me, I’d probably invite my mom to one party, and then my dad and his SO to the next. Totally leaving out the SO is really rude.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom July 23, 2015, 10:28 am

      I agree with inviting each parent separately so that you can have a drama free party. That works unless it involves a grandchild’s party and then it would be difficult to have two parties.

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      • avatar

        K July 23, 2015, 10:46 am

        Oh yeah, didn’t think of that!

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom July 23, 2015, 10:40 am

    I’d invite one of his children and their family for a relaxed get together. Invite whichever one seems most amenable. Do something like a backyard BBQ or meet at the lake or beach or if they have small children treat them to Chuck E Cheese or some child friendly place or take them for ice cream. If you invite them to your home and they have children make sure you have some child friendly things for the kids to do. If you aren’t sure what would be age appropriate for the kids ask what they like to do and then ask if what you are thinking of is ok.

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    • avatar

      ktfran July 23, 2015, 10:58 am

      If something like this hasn’t happened already, I think it’s a really good idea. Start small and get at least one of the children to warm up to you, LW. And then branch out and start doing it with others.

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  • avatar

    Essie July 23, 2015, 10:45 am

    Yeah, this is absolutely on your husband, LW. It’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting with his kids, in which they get told that they’re not required to be your BFF, but that they WILL treat you with respect. Ignoring you is unacceptable. And he will not be attending any more gatherings to which you are not invited.
    .
    And dismissing this as the fault of his ‘sociopathic’ ex-wife is just weak. Unless she’s been diagnosed as mentally ill and is not responsible for her reactions, it’s time for her to grow the F up and deal. And if he needs to have a conversation with her, too, so be it. He can remind her that their marriage has been over for nearly two decades, and continuing to punish their children by putting them in the middle is just ridiculous. If she wants to make a fool of herself at family gatherings, well, go ahead.
    .
    Honestly, I’d insist that he sort this out. He’s letting it go because he’s too weak to tell his kids to behave like the adults that they supposedly are. and to tell his ex to get over herself. It’s not fair that you get left out of family gatherings and treated with disrespect, and it’s really not fair that you get left to deal with this on your own, with no support from him.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom July 23, 2015, 10:55 am

      His kids are probably much closer to their mom than to him because he lived out of state for years. She was the one who was there for them day in and day out so he can give them an ultimatum but they can choose to cut him out of their lives. They were already used to not seeing him very much. His ex would probably love that and that might be exactly what she is trying to do.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros July 23, 2015, 12:02 pm

    I obviously don’t know the whole context. A few things jumped out to me. Calling his ex a sociopath is similar, in my mind, to guys who call ex-girlfriends crazy. Usually they acted “crazy” because the guy was an asshole. Now, obviously, there are exes who are bitter or inappropriate all on their own, but I doubt your husband is a saint. Not to mention, I guess I have to wonder about what sort of parent he was if he was out-of-state. I know there are different situations, but all of my friends who had long-distance dads basically saw their moms as their parents and their dads were often perceived as deadbeats. Not saying your husband was, but I think this is likely about him, not you. And it’s a lot easier to let in a dad who you aren’t close to or are not a fan of (because he’s your dad an d you want to have one) than to also let in his wife.

    Not to imply that your husband is a bad guy, but divorce creates a lot of weird dynamics. Even though you logically know that your parents can’t live together, when you only “visit” one parent, they seem a lot less parent-y than the person who tucks you in at night and picks you up from school. Not everyone is going to be willing to give up having a peaceful and fun party to let their long-distance dad’s wife come. It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s a tradeoff.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph July 23, 2015, 12:35 pm

      So much that first part. Beware a man whose exes are crazy. Its far more likely that he did something to provoke the wife’s ire than that she is a grudge holding crazy lady who just wants to hurt him for divorcing her 18 years ago.
      Sure some small percentage of the population are legitimately sociopaths, and perhaps she is… but you should really probe further into whether he’s being honest about it.

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  • Today

    Today July 23, 2015, 1:58 pm

    Maybe the LW is much younger than the husband? Like closer to his kids’ ages? Not that that’s a good reason to shun someone, but I could see her (unfairly) being labeled as a trophy wife by his family before they bothered to get to know her.

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  • Dear Wendy

    Dear Wendy July 23, 2015, 2:54 pm

    From the LW:

    hi just some more about it as you asked. First of all, many thanks for replying so quickly and I have to say I agree with everything you said.

    So more to the story- I lived in Wales for 27 years, my ex husband is English. When things got really rough I came back to Brazil. Im here now. Here I met my new husband through a friend. We were courting for one year before we decided to get married and we did in the spur of the moment, during holidays, with only my son and my cousin there, but we did say to his family that we would all go out for a dinner after.
    As it happens, we have invited them many times for this meeting and dinner but even though they say they will come, they always have something else more important to do. Now two years have gone by and we gave up that one. However, we did invite them for barbecues in our house (did not come). Recently I invited the daughter that is the most receptive of the four, and we said we would cook a nice dinner for her family and even said what we would cook for them, It was supposed to be on a Saturday.
    On the MONDAY before the event, she phoned saying she was in town and would come that day with husband and baby. The house was a mess, there was no food ready, and I had a lunch date with a friend and a visit to the dentist after. So I went to do what I had to do.
    I was back by three with a cake and we had coffee and cake and very soon they decided to go home. She was as always very cold with me, just gave the invitations for the baby’s party (the ones I have told you, the ones without my name on them), collected the many gifts I had for the baby and they left. So much for the dinner we had planned for them.

    I really dont know what more I can do, so I have decided not to do anything anymore.
    My husband is going to the birthday without me because (he says) the ex would spoil the party if Im there, so there you are.

    Yes, the kids went to visit the woman he was in a relationship with before me. They were only living together, he was not married to her. They all went, but I suspect that was because them ( the couple) lived in a very very beautiful part of the country and they (the kids) had free holidays. I also know that this woman treated them terribly, not talking to them for days. Im totally different and truly love them, wanted to see the whole family together ( I have two kids and three grandchildren) but I cannot get anywhere with his family.

    My husband is very well accepted by all my family, my daughter adores him, my son is always here and gets on well with him, my brother ( a doctor) is always inviting us to his country house, and really likes my husband, so I dont know why oh why Im being treated like that, but you are right, I need more time .

    The other thing Id like to mention is that my husband has nothing else with his ex, and hasn’t had anything to do with her for more than 18 years, by what he told me she used to shout at him, throw things at him, she put him out of the house twice, tried to lure him back with sex (what he told me he refused ) , telling her he did not like her at all. Her kids protect her like a pack of lions and wont let me approach their house or them or worst, her.

    I feel terribly because my own daughter is living abroad and I miss her a lot, somehow in my innocence I thought that his daughter would be a daughter for me, but I couldnt be more wrong.

    Anyway, I think I have answered all you asked me. Im 52 and my husband is 57, we live well, travel a lot and are generally happy, if it wasnt for that about his family. He said he is working on it all and he is sure if I give him time his kids are going to see who I am. Lets see!!!!

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    • avatar

      Ale July 23, 2015, 3:34 pm

      LW, the problem here is your husband. He is not giving you the place you have and he is not explaining why. He should be trying to get his kids to respect you and give you the place you have. He is brushing the whole thing off. How do you know that he is actively working towards fixing this? Maybe he is not, and is just saying so to calm you down.

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    • coconot

      coconot July 23, 2015, 3:53 pm

      Do you think maybe the children feel jilted because they weren’t there for your wedding? Their behavior would still be an overreaction, but perhaps that is part of their dislike towards you. Have you and your husband ever apologized for not inviting them?
      .
      Also, try planning your next outing somewhere neutral, and do something that’s not 100% about talking/eating. Maybe a street fair or outdoor movie or even a walk in the park. People tend to bond better over an activity.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph July 24, 2015, 9:21 am

        Totally agree with your first paragraph. I think all the other speculation above that the LW’s husband was a bad father are likely correct. Him eloping without inviting them was probably the final nail in the coffin. It’s still not cool that they are taking it out on the LW, but you can kinda see where it comes from.
        It’s up to the husband to stand up for his wife and tell the kids its not acceptable to exclude her. Doesn’t sound like he’s willing, so I guess the LW doesn’t have a lot of options.

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    • avatar

      jlyfsh July 24, 2015, 9:28 am

      It still doesn’t answer what kind of relationship he had with this kids when he lived far away and if you had met them before you got married. If we fill in blanks with our own speculation, I would guess he didn’t have much of a relationship and you hadn’t really met them much prior to getting married. Family ties are only as strong as the foundation they are built on. If he left when the kids were still school age, they could be putting in as much effort in to a relationship with him and his new family as they felt he has in the past. Childish perhaps, but I can see where it might come from.

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  • avatar

    Jen July 23, 2015, 4:04 pm

    Sometimes you just have to accept that you’ve done all you can and move on. You can’t control their behavior and attitudes, you can only control your response. So, be cordial, friendly, and relaxed, the way you know you should behave…and let them be however they choose to be. That’s all you can do. As for your husband, it sounds as though they “allow” him into their lives grudgingly and completely on their terms. Thus far, he’s chosen to accept that; perhaps he’s grateful for any time and attention. Whether that’s workable for your relationship is kind of your call…if he’s over there without you every weekend, that’s a problem. If it’s just a few times a year, maybe you just have to accept that seeing his kids on those terms is his only option.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros July 23, 2015, 4:54 pm

    I think it’s possible they were offended/hurt to be left out of the wedding and presumably had not even met you yet? You’re being left out of birthdays, but they were already left out of a wedding. If that’s the case, then, yeah, they SHOULD get over it, but some people don’t.

    Also, did he tell you that the previous woman didn’t talk to his kids? So, he was again talking crap about exes? If he knew she treated them like that, why was he still with her? A parent who BOTH willingly dates someone who they know treats the kids badly, and then marries someone without inviting the kids (or letting them meet her?) is possibly not making their relationship with their kids a great priority. Like I said above, if they think he’s kind of a jerk, then less incentive to get to know his wife.

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  • avatar

    Texas Belle July 23, 2015, 4:57 pm

    Wendy is right. You should be your husband’s number one priority. His ex shouldnt even be on the radar and children do not come before your wife (though they do come first in some situations). Instead he has put you on the back burner for his ex wife and allows his children to run all over and disrespect your union. He sounds like he has jello for a backbone. He should sit his children down and let them know he loves you and he will no longer tolerate this disrespect and ostracization of his wife or else they will be alienating him as well and can expect to see both of you less. His vows and allegiance are with you. If he cant uphold those things I think your marriage has serious problems.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom July 24, 2015, 7:00 am

    I don’t think that there is much that you can do in this situation. His kids are loyal to their mom and not to your husband. I don’t know how rough or easy their childhood may have been but it was their mother who stayed with them and raised them. She was loyal to them and now they are loyal to her. Your husband has no leverage to make demands on your behalf because in any ultimatum they will choose their mom. They are adults and they get to choose who they will have in their life. They can choose to not have you in their life and if your husband has a fit about it, which he could, they can cut him out of their lives.
    .
    I do think it was a warning sign to you that things wouldn’t work with his kids when he was willing to get married with none of them at the wedding. It sounds like you hadn’t met them before the wedding. That was also a huge sign that something wasn’t right between him and his kids. If you spent a year courting and didn’t meet any of his kids that means something is wrong. I don’t think he is completely honest with you about the situation between him and his kids. Does he take any responsibility for the poor relationship between himself and his kids? If he doesn’t he isn’t being honest.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom July 24, 2015, 7:02 am

    Also, do you know whether he was legally divorced? Is his ex still his legal wife?

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  • avatar

    Joyce July 24, 2015, 2:27 pm

    LW = I think I would probably act a little like his children. You excluded them on your big event, but you want to be included the children’s events. You and your husband dissed them first. They have to put up with their father because he is their blood relative and they don’t want to sever all contact. But you mean nothing to them. Why didn’t you consider them when you got married and waited to include them? They didn’t mean enough to you to wait and include them, but you included YOUR son. Shame on you. Now you act all innocent. I don’t think this about your husband’s ex-wife at all, but your poor behavior.

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