Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Parents Secretly Spend Time with My Ex-Husband!”

ex

I’ve written you once before and your advice as well as the comments were really helpful to me in that situation. I’m struggling with a new family-related question and am hoping you might be able to provide advice one more time.

I’m struggling right now to figure out the best way to handle a situation with my mom. For back story, I was married for three years and have been divorced for almost five years now. My ex and I do not have any children which made this, in my mind, a clean split. My mom and step-dad did not see it that way at all. My ex actually ended up living with him for almost a year after our split. I get that my ex’s family is across the country, but also for me this is painful. To me, this is my husband who responded to my concerns about growing apart and not sharing anything anymore (he was traveling 45 weeks a year at that point and catering on the weekends he was home) with a “I’m not worried. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” And he was unwilling to try counseling or work on things.

I have done counseling with this on my own and thought I was in a better place until recently. My step-dad had a medical emergency that landed him in the hospital at risk of losing multiple fingers from his dominant hand. I visited him the day after the accident and before his surgery. My mom had told me not to worry about coming which I assumed was because I live about three hours away. On my way out of the hospital room, I ran into my ex. Evidently, he was the one my mom called to come clean up after the emergency and take care of things like taking out the trash. I didn’t realize they were still that close, and she had already indicated one of their neighbors was on top of all of that stuff.

I waited a few days to email my mom about how I felt. I didn’t want to add on to an already emotional situation any more than necessary. I just said that I had thought I was ok with it, but, seeing the close, family-like relationship she still has with my ex, I’m now realizing I’m not ok with it. It also hurts, almost more, that she lies to me about it. I get that my mom thinks she’s trying to protect my feelings, but, as I’ve told her, I don’t feel protected. I feel blindsided and lied to. This type of thing has come up in a few situations with the ex before. I know I can’t tell my folks whom to spend time with or not. And I honestly thought I was over it all until this last week. But it hurts. And I don’t know if it’ll stop hurting if their behavior continues.

How do I adjust my expectations of my relationship with my mom and and step-dad? I don’t feel like this is something worth ending any relationship over, but it does affect how close I feel to them.

Thanks for any advice you can share. — Blindsided by Mom and Stepdad

You’re right — you can’t tell your parents whom they can and cannot spend time with, anymore than you can tell your ex whom he can and cannot spend time with. But you are certainly within bounds to express to all of them how uncomfortable you are with their continued relationship — how hurt and betrayed you are that the intensity and closeness of the relationship has seemingly been kept a secret from you for the last five years. And you can tell your parents that you feel their closeness with your ex, who hurt you in your marriage and whose indifference to your emotional needs was a large reason for your divorce, compromises their loyalty to you and makes you question how in tune THEY are to your emotional needs.

You can tell them all these things and then you have to accept that you cannot control how they react or whether they change their behavior at all. You are only in control of your own behavior and in expressing your needs and establishing healthy boundaries. As for adjusting your expectations of your relationship with your mom and step-dad, I think you need to decide whether you want to be informed of the status of their relationship with your ex or if you want to continue be kept in the dark if they decide to remain close with him. You can certainly ask that you always be warned if there’s a potential for a run-in with him (like you had at the hospital). And then you have to accept that, although it doesn’t feel like it, their relationship with your ex isn’t a reflection of their love for you. Their love, though, is imperfect. Because they are imperfect. Like we all are. They have failed to put your needs above their own, which is always disappointing behavior from people we care about, but especially from parents whom we believe are supposed to protect us always. They have let you down, and that really sucks.

How you move on from this is by forgiving your parents (and your ex for the role he has played in your hurt feelings). Forgive them for disappointing you. Forgive them for loving you imperfectly and for failing to protect you and failing to put your needs above their own and for making you question their loyalty to you. Forgive them for being selfish. There’s a lot of freedom in forgiveness. It clears bitterness in your heart and makes room for love and compassion. This won’t miraculously heal your relationship with your parents overnight, but it will be miraculous in its own way and its own time.

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

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

10 comments… add one
  • mrmidtwenties

    mrmidtwenties January 23, 2015, 8:50 am

    I’m sorry LW. That must be so awkward and weird. On a side note, it reminds me of Meet the Parents, except obviously your ex is not awesome like Owen Wilson.

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  • norabb

    norabb January 23, 2015, 8:59 am

    Forgiveness is essential, but it will probably be hard. Forgiveness is something you do every day. What helps me is to remember that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you approve of what they’ve done, it just means you’re lessening the hold it has on you.

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  • Lianne

    Lianne January 23, 2015, 9:23 am

    This super sucks. Wendy is spot on. And good for you for recognizing that you can only change the way you view the situation and how you react to it…that in itself it sometimes difficult to realize!

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  • FireStar

    FireStar January 23, 2015, 10:03 am

    Aw. That must feel like such a betrayal. Sorry LW. Since you already know you can’t control other people you just do what’s best for you. If you want to pull back a little from your parents – do that. If you want to tell them you don’t want to see or hear about your ex and that’s for them to coordinate – do that. If you want to ask them why they are so close given how much he hurt you – do that. Do whatever makes you feel better. And for what it’s worth I don’t think you are unreasonable at all in what you’re feeling.

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  • avatar

    snarkymarc January 23, 2015, 11:30 am

    Do your parents have other children that live near them? Do they have grandchildren? They are probably just lonely. I agree that they shouldn’t have kept their relationship with your ex a secret, but they have needs too. I don’t agree with Wendy that parents should always put the needs of their children before their own, especially if the children are adults. You are probably in your 30s and your parents in their late 50s or 60s. You relationship should be on relatively equal footing where all parties should be both empathetic and considerate. Would you move near your parents if they asked? Would you be okay if they moved near you? If the answer to either of these is no, maybe you should just be happy they have someone nearby that cares. How does their relationship with your ex hurt you? The failure of your marriage is on you and your ex, not your parents. Be the bigger person and let parents spend time with someone they care about.

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    • avatar

      sketchee January 23, 2015, 12:07 pm

      I don’t think Wendy is saying that parents must put their children’s needs before their own. She said that it often hurts when others don’t put their needs before ours. Very different statements. =)

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    • avatar

      PDXGirl January 23, 2015, 5:08 pm

      LW here again. I mentioned some things below but yeah. I would move back up or have one (or both of them) move in with me if needed. My bigger issue is not that they still spend time together. I can usually manage being happy for them that they have that relationship to enjoy and even for him that he has people near him who care about him. But the lieing and secrecy about the relationship needs to stop. I’ve let them know I’m mostly ok with the situation but I dislike being lied to, especially when it leaves me blindsided when something pops up.

      I’ve always acted like a grown up about this. That’s been somewhat easier with lots of counseling. But I’ve always respected their right to the relationship and even talked my dad out of being really upset about it (he does not get it at all). So it’s not like they have any reason to be worried I’m going to flip out or make a bigger scene or fight about it if they tell me the truth.

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  • avatar

    kali January 23, 2015, 3:40 pm

    I have a similar situation although I was married for 21+ years and had two daughters with my ex. But he still lives in the same town where we — and my parents — resided and owns a restaurant they funded for him. I moved away. My parents think he’s charming and love the VIP treatment and free food at the restaurant. They invite him to family celebrations, etc.

    My Mom has always been oblivious to my feelings but this is new for my Dad. I have told them how I feel (betrayed, unloved) and they were surprised to hear it. It illustrated to me just how clueless they are about me and the years of struggle and heartache I had in my marriage. They didn’t change anything but stopped telling me about it. I still find out from family photos on Facebook and comments my sister makes but at least it’s not thrown in my face too much.

    I decided long ago not to let my mother’s words or actions hurt me any more. I had to extend that to my father as well after this behavior. I wish things were different but they aren’t. I can’t change anyone but myself so I changed how I react to my parents and my ex being friends. In the end, it’s my fault as I brought him into our lives.

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  • avatar

    PDXGirl January 23, 2015, 5:01 pm

    LW here. My parents have 5 other kids, 4 of which live within 30 miles and several grandchildren. As much as I would like to write it off as loneliness I don’t think that’s it. I’ve always had a more challenging relationship with them. The only time we were really close was when I was married and I guess I’d just wonder how much of that had to do with me or my ex. I did expect my divorce to be cleaner since we didn’t have kids and were married for only 3 years.

    I appreciate the input here. I don’t think I’d noticed the similarity between how both they and my ex felt about the importance of my emotional needs. I will ask about giving me a heads up when there might be a run in. I think my mom feels like she’s protecting my feelings by hiding things but we all know it’s there. The hospital visit was more of a surprise because my Mom had told me a neighbor was helping them out. The hiding things is also a pattern. When he and his new SO came to Thanksgiving a couple of years my Mom wasn’t going to tell me until my sister put her foot down. And even then she volunteered she hadn’t seen them so I learned from my step-sis that they’d all had dinner earlier that week. Even now she acts like it’s baffling to her I would be hurt by the situation. And it gets tiring sometimes feeling like you’re the only grownup in the room when it’s your parents.

    Bottom line is it’s choosing to forgive them every time something like this comes up. And recognizing it’s ok it still hurts and to take a step back and not feel bad when she talks about how I’m closer to my dad.

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