“My Boyfriend is Obsessed with My Ex-Husband”

I’ve been seeing a wonderful man for just over a year now. I met him when I was going through a divorce. My ex-husband cheated on me and lied about having genital herpes (which was passed on to me as a result), so he’s not the most honest guy but he’s a great dad to our two little boys. My divorce has just been finalized and we share custody, alternating weeks with our kids.

My boyfriend has been a great support and help. We love each other very much, have great relationship chemistry, share the same goals and ideas and have many common interests. The main and only issue in our relationship is my ex-husband. My boyfriend, for the past eight months, has told me that he has been trying to wrap his head around my kids and the role he has in their lives (he’s never been married nor does he have kids. He’s 46 and I’m 38). He’s finally said that even though he loves and adores me he can’t deal with playing a support role in raising my children. He can’t be secondary to their father.

My kids absolutely love this man, as do I. Unfortunately, I have them every other week and can’t change that. How can I find a way for my boyfriend to better cope with this? What can I do to get him to stop obsessing about my ex and to remember that he’s in this relationship because of me, because we love each other? Is there a way to work around his issues of not wanting to be secondary? — Newly Single Mom

You’ve got it wrong. The main issue in your relationship with your boyfriend absolutely is not your ex-husband; it’s the fact that you have two kids and your boyfriend isn’t interested in being a stepfather figure. This whole “I can’t be secondary to their father” thing he’s pulling is total bull shit. What does that even MEAN? That he wishes he were their dad? That he wishes their dad didn’t exist? That he wishes THEY didn’t exist?

Look, this man is NOT being supportive — at least not in the way that you, as a single mother, seem to want him to be. And I can imagine how much that sucks, not just because you love him so much, but because you just came out of a marriage where your husband cheated on you and lied to you and, after all that, you deserve some relationship happiness. I get that. I get wanting something so much you’re willing to overlook glaring incompatibilities. But you being a mother to two young kids and your boyfriend not wanting to be a father IS a huge incompatibility, at least in terms of a serious, long-term commitment.

The good news is that all of this doesn’t mean you have to break up. Not yet, anyway. Your boyfriend said that he can’t wrap his head around what his role is in your kids’ lives and he doesn’t want to play a supporting role in raising your children. Well, he doesn’t HAVE to play a supporting role in raising your children. You have support in raising your children. It’s called their father. Your boyfriend doesn’t have to be a father figure to them. Frankly, at this point, he really doesn’t need to be in their lives at all. Your relationship with him does not need to include your children. With joint custody, it’s easy to separate your life with them and your life with your boyfriend. Keep them separate for as long as that feels appropriate. There’s no need to rush into merging these different relationships. There’s no need to rush into creating a new family with a man who’s a life-long bachelor at 46 and says he can’t wrap his head around raising kids.

You actually CAN have your cake and eat it, too, and I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t. If things continue to progress with your boyfriend and you get to a point where you can’t imagine continuing a relationship without living together or getting married, then you can reassess where things stand between him and your kids. Maybe by then he’ll have a better idea what his role in their lives is or what he’d like his role to be. Or maybe your kids will be old enough that it won’t really matter anymore. Step-parenting young children is much different than step-parenting teenagers, for example.

But if your boyfriend really IS “obsessing about your ex,” as you say and this is less about your children and more about feeling jealous, then that’s another ball of wax. And if, after just a year, you’re finding that you have to keep reminding him that you’re in a relationship because you love each other, then maybe it’s not worth continuing. Maybe you really don’t love each other all that much after all. Maybe it’s just a great rebound relationship with awesome sex and fun companionship. And there’s nothing wrong with that… as long as things remain low-maintenance and drama-free.

I can’t tell from your letter how much of the drama is in your head and how much is coming from him. If it’s the latter, then I’d consider moving on because the last thing you need after finalizing a divorce is dealing with another man who’s weighing you down. And if the drama is just you wanting a new family right away, cool your jets, sister, and enjoy not being tied down for a change!


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


  1. “This whole “I can’t be secondary to their father” thing he’s pulling is total bull shit. What does that even MEAN?”

    I LOL’d at this. Literally.

    I don’t have anything to add to the LW. Except I think you need to find the answer to Wendy’s question.

  2. I think the LW needs to clarify what playing secondary to their father means.
    I’m guessing what he means is that he would like to be their father, but because their real dad is still in their life, he feels like he’s playing second fiddle to him?
    There’s a lot of great books out there about co-parenting and step families (if that’s what you’re looking to build.) Read one.
    But a good start would be for the boyfriend to honor the bio dad’s place in their lives.

    1. I think Wendy answered the wrong question (not that it was bad advice, but the way I read the letter I don’t think it applies).
      “He’s finally said that even though he loves and adores me he can’t deal with playing a support role in raising my children. He can’t be secondary to their father.”

      To me that sounds like he would be ok being their father figure, but he doesn’t feel comfortable being their step-father, in that their actual father gets more of a say in raising them than he does…?

      Although I think their actual biological father does get more say than the mother’s bf, I have to wonder if the LW and her ex are taking it to such an extreme that the boyfriend feels like he doesn’t have a place in the family. I wonder if there’s more to it, like the LW is constantly deferring to the father on decisions, or never lets the boyfriend discipline or have an opinion about the kids since “he’s not their real dad” or something. I would definitely suggest counseling or at least some self-help books on how to co-parent or how to involve step-parents, if you want this to work.

      Of course if he refuses counseling then it may be, as others have said, a distraction tactic so he can either get out of the relationship or just get out of having any dad-like responsibilities, as others have suggested.

      1. lets_be_honest says:

        I feel like mom SHOULD be deferring to dad about decisions on their kids (if that’s his issue). I wouldn’t appreciate some boyfriend or girlfriend of dad taking over my decision making rights as a parent.

      2. honeybeenicki says:

        This is something the three of us discussed (before their step-dad came into the picture) so that everyone was clear on what was going on. Big decisions are decided between the two parents (who ask the steps opinion if they want to), smaller day-to-day household decisions and rules are decided in the household (so my husband and I decide our rules together, his ex and her husband decide there’s together) and we often collaborate to keep most of the rules fairly similar (ie: chores, time on electronics, homework rules, etc). And I participate in discipline if only to create a united front, but if it’s something we’ve never dealt with, I always discuss it with my husband first.

      3. lets_be_honest says:

        You make it sound so simple, haha. You should teach a class on this 🙂

      4. i think it actually is pretty simple if everyone knows their role, communicates, and doesnt think its some sort of dick-measuring contest….

      5. honeybeenicki says:

        It is helpful that I don’t have a dick to measure 🙂 But yes, communication is key. And accepting that we can’t control what goes on at their mom’s house and her accepting that she can’t control what goes on at our house (short of anything abusive which isn’t an issue for us). That’s huge. It took a little while to get the balance but now it works really well. And the kids hate that we all communicate because then they can’t get away with lying or trying to play us against each other.

      6. lets_be_honest says:

        Oh I totally agree. It IS so simple if you aren’t a total ass.

      7. I guess it depends what the deferring is over. After all, Mom should be able to make decisions regarding the kids too.

        If its, “Should my kid have life-threatening surgery” yes, make that decision with Dad (but don’t defer to him, decide together). If it’s “Can billy have an extra slice of pizza?” then that seems like a question they could handle internally on the weekends the kids are with them. I’m not saying the guy necessarily has a point, I’m asking whether the guy has a point. Only the LW can tell us.

        If the bf buys Billy a new t-shirt for his bday, and the mom says “That’s not your place, that’s for his dad to decide” then I think the guy has a point. If the guy buys Billy a new iPad without asking permission, then the mom has a point. That’s all…

      8. lets_be_honest says:

        Yea, that’s all true. It depends. But if mom says Billy should only have 1 slice, or any minor decision, why does new boyfriend get a say? Idk. If this guy is so immature that he needs to have a say in an extra slice of pizza just to feel like he has a say…

        This is all coming from someone who had major issues in letting someone play a bigger parenting role, so what do I know?

    2. My thoughts exactly. I know sometimes Wendy does clarify with LWs before she replies so she may know something we don’t. But I read it like you did. I took it that the boyfriend wants to be the ONLY father, not that he doesn’t want a role at all. Which is creepy and possessive in a different way.

  3. Avatar photo BriarRose says:

    The whole “can’t be secondary to their father” bit is confusing. Did he elaborate on what he meant? That he’s jealous he won’t ever feel as important as their dad? Or have as much of a “say” in their lives? Things like that would be understandable, in my opinion, and something you two could work through. But if he flat out refuses to be second to their father, that’s weird. Sorry to say, but he is and always will be. He’s not their dad and that’s just the facts. Like Wendy said, you need to figure out what he meant by that and see if it’s something you two can work through.

    Your boyfriend is 46 and hopefully is mature enough to not take it personally that your kids already have a dad and love him. There are other, great ways for him to fit into their lives.

    1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

      I was really confused by the “he can’t deal with playing a support role in raising my children” too. At first it made me feel like he doesn’t want to be a step-dad at all, doesn’t want to date someone with kids. But when it was followed by the “he can’t be secondary to their father,” that part felt like he was ok with LW already having kids, he just wanted their dad OUT. Which reminded me of this horrible made-for-TV movie I saw this weekend (I saw about 5 cheesy Hallmark Channel movies this weekend) where the step-dad killed the real dad!

      Really, LW, can you come back and explain? Is this a “I can’t deal with you having kids that aren’t mine” situation or a “I can’t deal with step-kids who already have a dad” situation? Would he prefer the father had no involvement? Or is this really about the fact that you and your ex-husband are always going to be involved (for the kids) and not about the kids and their dad always being involved?

      I’m ‘fused. But I think Wendy’s advice covered all the bases and gave you lots of good things to think about.

  4. Avatar photo fast eddie says:

    The LW and her kids are an inseparable package. If he absolutely can’t accept that it’s time to call it quits. Painful as that will be everybody will be better off. On the other hand time may resolve the issue. A few months isn’t enough to adjust to being a parent, especially a first time parent that wasn’t seeking the roll to start with. If he’s willing some, therapy might help him sort out his emotions. At a glance, he’s taking this relationship very seriously therefore worth the effort of working on it.

  5. sophronisba says:

    Maybe the “can’t be secondary to their father” is a red herring, because in what universe would a boyfriend-of-the-mom ever take precedence over a fully involved, caring father? By establishing a requirement for his involvement that is impossible to meet, he gets a get out of jail free card. Look, the guy’s been telling you for months that basically he doesn’t see himself fulfilling a supportive role in raising your two beautiful children. I think you should believe him.

  6. i both agree and disagree with wendy’s advice.

    on one hand, for sure- he does NOT have to be a father figure yet, and that would probably be too fast and too weird, especially if he is the one uncomfortable with it. so yea, just, you know…. dont make him a father figure? thats very easy.

    on the other hand, though, if he wants nothing to do with kids, that is a pretty cut and dry issue, right? i mean, you have kids. he doesnt want any part of something that people say are their total reason for living? come on, just leave him. that is not something you get past.

    so i dunno. probably just in general, slow down. maybe that will help.

  7. I can sympathize with the boyfriend here. I don’t have kids, and would have a hard time dating a man with kids. They are part of the package and the father will always be a factor. What Wendy is suggesting is exactly what a friend of mine did in her long-term relationship. She and her boyfriend only saw each other on the weekends when he did not have his son. (It helped that his son was a bit older and so wasn’t really looking for a mother-figure.) She is also a very independent woman who was raising a child of her own and has many interests. Eventually, they all met and it worked out well, but for a long time, this is what they did. However, they were both kid people, so getting everyone together was always part of the plan. If the boyfriend here is not a kid person, this may only be postponing the inevitable. Try it and see how it goes. It can work. Remember, this is only the first relationship you’ve had since your divorce. It doesn’t have to lead to another marriage. It can just be a happy distraction.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      But wouldn’t you, knowing you wouldn’t like to date someone with kids, just NOT date someone with kids? That’s why I don’t sympathize with this guy. If he knew he’d have issues with something like this, why would you even begin dating someone with kids and an ex?

      1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        I would LOVE to date someone with kids. Friday night would roll around and he’d say, “sorry, I have the kids tonight, so it is going to be a order-a-pizza, watch-a-Disney-movie, play-games-in-our-pajamas kind of night, with lights out by 10, because we have a pee wee soccer game to go to at 7 am in the morning even though it’s freezing balls out” and I’d say “oh thank gawd i can’t think of anything else i’d rather do!”

      2. lets_be_honest says:

        🙂 I can’t wait for that to happen to you.
        I, on the other hand, am always surprised singles are even willing to date people with kids haha.

      3. honeybeenicki says:

        One of my “rules” was that I wouldn’t date someone with kids. Too much baggage. Here I am 7.5 years later and almost 5 years into marriage and I have two awesome bonus kids that I think the world of and can’t imagine life without. But then again, I didn’t have a problem being “secondary” to their mom because… well, because that’s their MOM! I would never want them to not have a relationship with her. And it doesn’t affect my relationship with them at all. There’s no reason they can’t love both of us (and their dad and step-dad).

      4. lets_be_honest says:

        Yea, well, I think your normal and have a brain. Most people are not or don’t have one. haha.

      5. So, if I ever met a dude with kids, I think I could only date him and consider him as a long-term partner if he was on good terms with his ex. I would hate to get in the middle of something nasty. But I’m not opposed to meeting or dating a dude with kids.

      6. I still love that you call them bonus kids.

      7. honeybeenicki says:

        My son calls me his “bonus mom” so it seems to be spreading 🙂

      8. lets_be_honest says:

        Can you be my stepmom?

      9. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        oh whaa, don’t want me as your stepmom anymore? come on, i won’t make you clean all the bathrooms all of the time.

      10. honeybeenicki says:

        We can both be her stepmom! I like to clean the bathroom myself and don’t trust other people to do it right, so I don’t make anyone clean the bathroom.

      11. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        actually i like doing bathrooms too. dishes? that’s on lets. and laundry? that’s on my other stepdaughter, tech.

      12. lets_be_honest says:

        I don’t mind the dishes (and now that my dear stepmom taught me the “right” way to load the dishwasher, I should be all set). Laundry, hell no.
        Sweet, I have 2 more WSMs!

      13. honeybeenicki says:

        Yeah, I don’t do dishes or laundry. But if all else fails, my husband will do those instead.

      14. Avatar photo fast eddie says:

        A bit harsh Lets, how is one to know what it’s like to be a pseudo parent until you try it? This couple are nearly middle aged and many women in his dating range will have kids in tow or want them really badly. It’s a cold meal to face life without a partner and hard enough to find someone at his age, let alone a “perfect match”. While I sympathies with him, it boils down to weighing the result no matter which way he decides to go and it appears that he’s giving it all the thought it deserves.

      15. Addie Pray, I think you would be the best step mom. I have a step mom, and I wish I could trade her in for you.

      16. lets_be_honest says:

        Haha, me too! I’m so pissed off at her right now, not that that’s super unusual.

      17. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        I’ll be your surrogate step-mom. It’s official, I have a step-daughter – it’s Tech.

        Tech, I’m gonna need you to come over tonight to help me clean my condo before the guests arrive for Thanksgiving. (I am already so good at this job!)

      18. lets_be_honest says:

        tech, make sure you load her dishwasher properly or she might make you redo it.

      19. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        da bitch has gotta learn somehow! mwahahaha.

        how quickly the nice step mom turns into evil step mom. i’ve been watching too many Disney movies.

      20. lemongrass says:

        AP, you are just like this girl I used to work with. She’s now a nanny and our babysitter.

      21. You are right. I, personally, would not date someone with kids (at least not very young kids). But, I know myself very well and I know how I feel on this issue. Maybe this guy didn’t. Maybe he’s never dated anyone with kids before. (Unlikely at his age but a possiblility.) Maybe he thought he could handle it and he’s finding now that he can’t. It amazes me how many people don’t really stop and think and ask themselves how they really feel about things. (And honestly listen to the answer.) Who knows? I may end up married to some guy with 10 kids. (Yeesh.) But I can be completely sympathetic to how he feels. One of the reasons I wouldn’t date someone with kids is I don’t like to share. I need to be the priority for him and if he had kids, I would not be. Or maybe he feels that the dad is a reminder that his girlfriend was significantly involved with someone else prior to him. (A weird attitude but some guys have it.) If it’s the latter, I can’t help him, but if it’s the former, I can sympathize.

      22. Not to mention that now that he seems to understand that he doesn’t like it, he’s still doing it.

  8. I can tell the boyfriend is uncomfortable playing the role of step dad, however the LW and her kids are a package deal and that’s not going to change. If she’s looking for something long term, I honestly think she should cut her losses and MOA.

  9. Sunshine Brite says:

    Seems like it’s not as much NOT wanting a role, but wanting to supersede the father and essentially make him disappear. It’s not as much her role with the kids she needs to protect (which she needs to do) but the father’s role as well. These kids have a dad, the boyfriend should be able to have his say but parents have the final veto power.

  10. painted_lady says:

    I would be interested to hear what role the boyfriend *would* be comfortable playing. It’ll say a lot about how to deal with this. If the role of stepparent (or potentially so) is just too ambiguous, then defining it a little better would help. If he can’t see himself as a stepparent ever, or he can’t see himself with kids who have a non-household member who holds priority over him, then, um, it’s time to go, y’all. “How would you fix this if you could?” is a really straightforward question.

  11. I’m confused about the BF and what kind of role he wants in your kids’ lives. I can’t tell if he’s saying he doesn’t want any role, or if he wants to be the #1 father figure in their lives. You need to ask him exactly what sort of role he wants in your kids’ lives, and then take it from there.

  12. LW, I would be interested if there was an event that started this conversation. Did your bf say “no candy” then the dad said “candy is fine” and make your bf realize that he has no authority? Being a step parent has some parts that really suck because you have tons or responsibility but no real control or say. I disagree with a lot of the people here saying “he knows that this is a package deal.” Frankly, many people know that intellectually but don’t really know until they are in this. This is why you date people. Everyone has baggage and you see if you can fit within all of this. I think he is saying that right now, he isn’t ready to jump in and be a step parent. But seriously, LW, you just got out of a marriage so why jump into another. If you like this guy, just take your time and see where it goes.

    1. Yeah this is kinda what I was trying to get at above. If you leave every little decision to dad and undermine the boyfriend at every turn, I can see where he might have a point.

      1. I feel like being a step parent is all the responsibility and none of the benefits. I mean, there is a huge financial and time commitment. You are talking about raising someone else’s child but don’t get the respect or recognition. Not to mention, this LW was very recently divorced so I am guessing the co-parenting stuff is still very unsteady. It can take years to get into a place of mutual respect.

  13. Sobriquet says:

    I think we need more information. I don’t think it’s necessarily a big red flag that the boyfriend isn’t totally comfortable with his role in this situation. My advice for the LW is to put herself in his shoes and just communicate, communicate, communicate. What exactly is he uncomfortable with? Is it a jealousy thing or is it something more concrete? If he’s jealous that the ex is so heavily involved in LW’s life, she can let him know that those feelings are normal and will more than likely fade with time, and once the kids are older there will be a lot more separation. If it’s something more concrete, like he wants to play a bigger role in the kid’s lives or something, you can sit down and brainstorm solutions.

    But if he’s just upset that the dad is still in the picture and wants him OUT, I’d say move on now rather than later. That’s a shitty Lifetime movie just waiting to happen.

  14. Take it from a divorced mom – this guy isn’t worth it. He wants your ex-husband out of the picture, and probably wants the kids out of the picture too. There’s a reason why he’s in his 40s and has no kids. He doesn’t want them. Or worse, he wants them NOW, but wants to be the main paternal role and wants to push your ex out of the way because he’s a jealous type.

    You don’t need that for your kids. You need someone who will be okay with working with your ex-husband from time to time and being a supportive male figure. Or, don’t bother introducing your kids to your boyfriends.
    I went through a few duds before I met my current husband. I did NOT introduce my kids until I knew that he could 1) handle kids; 2) was willing to work with a secondary male (my ex-husband) and 3) passed a background check.
    I’m not saying you need to run background checks on every guy, but they do need to be able to pass items 1 and 2 before ever meeting your kids. Meeting the kids means you’re serious.

    I recommend that you stay single for a while. Independence will help you figure out the type of guy you want in your kids’ lives.

  15. I second what Wendy said. It’s not really clear what this guy is saying, and I hope that you’ve asked him to clarify instead of just assuming. Regardless, if he is just not OK being the boyfriend to a woman who has children with another man, then it’s time to MOA. I think it’s also important to wait to get your kids to “love” someone until you’ve established that he’s fine with your situation.

    1. He might be fine being the boyfriend but not the step father.

      1. True. Same result, though, to me, unless she’s fine with him always being just the boyfriend.

  16. Laura Hope says:

    All of the older married couples I know say that they didn’t really fight until they had kids. It’s really hard to negotiate through all the decisions–major and minor– regarding their upbringing. So here’s this man who, if he lives with or marries her, will end up giving his heart and soul to these kids–essentially raising them– without any power to make decisions. He will always have to defer to their father (a stranger to him). I kind of get where he’s coming from.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      Who knows what will happen if they live together or marry. Just because he has no say now (which I don’t think he should anyway), doesn’t mean anything for the future.

    2. I wouldn’t assume he’s going to have no power to make any decisions. Maybe the mother and father will make some of the big ones, but I’d venture to say that most stepparents do get some say. I mean, my stepmom definitely has plenty of say when I’m home, whether it’s what chores I’m supposed to help with or whatever.

  17. Laura Hope says:

    I’m not saying he should have a say–at least right now. I’m just saying that I can understand how he might feel.

  18. “My kids absolutely love this man, as do I. Unfortunately, I have them every other and can’t change that.” – This line bothers me SO MUCH. Why is it unfortunate that she gets her kids every other weekend? Why would she WANT to change that? For him? Was she actually considering changing her visitation for a man so that he could be more comfortable?

    1. Maybe it’s unfortunate that she doesn’t get them for longer periods of time and can’t change the custody arrangement?
      Or… she would change the arrangement to suit some idiot she’s known for a year or so because she doesn’t want to be alone.

      I’ll tell you something, kids come before love life. Kids have a way of remembering the worst of what you do and blame you for it for life. Ditching the kids for a childish boyfriend would hurt them.

      Hmmm… if she means my second interpretation, perhaps they would be better off with their father.

  19. Avatar photo bittergaymark says:

    To me this guy sounds a bit nuts. I don’t see how this ISN’T a dealbreaker. It’s a huge, huge red flag. It’s a BILLBOARD illuminated in RED NEON…

  20. the worst part is that she dated someone while she was still married. WAIT until the divorce is finalized, and then wait another year after that at least!

    Why not date someone in the same boat as you? Single parents should only date other single parents.

  21. This boyfriend needs counseling to “wrap his head around” being secondary (occupying a supporting role) with your children. In today’s world of blended families, it’s a role most (or at least many) of us will play. It strikes me as dreadfully immature to not be able to handle this role— but maybe he IS just immature. Counseling will help him grow. If he won’t go, then you need to break up with him. This is HIS problem, unless you are too deferential to your ex, in which case, you should get counseling too. As time goes by, your ex will be less of a factor in your day to day life. The first few years can be awkward and lots of uncomfortable emotions present themselves, but time will take care of this as long as everyone handles things maturely. Maturity means empathizing, not laying down too many bright line rules, forgiveness/grace, and putting the kids’ sense of security and their mental health first. This boyfriend is making it about him. He needs to work through his issues like an adult. Even if you don’t end up together in the long run, counseling will teach him something about himself and he will grow as a person, which is its own reward.

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