Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend’s Ex-Wife is a Nightmare”

I chose to be single for about three years because I was just so tired of dealing with men/relationship issues (cheating, lying, drama, etc.). I’m divorced because my ex-husband had an affair and I’ve had awful relationships since, but I have been with a great guy for nine months now. We’ve known each other for about 17 years, but we were always just friends until this past October.

Everything is perfect except for his terrible ex (whom he has an 8-year-old son with) who still controls his life and tries to make him miserable any chance she can because she is miserable. She uses their son as a pawn, and it is heartbreaking because he is such a great dad although in her eyes he can never do anything right and nothing is ever good enough.

My boyfriend pays child support and is court-ordered to have his son every other weekend, but she only lets him see their son when it works with her schedule (which is almost never). He pays child support as well as pays for day care, summer camp, and karate class, and he barely sees his child. He knows he should take her back to court but he doesn’t want to stir the pot, so he tries to be nice and puts up with her craziness to try to keep the peace. They have been broken up for over a year and a halfbut she is always in his business, always texting him throughout the day/night, etc. He got his son a cell phone so he wouldn’t have to deal with her so much, but it doesn’t end.

I also have an irrational fear of his getting back together with her for their son’s sake. Although he makes it clear he can’t stand her, they did breakup/get back together several times in the past to try to make it work for their son. I have yet to meet his son because SHE is not ready – mind you, my boyfriend has never introduced his son to another woman ever, but she has introduced their son to numerous boyfriends of hers.

I have bitten my tongue this whole time and have never brought up how I feel or how anxious the situation makes me, but it has really been bothering me the last few days to the point where my depression is popping up. Just the thought of talking to my boyfriend about it gives me major anxiety, ugh. — Biting My Tongue

Right now your biggest problem is not the terrible ex or your fear that your boyfriend will get back with her; your biggest problem is the anxiety keeping you from the most essential part of a healthy and happy relationship: communication. It sounds like anxiety is a very big problem for you — to the point that you feel anxious about the situation your boyfriend is in, you feel anxious about the thought of talking to him about it, and you are so bothered by all of this, you’re getting depressed.

This is bigger than an advice columnist can help with. Are you in therapy? Do you get treatment for your anxiety and depression? These are real issues that will continue keeping you from reaching your full potential in all areas of your life if you leave them untreated. There are no magic words I have for you that are going to solve this. There is no script I can give for talking to your boyfriend that will eliminate the anxiety you feel about doing so. If even the thought of talking to him — your friend of 17 years — is making you feel sick with dread, a script is not going to be enough to counteract that.

The good news is that there IS treatment for anxiety. There are ways you can mitigate your anxiety — talk therapy, meditation, medication, herbal remedies, yoga and other types of exercise, diet, visualization, making lists, journaling, workbooks, etc. There are lots of self-help books that offer advice for dealing with anxiety. Here’s one that has great reviews, and the title was the immediate response I had when I read your letter.

It may be that this isn’t the best time for you to pursue a relationship, particularly with someone whose lifestyle threatens you/your emotional wellbeing. Maybe the thing to tell him is that you struggle with anxiety and you think the stress of transitioning your friendship into a relationship at the same time that he’s dealing with a particularly high-maintenance ex-wife and an unfair custody arrangement has exacerbated it and you’d like to put the romantic part of your relationship on hold while you work on addressing your anxiety and he works on creating some boundaries with his ex-wife that don’t threaten his relationship with his child.

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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.

11 comments… add one
  • avatar

    csp July 16, 2018, 12:01 pm

    LW – I think you need to consider if this life is what you want. And you need to reevaluate that every month or so in this relationship. He has only been broken up with his ex for 18 months. That is not very much time to work through heartbreak and good coparenting. These things take years and years sometimes. You are in this relationship for 9 months. I think you need to consider what you want because a single dad might take things slower than you want. Do you want kids? Do you want marriage? How much do you want those things and when do you want them? Can you deal with this ex for the rest of your life? because if you do marry this man, you will. I would think long and hard about it because these problems won’t go away, they most likely will just evolve.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark July 16, 2018, 12:19 pm

    Eh, to me the bigger problem is that yje boyfriend has clearly revealed himself to be a lousy fucking father…
    .
    MOA. He’s a loser.

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    • juliecatharine

      Juliecatharine July 16, 2018, 3:25 pm

      Ding ding ding we have a winner!

      The man doesn’t want to stir the pot so he doesn’t see his son…that’s pathetic. He’s spineless. Aim higher.

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  • avatar

    Northern Star July 16, 2018, 12:55 pm

    “He knows he should take her back to court but he doesn’t want to stir the pot so he tries to be nice and puts up with her craziness to try to keep the peace.”

    Your boyfriend is NOT such a great father. Super, he pays for camp and karate. But that boy needs an active dad in his life FAR MORE than he needs piano lessons or whatever.

    I know you can’t do anything about it. But you should adjust your thinking about how “great” it is when someone won’t stand up for himself or for his own son.

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    • avatar

      MMR July 16, 2018, 1:24 pm

      EXACTLY.

      A good father would fight to see his kid. Keeping the peace (i.e. not stirring the pot) with his ex is only worth it if it means he gets to maintain a good relationship with his kid. That clearly isn’t happening if he barely sees his son despite having legal visitation rights. He’s failing his son right now.

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  • avatar

    ron July 16, 2018, 12:57 pm

    I agree with BGM. To me, LW’s comments about the son are so much BS. If her bf has a court order to have his son every other weekend, then he is entitled to that and his ex’s schedule isn’t a reason for her to prevent that. If he truly cared, he be back in court in the blink of an eye and the judge would tell the ex that she needs to live up to her legal obligations. That he hasn’t pushed to see his son more is rather telling.

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  • avatar

    brise July 16, 2018, 3:47 pm

    What everybody said, and this dad needs to go now to court or the statu quo will prevail if he let it happen for a long time without any reaction. This excuse – find peace – doesn’t make sense. LW, this situation is not really your problem. It becomes your problem as a potential serious partner. In fact, the problem is that the ex is not really an ex, he doesn’t dare to act properly to defend his rights as any divorced dad would do to stabilise a good co-parenting. The minute he decides to act on it with a good lawyer, the ex will change her behavior because all these abusive messages would reflect badly on her. So Wendy’s advice is good: he must make a decision. Either he is divorced and he goes to court, get his rights respected and starts to co-parent in a reasonable way, or you are out of this relationship.

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  • avatar

    Oracle July 16, 2018, 4:19 pm

    He can not be bothered to have his son every other weekend. Its just every other weekend. Not that much time, we are talking 4 days a month. If he wanted to see his son he would see to it. That his ex doesn’t want him to makes me think she knows something (and the court does too) that you do not. Not such a good father. Things are not adding up here.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros July 16, 2018, 7:40 pm

    I don’t think this relationship is sustainable. It’s literally making you feel anxious and depressed. You don’t even feel like you can communicate with him about real issues.

    Aside from that, I get people not liking court or conflict, but a child is only a child for a short time. Once that time is up, you can’t get it back. The fact that he’s cool with having very little importance in his kid’s life and doesn’t think it’s worth it to go to court isn’t a great look for him. I’d sure hate to grow up and know my dad barely saw me and didn’t care enough to fight for me…

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  • Lucidity

    Lucidity July 16, 2018, 7:46 pm

    It’s important to keep in mind that you’re only getting his side of the story, and he wants to cast himself in the best possible light to the person he’s dating. If he’s constantly referring to his ex as terrible or crazy, that could be a red flag.

    A friend of mine’s son’s father is an unreliable deadbeat who regularly cancels or blows off his weekends with his son. She’ll text him to find out when he’s picking the child up, he’ll say he can’t that weekend or not reply at all, so she’ll finally let him know that she’s going to make other arrangements. Then, he’ll call her the day of and tell her he wants to pick up his son in 15 minutes. She’ll say sorry but he’s already at grandparents’/sleepover/the arcade etc, and within minutes she’s being attacked on social media by her ex’s girlfriend, whom he’s just told that his crazy, terrible ex is trying to keep him away from his son. Who he had plans to see! Who he’s supposed to have this time with, how dare she defy a court order!

    Unless you’re reading all their texts and listening in on all their phone calls, you don’t really know the whole story.

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  • avatar

    Sandra July 19, 2018, 9:58 am

    Posting under a fake name. This sounds really similar to my partner and his ex-wife and child (pays for stuff, rarely sees child despite trying hard, constant contact from ex, got child a cell phone but ex keeps taking over calls, child met many of the ex’s boyfriends). I’ll give my detailed take in a moment, but before that I want you to take this to heart:

    You can’t “fix” his contentious relationship with his ex. There are no magic words. There is nothing you can do except be supportive. With my partner I tell him “I respect that you call Kid every day. You’re a good dad to him/her.” I also say “Kid is welcome to visit anytime.”

    DO NOT CHALLENGE HER OR CALL HER OUT. If she dislikes you then it will be even harder for your boyfriend to see his son. The best thing you can do for him is be nice and deferential to the ex. Ask her what the son likes or ask what he can watch on TV. Make it clear that you will respect her decisions for the son. If you fight her or try to convince her she’s wrong, then she will dig in her heels. But if you are nice and friendly and blend into the background, then she will be less defensive about letting the son visit and meet you. (I’m not saying be passive or background in the whole relationship, just to take a back seat on this one issue of the son and custody situation.)

    Now my psychological analysis. It may not apply to you. There is enough similarity that I think it might.

    I believe the ex has borderline personality disorder. Borderlines are volatile, they tend to see situations and people in black-and-white. When a little thing goes wrong, then you are an awful person whom they hate! They don’t have many friends because of this. They burn bridges easily. Most friends can talk things out, or they fight and make up. With the borderline ‘s black-and-white thinking, they think the friend is a horrible person over a little disagreement, and they say very cruel things during the fight.

    The same happens with romantic relationships. This seems to fit since you said the ex had “numerous” boyfriends. Does the ex also have a strained relationship with her family members, parents, and siblings? Strained family relationships is also common.

    They are also insecure, so they may cling to a person and also verbally abuse them. Combined with not having many friends, maybe he is the only person who will talk to her. He has to for the sake of the kid. As a result she might see him as a friend, and that’s why she keeps trying to chat with him.

    I don’t agree that he’s automatically a bad father because he doesn’t see his kid often. My partner doesn’t take his ex to court either because his kid loves the mother so much. He doesn’t want the child to be sad or to suffer at the hands of a stressed, mentally unstable mother. I saw firsthand that he made tremendous sacrifices to support the kid and keep in touch.

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