Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Girlfriend is Spending Christmas Morning With Her Ex and I’m Not Invited”

My girlfriend, “Mary,” and I are in a similar situation as this LW and her boyfriend were in. Mary has an 8-year-old daughter with her ex-husband whom she’s been divorced from for three years, and I have a daughter, 14 years old. I keep a good relationship with my daughter’s mom for the sake of my daughter, and so I totally understand the importance of that. Lately, we have been having some issues because of how I feel about the extent of Mary’s relationship with her ex.

Mary’s ex has their daughter every other weekend and drops her back off at Mary’s house every other Sunday at 8:30. When he drops her off, he brings her in and puts her to bed and then wants to hang for sometimes an hour or two until 10:30-11:00 after their daughter has gone to bed. Mary tells me this is what they have to do to maintain their friendship. If she says anything to him, he then gets all pissed off and they end up in some long-heated conversation. Also, I was told that her ex has their daughter on Christmas Eve and will drop her off that night. He then comes back Christmas morning for just the three of them to open presents together. I also have my daughter on Christmas Eve and drop her off at her mom’s Christmas morning. I asked Mary if I could come straight there after dropping off my daughter and was told to wait because she doesn’t know how long her ex will be there. I then told her I don’t feel like it’s right that I have to sit at home and wait for her ex to leave in order to come over or that I have to leave her house on Sundays and then he shows up after that to just hang out after their daughter goes to bed.

Then she tells me that every year on their daughter’s birthday the three of them — just the three of them — go to Disneyland (her ex and her daughter share a birthday), and Mary asked me if I am going to have a problem with that. Well, I kinda do; I don’t think that’s right and I feel like that’s disrespectful.

Again, I totally understand the whole keeping things good between her and her ex, but I think their hanging out alone after her daughter goes to bed as well as a day at Disneyland as a family is all a little too much. I honestly feel that if I were to take a day to hang out with my ex and my daughter at Disneyland, as though we were still a family, I wouldn’t feel right about it because I would feel I was being disrespectful to Mary.

Please give me your input on this. — Feeling Disrespected

I agree with you that all this alone time and exclusive family time between Mary and her ex is a bit much. I would have a problem with it if I were dating someone who spent so much time with an ex. But I also don’t think it’s “wrong,” per se. Apparently, it’s what works for Mary and her ex (and their daughter). It doesn’t work for you, though, and it’s absolutely fair of you to express your discomfort. It’s rude that you have been told you can’t come over Christmas morning until her ex leaves, and that you have to leave early on Sundays so Mary’s ex can hang out with her one-on-one for one or two hours. You have every right to tell Mary how rude and disrespectful it is. You have every right to ask her to be included more and for her to limit her one-on-one time with her ex because you are uncomfortable with it (I mean, at least she could be including you more often!). If she’s afraid doing so will cause her ex to explode, you might suggest she find a mediator to have on hand, and to re-visit the terms of their custody agreement.

It sounds like you’ve started expressing your concerns, but I would be very explicit if you haven’t yet, and let her know in no uncertain terms exactly how you’re feeling. If she makes zero attempt to change things to better meet your needs and to show you and your relationship some respect, I would take the hint that you and your feelings are not a priority to her. It sounds like your relationship is fairly new — like this is the first holiday season you’ve been with her and maybe you haven’t yet been with her through her daughter’s birthday so she’s warning you ahead of time how it’s celebrated; maybe this is one of her first serious relationships post-divorce and she’s still trying to figure out how to navigate the different dynamics without offending anyone. Be sensitive to the juggling act while still maintaining your own boundaries. I think you will have a clearer idea in a month or two where you stand with Mary. If she continues to disregard you and your feelings, I’d move on.

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

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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.

14 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Hannanas December 19, 2017, 11:01 am

    I get the feeling your girlfriend is scared of her ex? Does she enjoy the time they spend together, or does she just want to please her ex out of fear?

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    • avatar

      Northern Star December 19, 2017, 11:42 am

      Yeah, I agree. Mary doesn’t seem to “want” her ex to hang out—she says he gets angry if she tries to send him home early. Unless she’s lying or something?

      The Sunday night ritual is bizarre, and if it doesn’t change, the LW should move on. I wouldn’t by OK with that kind of arrangement.

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    • Cleopatra Jones

      Cleopatra Jones December 19, 2017, 1:18 pm

      I was just thinking that the ex sounds kinda controlling and manipulative. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mary doesn’t like all the extra time together but does it to appease the him.

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  • bagge72

    bagge72 December 19, 2017, 11:40 am

    So I think this comes down to how long you have been in the relationship. If it’s been a couple of months, then you really have no right to request them to change what they are doing, if it’s closer to you a year you might have a better argument there. But it sounds like Mary wants to keep everything as simple and sane as possible for her daughter, and right now that doesn’t include you in there family plans.

    The exhusband does sound controlling, and maybe insane it seems like Mary doesn’t want to rock the boat, because she doesn’t want to start a big argument with the daughter around. It’s crazy that he has to hang out for an extra couple of hours after the daughter goes to sleep on a Sunday night. The Disney thing sounds normal to me since they share a birthday, but I would think eventually you would be part of that, maybe just not the first birthday she has while you too are dating.

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    • avatar

      Northern Star December 19, 2017, 11:44 am

      I disagree—he can certainly ask for changes before he leaves Mary (since it sounds like an untenable situation to me). At least let her know WHY he’s outta there. Let her decide if keeping her ex happy is worth losing her new guy.

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  • avatar

    ele4phant December 19, 2017, 12:32 pm

    I’m of two minds here.

    On the one hand, I can certainly understand that you are uncomfortable with *just* how much time they spend together, and it does seem a little concerning that Mary seems afraid of her ex (or at the very least has no interest in enforcing boundaries and is just going to go along with whatever he dictates).

    HOWEVER, it also seems a bit premature for you to be inserting yourself into this family (and her into yours). If this your first holiday season together, is it really appropriate for you to be with her daughter on Christmas morning (regardless of whether the ex is there or not?) Is it really appropriate yet for you to be at her house late at night (overnight?) when her young daughter is there (regardless of whether or not the ex is hanging out)? Is it really appropriate yet for you to be weighing in on her parenting decisions (regardless of whether or not what she and her ex have come up with is atypical)?

    I would say Wendy gives good advice, but really, I think you need to have a little more skin in the game before you have a right to actively impose your opinions on her family arrangements.

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  • avatar

    csp December 19, 2017, 12:33 pm

    LW – I agree with Wendy. These things are warning signs but not MOA…yet. The big question is how long you have been in this relationship and what she plans on doing moving forward.

    So I know many co parents that do different things for holidays and birthdays as an exclusive family unit for the kids. essentially it is “We don’t love each other but we both love you” mentality. The christmas morning and birthday thing seems good. The sunday evening thing would need some probing. I would ask her where she sees your relationship going and where you fit into that plan. Good luck.

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  • avatar

    convexexed December 19, 2017, 12:52 pm

    Yeah, that is beyond what’s necessary for maintaining good co-parenting relationships and communication. A regular phone call, email, or quick chat during child exchange time is more conventional than hanging out alone at night for hours. If he has the daughter 4 days out of the month, he is not the primary custody parent, and (I know I may get some disagreement on this), probably is not involved in the daily logistical decisions and changes in his daughter’s life like he would be if they had 50-50 and shared primary custody. 50-50 custody simply requires more regular communication/collaboration/decision-sharing than every-other-weekend. I’m not saying a parent with less custody should or does take less interest, or couldn’t possibly come up with hours worth of discussions about the child-raising, but his limited custody COMBINED with the late hours and the need for the two of them to be absolutely alone for hours at a time is weird. My own rule of thumb is that night time alone time is for intimate, close friendships—even if she is staying friends with her ex, he should be downgraded from a nighttime hanging out alone friend to a daytime with the possibility of witnesses friend. I mean, they did divorce, did they not? They can still be a family in the sense of sharing a kid and putting that first, but they are no longer be a family in the sense that once the kid’s asleep, they get to hang out alone and no one else is invited.
    Ultimately, it’s on Mary to figure out her ex, but if he is a controlling, manipulative, or difficult person, it’s best to address the situation before it becomes a routine with years standing. I say this as someone whose live-in partner has 50-50 custody with a volatile ex. If you cater to their whims/unreasonable at the start, it’s very hard to change things later. It’s better to establish your boundaries sooner if possible. If it seems that the ex is not a safe person, and Mary is frightened, that’s an even stronger reason for her to find backup through the courts, professionals, and her support group to change the dynamic. The daughter is 8; ten more years is a long time to live under the terms of a controlling ex who wants to isolate you from your new support system.
    This is a new relationship, from the sounds of it, so there’s not a whole lot you can do besides trying to determine if Mary feels threatened, and if so, offer your support and assistance.
    Or, if it turns out this is her preferred way to co-parent, regardless of your feelings, I would personally MOA. If I could go back in time, before my feelings got too deep in my current situation, I would run at the first sign of a co-parent ex who says jump and everybody in the room has to jump. What I wouldn’t do is just wait and see without stating your discomfort and getting some clarity from Mary on how she sees the situation and how she sees it progressing.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph December 19, 2017, 12:58 pm

    I think you need to pick your battles. And that battle is the Sunday night hangout.

    A little girl getting to spend her birthday at Disneyland with both parents is great for her. Same with Christmas. It’s nice that both parents get these experiences with their daughter, too. She’s not going to want to go to Disneyland with mom and dad for every bday so it’s good they are soaking up these moments while they can. Also it sounds like Mary told you pretty up front that this was their tradition and asked if you had a problem. So that to me says this is a condition of staying with her and if you’re going to have a problem with 2 people amicably coparenting their kid on her birthday then you probably should nope on out of there.

    But the hanging out on Sunday nights is weird, so that’s the battle I’d fight. Tell Mary this bothers you and why, and also maybe ask some probing questions about why she feels like she has to accommodate it and whether there are some boundaries she can start to enforce there. Idk, maybe be like “gotta go to bed, early day” at like 9:30, and shoo him out. (But then 930 is my actual bedtime so…)

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    • avatar

      csp December 19, 2017, 2:23 pm

      ^^ This!

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    • Copa

      Copa December 20, 2017, 5:33 pm

      I’m late to this party, but I agree with this. I don’t see anything inherently offensive or rude about not inviting him to Christmas Day with the ex and the kid, or anything wrong with going to Disneyland together as a family for her birthday. These seem to be things they’re doing for the daughter’s benefit. From the daughter’s perspective, they’re hanging out as a family because her parents are her family. Why shouldn’t she get to spend time with her family together if her parents are able to give that to her a few times per year?

      Also, I get the feeling LW would feel less slighted by Disneyland if the ex didn’t share his birthday with the daughter.

      All that said, the Sunday night hang-outs alone are weird and I wouldn’t be okay with them. LW’s girlfriend seems to be agreeing to them to keep the peace. So I agree that this is what LW should be trying to get to the root of and trying to change.

      And if she can’t or doesn’t want to change the status quo, and LW can’t accept it… time to move on!

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  • avatar

    dinoceros December 19, 2017, 1:20 pm

    It sounds like her ex is a jerk who she tries to appease by spending time with him. I’m not sure if it’s just that she tries to avoid him acting rude and spiteful or if he was ever abusive in any form. If this were a situation where she appeared to be enjoying time with him, that would be different, but based on your description, she has just resigned herself to doing it to keep the peace.

    This is how she’s chosen to parent and live her life. If you don’t feel you can accept it, then break up. Maybe if the ex gets a new partner, he’ll go away. Maybe he won’t. This isn’t the kind of situation that you can give her an ultimatum on and expect to get your way. Even if you tell her it bothers you and she cares about that, it’s still not clear whether she can make those changes without experiencing a lot of blowback from her ex. Welcome to life as a woman, where you can’t necessarily tell your angry ex to go away without experiencing his wrath. (And no, I’m not saying that’s the case for all men, but it is in some cases.)

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  • avatar

    Anonymous December 19, 2017, 4:08 pm

    Yes, you are right, it is too much, but you can’t really impose anything here. You don’t live with her, she can do what she wants after all. About Christmas, if it is your first holiday as partners, I would let it go. You can see each other the 25th evening, so you are not waiting for the OK call at noon, that is humiliating for you.
    Sunday evening: unacceptable and over the top. If they are divorced, he has nothing to do at her place. Disneyland: fine. You probably shouldn’t focus on that mess right now. You have no right on her, don’t start being yourself controlling. The more your relationship will grow, the more you can let her realise what goes beyond boundaries. And if one day you live together, then it is over with this good night ritual. Take it step by step, don’t focus on this guy. She perhaps does that out of guilt regarding him and the child about the divorce. Don’t rush her and it will evolve.

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  • avatar

    Flora June 8, 2018, 5:47 am

    So basically sounds like she hasn’t told the ex she has a new boyfriend because she’s aware he still has feelings for her and that’s why he’s hanging round when he drops off the kid and is planning Disneyworld trips and why your not welcome at Xmas… I don’t think it’s okay… being friendly with your ex is essential, holidaying alone with them and dressing it up as the child’s best interests is a bit ridiculous, if you’ve got a new boyfriend it’s called moving on, don’t move on if you or your partner or your child isn’t ready .. if you want this kind of set up maybe it’s best to introduce your ex at the same time as the child seeing as your new partners expected to have a relationship with your ex as well that is beyond the ‘normal’ boundaries.

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