Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Break Up With my Boyfriend If He Keeps Giving His Ex-Wife Money?

My boyfriend of a year has been divorced from his son’s mother for 21 years. They attempted to reconcile several times years ago. He had a terrible drinking problem then but has been sober now for 13 years. They have not attempted getting back together in many years but have maintained a pleasant relationship, mostly on the phone. He emphatically says that, while he loves her as the mother of his child and respects her for bringing up his son in a loving, appropriate home, he has no romantic interest in her whatsoever. She tends to hit him up for financial help every now and then (maybe once every 1-2 years). She is facing retirement due to ongoing sickness and I foresee financial woes. I’m worried he may want to help her out and I don’t like it. Should I, if I find out he is going to help her at times, break it off or just not worry about it? — Suspicious of Financial Woes

First, you need to figure out what it is that bothers you about the idea of your boyfriend of a year financially helping out his ex-wife/mother of his grown son. Do you think it symbolizes feelings between them that you’re uncomfortable with? Are you concerned about your boyfriend’s own financial situation? Do you think he can’t afford the help he’s provided his ex in the past? Are you thinking about building a future with this man and worried about how his spending habits may affect that future together?

Once you get clear about what it is that concerns you, you need to decide what is actually worth communicating to your boyfriend and how. For example, as his girlfriend of a year – I assume you don’t live together? — I don’t think it’s entirely your business how he spends his money. But if you feel unsettled about his relationship with his ex-wife, that is absolutely worth discussing. And it might help you to get a sense of why he has helped her financially in the past. Maybe he didn’t pay as much child support and alimony as he could have. Maybe he feels particularly indebted to her for, as you say, raising his son well. Maybe the money is his way of making amends for problems his drinking may have caused in their life together and his role as a co-parent when their son was young.

You mention nothing in this letter that should worry you — only that they have a pleasant relationship that is mostly maintained through phone calls – so you would have to be clear about what it is that concerns you. Is it just about the money he loans her? Again, it’s not your business how he spends his money, but if you think the money symbolizes something about their relationship that confuses or upsets you, you should express that.

If you are thinking about a future with this man and are worried about how his potentially extending financial help toward his ex may affect your plans, be very concrete about those concerns when you talk to him. Does he know you have these plans? Is he on the same page as you? Does all of this sound a little premature? Well, then, maybe worrying about how your boyfriend might react to his ex-wife’s maybe impending retirement is also premature? And maybe it is best to focus on the present and how and whether your boyfriend makes you happy, and whether your relationship feels super solid. If it doesn’t, think about what it is that is happening right now – not maybe, potentially months or a couple years from now, but right now in the present – that you can address with him and then do that. Worrying about something that *might* happen, and that might now even affect you if it does, is a waste of energy.

Nearly two years ago my fiancé committed suicide at the age of 22. I was 20 and our son was one and a half. It came as a huge shock to everyone and it took me a long time to understand and accept it. Shortly after his funeral, his mom, dad, brother, and friends turned against me and blamed me for his death, which they continue to do to this day. Over the last two years I’ve been blamed and harassed publicly on social media, and they’ve called social services and the police on me countless times, making up silly allegations. They haven’t seen my son in two years and have never once asked to see him.

The second anniversary of my fiancé’s death is in a week and I don’t know what to do or how to feel. I’ve got nowhere that I’m welcome. I can’t even visit his memorial bench because I don’t know where it is, and I don’t know where his ashes are scattered. I don’t want to just sit at home and do nothing because I want to remember him and I want my son to remember his daddy. But what can we do together that’s appropriate for a 3-year-old? Any kind of help or advice would be greatly appreciated! — Remembering My Fiancé

I’m so sorry for your loss and for the extra pain being alienated from your fiancé’s family has caused you. I think it’s a wonderful idea to do something special on the anniversary of his death to honor his memory, especially to help your son develop a sense of his father. You don’t need a memorial bench or scattered ashes to do that. Is there a place that you know of that was special to your fiancé? Is there somewhere you two went together that had some special meaning for you? Was there a place you went on dates? A park where you had walks and talks? Where did you first find out you were pregnant? Where did you two get engaged? Where did you plan to get married? If there’s any place that sticks out as meaningful to you, it might be nice to go there with your son if possible. Have a picnic or order a lunch. Bring photos to show your son (or, better yet, make an album or scrapbook to give to him). Tell him about his daddy.

Since it’s spring and the anniversary of your fiancé’s death will always fall in early spring, it might be a nice tradition to start planting something in memory of him. For example, my local neighborhood park offers commemorative tree-planting opportunities every spring where people can donate a specific amount of money and then choose a tree species and location for the tree to be planted. Maybe there is something similar in your area. The anniversary could also be the day you do some gardening, either at your own home or at a designated place that has some special meaning.

Does anyone else have ideas for how this LW and her son can honor her fiancé’s memory on the anniversary of his death — ideally something that can be a tradition that they can continue year after year?


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5 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Sapphire April 11, 2019, 12:44 pm

    I’m so sorry about your fiance. If you could have a playlist of all his favorite songs, you could play them in the car ride or play them during breakfast.

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  • avatar

    KatieM April 11, 2019, 1:01 pm

    My mother passed away when I was slightly older than your son. I went to her grave regularly when I was a child. I didn’t find it cathartic, or comforting and I couldn’t equate the stories or pictures I had of her with (what I saw as) a rock, among a field of other rocks. As an adult I decided to remember her in a way if my choosing. I take a day off in the month of April (the month of her birthday and the day she died) and do something I think she would like. In years past I have done community gardening, gone on a long walk in a beautiful place, done some kind of act of service (soup kitchens etc). Since having a child of my own I do things with him that I think she would have enjoyed doing with us together. On Monday I am taking my son to a local pop up happiness museum.

    I say this, not to say that sitting on a bench is an inappropriate way of releasing your grief, but more to say that in the absence of the bench or ashes maybe you can start something new that you look forward to doing with your son that I am sure his father would have also enjoyed.

    Grief is a tricky bedfellow. You are going through it, at some point your son will go through it, your fiancé’s family is still going through it. Be kind to yourself.

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    • avatar

      Kali April 11, 2019, 2:27 pm

      I so agree with this.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros April 11, 2019, 1:12 pm

    LW1: I agree that you need to figure out what the issue is. But in the end, he’s an adult and he can make choices about how he wants to interact with his ex wife. If you don’t like those and feel that those are dealbreakers for you, you certainly can break up with him. I will say, though, that if everything else is fine (you seem to be implying that all the other issues are over and done with — I don’t know if that’s true or just wishful thinking), you do need to consider that in our society, divorced single moms often become impoverished when they reach retirement. Oftentimes, this is due to the fact that they were not fully employed during their kid’s childhood and, while married, this was fine, but when they are no longer married, they don’t have the safety net that other women do. It’s not always about manipulation or romantic interest if an ex husband helps out his ex wife who is in this situation. It can often be a way to avoid burdening their child with a too-early expectation of supporting themselves and a parent.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom April 11, 2019, 1:48 pm

    LW2 I’d find something to do that your fiance liked to do that is also something age appropriate for your son. It could be anything. If he liked to go bowling could you take your son for bumper bowling. Or maybe it would be fishing or a bike ride or going out for pizza or ice cream or shooting rockets or flying kites. I’d find something fun that you can share with your son and say that his daddy liked it too.

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