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Dealing with my ex's marital problems

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  February 2, 2012 08:26 AM

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Q: Hi Meredith,

I am a divorced father of a wonderful daughter. I've been divorced for almost 10 years, and while it's been a rocky road for me at times, I think I've moved on for the most part. My ex (let's call her Jane) and I have shared custody of our daughter. We have gotten along very well when it comes to raising our child. Recently, however, I have grown increasingly concerned about some of Jane's behavior and how it might affect my daughter. I just don't know how to handle it appropriately.

A bit of background: My marriage ended because Jane had been cheating on me for several years with several different people. I tried everything under the sun to try and save the situation for our daughter's sake and for my own. We tried counseling and various other things to try to fix the situation. In the end nothing helped, and Jane finally told me she was leaving me for a guy she had been seeing for some time and she was going to file for divorce regardless of what I wanted. Jane ended up marrying this guy a year or two later. He has kids of his own, and whether I like it or not, my daughter has grown close to his kids and now considers them to be family.

I told Jane when we broke up that regardless of how I felt, she better not "mess up" again because of the impact it would have on our child. I told her if she broke our daughter's heart again by messing up another marriage and once again turning her life upside down, I would not hesitate to file for full custody. As far as I am concerned, another divorce would show that Jane is completely self-absorbed and an unfit parent.

Flash forward to today. I'm still very close to Jane's family, since my daughter is their family. They also know the basics of what happened between Jane and me, and they have always been very supportive. Recently, one of them added me as a Facebook friend. This means that all of a sudden I can see a lot of Jane's Facebook activity, as we are now "Friends of Friends" of each other, in Facebook terms. For a while I tried not to look. But eventually my curiosity got the best of me. I can't see a lot, but I can see some of her activity and her friends' list, etc.

Facebook ethical dilemmas aside (I will do whatever I feel I need to do as a father to protect my daughter's best interests, and I can't help it if Jane doesn't understand the ins and outs of Facebook's byzantine privacy configurations), I now know things that are of great concern to me. Jane has been spending a lot of time with an old friend. My daughter told me that her mother even shared a "scorpion bowl" at lunch with this guy one day (and then drove with my daughter in the car, which is a whole different concern!). I think a lot of this time has been spent without the current husband around.

The bottom line is that I am seeing what appears to be a re-emergence of a pattern of behaviors that I am unfortunately very familiar with. Given Jane's history, I think my concerns are legitimate. I don't really care about how this impacts the new husband. It would be karmic justice if it only affected him, as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, such behavior doesn't just affect the new husband. My only concern is that Jane may once again be cheating, or is certainly tempting fate, and that this could lead to another messy divorce, which would hurt my daughter in ways I don't even want to think about. She would lose a family that she's become close to.

What do I do here? How do I confront Jane about my concerns? Is it even appropriate for me to do so? I just want to do whatever I can to protect my child in this mess. It took her several years to adjust to one new reality. I don't want her to have to start all over again if her mother is being as selfish as I think she is. Am I way off-base here?

– Concerned Father in Boston


A: You have every right to protect your child, CFIB. That means you can ask for custody if you feel that your ex is truly an unfit parent. You can absolutely talk about the rules (drinking, driving, who she brings the child around, etc.) and seek legal counseling about what can be done to enforce those rules. You can confront her about the scorpion bowl and the fact that your daughter has mentioned being exposed to new people who may or may not be appropriate company.

But … you can't determine the fate of your ex's marriage. You can't tell her that she's not allowed to get a divorce. If your ex-wife does turn out to be miserable in her marriage and wants to leave her husband, you can't force her to stick around. All you can do is respond to her behavior. You can ask her to reevaluate custody. You can set new rules. You can ask professionals for guidance.

My advice is to tell your ex that your daughter has mentioned some weird things. Tell her that you're concerned about what those things mean. Listen to what your ex has to say before Facebook allows you to create your own narrative. You told us that you usually get along with your ex when it comes to raising your daughter. Work with that.

No matter what she says, know that you can't change this woman. You can't force her to be a good wife or to stay put if she wants to leave. All you can do is make decisions based on how she behaves. That's certainly a good lesson to teach your daughter as she gets older.

Readers? How should he address this with his ex? Can he help her stay married? Is she really an unfit parent if she gets divorced again? What should he do? Help.


– Meredith


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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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