Q.My sister-in-law is best friends with my husband’s ex-wife. Before we got married, they had a tradition that their families spent Thanksgiving together. They have done it for years and want to continue it even though we are now married. The kids are supposed to be with their mother this year, so they will be at my sister-in-law’s — and so will my husband’s ex. My husband wants to go, but I don’t. I’ve been very patient for years, going to soccer games when she’s there, going to back-to-school night when she’s there. We are married now, and I don’t feel like I have to do it anymore. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. You do realize what you are describing is a classic a bait-and-switch operation, right? You gave your husband the impression you understood his lifestyle, even supported it. He married you based on what you put out there and once married, you changed — and it sounds like you expect him to change as well. That’s incredibly unfair and deceitful.
Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward,” is not just for exes or co-parents; it’s a guide to all people dealing with an ex situation. Being honest is the basis for any good relationship. It sounds as if you married this man under false pretenses.
In your defense, everyone wants to be the most important person to their partner. But you can’t approach a relationship with someone with children like you would a first-time relationship, particularly if they have an amicable co-parenting relationship with their children’s other parent. Parents simply have a different special interest than those without children. They are master jugglers, doing their best to make everyone they love feels like the most important. If you poise yourself in competition with their children or even their co-parent, you are asking your partner to choose. That’s an unfair demand and may initiate another breakup in the future.
I have seen new partners do their best to stir the pot, believing it would ensure relationship longevity if they kept the kettle boiling, keeping everyone estranged. It may work temporarily, but everyone is miserable. It doesn’t have to be that way. To have a successful relationship, you need to be there for your partner. If they have an estranged relationship with an ex-relation or their co-parent, help by being a positive role model. If they have a copacetic relationship, it’s your job to join the club, not complicate their life and the lives of their children with a lot of conjured-up drama. I think you are letting an old-school breakup attitude color a working relationship. That’s bad ex-etiquette, indeed.
If, after doing some soul-searching, you see that’s what you are doing, rethink the attitude. Not wanting to celebrate a holiday with your partner’s ex is understandable — but you did for years! Forcing family members to abandon beloved family traditions now that you are married will not be accepted kindly. I predict you will become the odd person out. Better to look for ways to adjust to family traditions using love, acceptance and putting the children first as your guide. You’ll find better solutions if you put your heads together. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.
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