Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it. Here’s one that may pose more difficulties around Christmas, when we’re more likely to talk to people we haven’t seen in a while. A woman asks: should I be upset if my husband talks to his ex-wife?
My husband and his first wife divorced after they’d been married for 5 years. They didn’t have any kids, but they just wanted different things out of life (she’s climbing the corporate ladder and my husband is a contractor). She left him.
But now she likes to call him “just to check in”. They text quite a bit and talk on the phone. She lives in another state and they don’t see each other. I think she’s just lonely, and he still says that she’s one of his closest friends. It just really bugs me. I know there’s nothing going on, but I find myself getting really irritated at him whenever she texts and then I clam up and give him the silent treatment. I know I should just get over it, but don’t you think there’s something weird about still being best friends with your ex-wife?
I had another email recently from a woman in a similar situation. Her husband had dated a girl for three years in high school. He then went on to marry his now-wife. But the former girlfriend is still in their social circle, and the two of them talk all the time. Again, she doesn’t think there’s anything going on, but it makes her feel uncomfortable.
Are there rules for how to talk to your exes?
That’s a thorny one, isn’t it? When I asked on Facebook recently, someone else said that her husband’s ex had married his best friend, so the four of them were always together, and she really didn’t like it. Is she being ridiculous to make an issue out of it?
My husband and I both dated other people all through high school. My husband has stayed in contact with many of his high school friends more than I have, and I’ve never particularly felt warmly towards any of them, though there is one that I’ve developed a nice online friendship with. But it is awkward, isn’t it?
Here’s the problem: all this baggage and broken hearts isn’t really supposed to happen. We’re not supposed to give away our hearts to someone who isn’t our spouse, and we aren’t supposed to divorce. Hearts are funny things. We do become entangled with other people that we date, and it’s hard to break that.
Here are some general rules that I would put in place in any marriage regarding the opposite sex:
1. No Social Texting/Phone Calls with Members of the Opposite Sex–Including Exes
Things that look innocent can often become something else. Texting can be dangerous. Even with work, I’d suggest only texting when it’s absolutely imperative, and trying to keep those texts to a minimum, and always business related. In general, men shouldn’t be texting other women, and women shouldn’t be texting other men.
This would definitely include one’s ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, but it would also apply once you’re married with someone who is “just friends”. Once you’re married, friends of the opposite sex should be friends of BOTH of you, not just you. So if your husband’s best friend was a girl, he should now really only see her when you are also there.
That may sound like I’m being overly strict, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for someone who is married to be talking to someone of the opposite sex for companionship or friendship. That’s what a spouse is for, and that’s what same-sex friends are for. Even if you mean it absolutely innocently, you don’t know what the other person is thinking. And when you do have trouble in your marriage, you don’t want to be talking to someone of the opposite sex about it.
So I’d tell the woman in the first email that she insist that her husband cut off contact with the ex-wife. Sure that’s hard. He shared so much with her, and they were great friends. But that relationship ended, and he has to let it end and turn to his wife for friendship.
2. Don’t Blame Your Husband for Things That Have Been Over for Years
I’d say something very different to the woman whose husband’s best friend married her husband’s ex. Her husband dated a girl, but that relationship didn’t last. They both decided that they didn’t want to marry each other, and they both chose other people. Yes, it’s awkward to see her all the time, but it would also be awkward to tell your husband he couldn’t get together with his best friend anymore, or to have him have to explain to his best friend that his wife is jealous.
As long as you are doing things in a large group, I think you have to let it go, providing you do believe that the relationship is over. You really can’t keep blaming him for things he did before you were married, especially since he chose you.
If part of the problem was that their relationship was sexual, I did write a post on how to get over your husband’s sexual past. That is a tough one. But if he is not currently doing anything wrong, or having any sort of inappropriate relationship, I think being jealous and asking him to end an important friendship is over the top.
Instead, work on your relationship so you do know that he loves you. Work at making the marriage the best it can be. And here’s a tough one: work at befriending his ex. If you still live in the same town where your husband grew up, chances are there will be “exes” in your social circle. The best way to handle it is to embrace them and get to know them, rather than setting up this weird dynamic where it’s obvious you’re jealous (which often gives that relationship renewed energy and spark, even if they haven’t thought of each other that way in years).
3. If She’s Pursuing Him, Put an End to It
However, let’s be honest. Some women really are on the hunt for a new relationship, and sometimes we do pick up on that. If there’s a woman who seems to be after your husband, tell him. Ask him to avoid her. And then do your best to stick as close to her as possible, so that she knows that there’s no room for anything happening.
In some cases this may be a social circle that’s easy to leave (like simply stop going to the high school reunions). In others (work, church) it’s not as easy. In that case, just stick close, tell your husband, and even have a frank talk with her if possible.
Relationships are just really messy and our pasts are often messy. But remember: he chose you and you chose him. Those other women don’t matter. And if you keep your marriage fresh, those women are quite unlikely to have any power over him anyway. So let it go where you can, and enforce strict boundaries where necessary.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, though. Have you ever been in a social circle with your husband’s ex? Has an ex ever tried to communicate with your husband? How did this work, and how did you handle it? Let me know in the comments!
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