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Carolyn Hax: After her divorce, ex wants back in

Dear Carolyn: My ex-fiancee and mother to my two boys left us about a year ago. At first she took the kids and refused to let me see them. Then I took her to court and got custody of the children. After that three-month battle, she turned around and asked if I will start full custody immediately. She saw them twice and then decided to move out of state to marry someone she had just met.

Now she is divorcing.

When she first figured her divorce was inevitable, she called me and asked to “come home.” I rebuffed her plea.

Three months later, she asked again to “come home.”

I am inclined to give her another shot at being a good mother and a good partner. I am not happy dating, and I want someone in my life. When we first met, our life was great together. She is 10 years younger than I am and emotionally immature, with a bad family life. I did not always handle things well in our relationship either.

She says she loves me, but I have heard these words before. She used to hurt us financially and most of our arguments were about money. She also admitted that she cheated on me twice before she left. She says she is different now.

Of course, I won’t know till she is around us again. I have already told her we would be living with rules and expectations set forth by each of us. What rules would be most useful?

All of my friends and family are against this, but I love her, and my life is not the same without her. Thank you for any advice you can offer. – Single Parent, Confused and Lonely

The Confused and Lonely are doing all the talking right now, when the Single Parent in you is the one who urgently needs to be heard.

Your ex may be the mother of your children, but this is not the mother your children need – not while she’s an agent of chaos, profligacy and pain.

You’re right that you won’t know whether she is “different now” until you see her again on a regular basis, but there’s absolutely no reason you have to invite her into your home in order to observe whether she has changed.

Encourage her to move back, sure, yes – but to her own home, supported by her own income. She doesn’t even get a house key until she shows, through sustained effort over a significant period of time, that she has renounced drama and selfishness and is serious about being a good partner and parent. If she’s for real, she’ll agree to this arrangement.

You are also in a position to ask her to get some help, in the form of psychotherapy and a full mental health screening. Behavior as erratic as hers could merely be the result of a temporary emotional unraveling, but it also could be the instability resulting from an undiagnosed mental illness. Optimism is lovely and necessary, but it’s also dangerous if it isn’t evidence-based. Give her chances that reflect her reality, not your (or her) weakness or desperation.

Meanwhile, as acute as your loneliness feels now, it’s nothing compared with the loneliness you’ll feel if she’s back in your home, boring new holes in your savings and sleeping with Barroom Bill. Treat this sequence for her return as nonnegotiable: Come back, get well, prove beneficial to kids, come home.

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