September 25, 2011 in Features

Carolyn Hax: Civility toward ex worth encouraging

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have been married for 15 years. He was married to his first wife for 20 years. It was not an amicable divorce. He resents having to pay her part of his retirement, and he recently referred to her to friends of ours as a “lying, cheating, (expletive).” Today I discovered he is Facebook friends with her.

He says he didn’t know, and doesn’t even use Facebook much so he doesn’t understand why that would bother me. He said it was “petty jealousy” and eventually (angrily) removed her from his friends list.

Whenever there are family gatherings, they greet each other with a nice hug. I don’t like this either. He said he’s being civil. I think it’s dishonest of him.

I think he should stop doing these things for the sheer reason that it makes ME uncomfortable and that, as his current wife, my feelings should take precedence. What say you? – Exes on Facebook

I say, “Huh?”

You’re OK with his calling someone he once loved a “lying, cheating, (expletive)”; it’s the civility that burns your biscuits?

Maybe if I stick pins in my keyboard, I can give my forehead acupuncture.

You think he’s dishonest, got it. But you want to fix that by erasing the kindness? A nice hug – and a piece of the retirement savings he accrued during their two-decade marriage, in case he’s reading this, too – are perfectly tame residuals from a shared past. Even if she turned nasty, they loved each other once and lasted a long time – till their split, which has also endured.

I’d advise you unhelpfully to get over it, but even that’s not going far enough. This would be far enough: Shock the heck out of your husband and yourself by encouraging the character-building effects of letting emotional wounds heal.

The question becomes, then, how are you supposed to travel all that emotional distance from demanding he shun his ex to encouraging more civility? Open your mind to every reason your husband’s warmth toward his ex-wife is actually very good for you. Here are some:

(1) It makes sense on a purely practical level. If he does have some ulterior motive for the hugs and the Facebook friending, then your insisting he de-friend and de-hug her will do absolutely nothing to stop him. Going the short-leash route actually gives people compelling new reasons to seek emotional gratification elsewhere.

(2) It’s a gift you can give to your husband, to say you trust both him and your love. If he goes on to betray that trust, it won’t be your fault for giving trust; it will be his for abusing your gift.

(3) It’s a gift you give to yourself. It’s so easy to be lulled into believing you are good and the ex is evil and that’s that. Think again: Since you married the same guy, you and the ex have more in common than distinguishes you. You have a vested interest in disposing him kindly toward the people he marries, even (especially?) after he divorces them.

(4) It’s good for your soul, and when your soul is brimming, your marriage (and so much else) benefits.

If it helps: Imagine that next time he calls her an (expletive), you say gently, “You loved her once, go easy.” Imagine next time he greets her warmly, you say, “I’m actually glad you get along.” Isn’t there always a sense of relief when winter yields to spring? Target the incivility, and learn to love the hug.

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