Ex-Etiquette Column

Articles on dealing with the "ex" in your life--anyone's ex--yours, their's, even "ex"tended family.

My Ex Had an Affair

Q. My ex had an affair. I was shocked and devastated when my 41-year-old husband ran off with our 23-year-old au pair. This was after the au pair befriended our four-year-old to the point that my little girl does not understand why mommy is so mad at daddy and Bianca. I feel my life as I knew it has been yanked out from under me. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t deserve any of this and I am having a very difficult time dealing with it. Please help.

A. Betrayal is devastating, but it is possible to come back stronger, more loving, and ultimately more appealing than before. I mention “appealing” because after a betrayal, many people question their own desirability. Betrayal has nothing to do with how desirable you are. To betray someone is a decision the betrayer makes alone.

In her original email this woman asked me some very wise questions about coping with her husband’s affair. They are not included in the original question, but let’s look at them one at a time.

“How do I deal with my ex-husband’s toxic behavior toward me?”

Of course I don’t know the specifics of your marriage before the affair, but it sounds like your ex-husband is going through the classic midlife crisis—a forty-one-year-old man running off with the twenty-three-year-old au pair. If he is now toxic toward you, and you don’t feel you did anything to bring it on, it’s probably because he feels guilty. If he is behaving badly he knows you may retaliate by behaving badly toward him. Then he can say, “Look how awful she is! That’s the reason I left. It wasn’t my fault. I had no choice!” This alleviates the guilt he may harbor for tearing his family apart. This is his problem. Don’t take it on as your own.

“How do I find out what, if anything, will make him civil?”

Good ex-etiquette means you acknowledge that you can’t change anyone’s behavior; you can only change how you respond to their behavior. When you stop reacting to his poor behavior he will have to face his own demons, and he will not be able to shift the blame on to you.

“How do I keep my own life positive and productive?”

Ah, this is the best question you can ask, because this you can control. Stand up straight. This was about his inadequacies, not yours. Be proud of who you are. Live your life joyously and concentrate on being a good role model for your child.

“How long will it take to stop being angry with both my ex and his new wife?”

Again, this one is within your control. It’s true that you have been wronged. This will be a journey. Believe it or not, finding forgiveness for them may be the key to your own happiness. I know it sounds difficult—especially now when you are hurt. However, once you release the angry feelings you harbor, they no longer have a hold on you, and neither will your ex. Forgiveness is a very important part of moving past your anger so you can successfully co-parent.

But how do you forgive? Keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings may help you work through some of the negative emotions you feel right now (see “Journaling: Therapy in Book Form” on the following page). You will be surprised how releasing your anger on to the pages of a journal will allow you to better utilize the basic rules of ex-etiquette. Go through the list of rules in chapter 1. When you are angry, it’s difficult to put the children first, ask for help, have no preconceived notions before you speak to your ex, use empathy, avoid grudges, look for compromises, be flexible, and so on. When you have forgiven, your mind is then open to looking for solutions, and ultimately you will become a better co-parent.

“How can I protect my child from turning out to be the slut/home wrecker that her stepmother is? Or the liar that both her father and his wife are?”

You can start by employing ex-etiquette—good behavior after a bad divorce. Set the example. Make sure your child knows the importance of love, honesty, fidelity, and allegiance by demonstrating them in your own life.

“Is there any way to find respect for my ex or the slut he married?”

Respect? Maybe not. Tolerance may be a more reasonable goal—and you should get out of the habit of referring to her as “the slut”! Each time you use such negative language, it reinforces your pain and anger—and it also keeps you in a defensive or reactive state. You can’t move past the pain when you are stuck in a defensive mode, asking yourself, “What’s wrong with me? What does she have that I don’t have? Studies have shown that most people do not have affairs because they no longer love their partner. They have affairs because they fear their partner is no longer impressed with them, so they look for someone who is. They feel good when they look good in someone else’s eyes. You knew all of your husband’s secrets, all his insecurities. He may have known you loved him, but he feared he no longer impressed you. Someone twenty-three years old is impressed merely by his age. Notice that none of this has anything to do with you. Only you know what you have to change to be the person you want to be. Make those changes based on how you want to grow as a person. Chances are that your husband’s defection had nothing to do with you and everything to do with how he feels about himself.

This is an excerpt from Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After a Divorce or Separation, by Jann Blackstone and Sharyl Jupe. 

Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, and Ex-Etiquette for Holidays. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.


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