Q. My husband and I have been married for 5 years—together for 7. For years I’ve heard what a bitch his ex is. Their daughter recently graduated and wanted to spend her first Thanksgiving after college with both her parents, me included. I think spending the holiday with the ex is a little much, so I suggested we all go out for dinner the following Friday. I was dreading the evening, but I was determined to be pleasant for my bonus daughter’s sake. I told my husband that we should treat his ex politely, on a business level, and he agreed. Well, all through dinner I witnessed possibly the most intimate exchange of “remember whens” you could imagine. The clincher was when my husband stopped in the middle of ordering and asked his ex if he liked the suggested entrée! I was horrified. He thinks I’m being unreasonable for being angry. What do you think? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I think it sounds like your husband got caught up in the moment and temporarily lost his mind.
An unwritten rule of good ex-etiquette is “Don’t discuss past intimacies with your ex,” it stirs up emotions that could get you into trouble—and there’s a post script–“especially in front of a new partner!” Intimacies are more than talking about sex…that’s a given. Intimacies are also attitudes or remarks that could possibly make someone participating in the conversation uncomfortable–and listening while exes discuss the good ‘ol days can certainly make a new partner cringe. If the goal is to get along for the sake of the children, you leave the “remembers whens” in the past and put your emphasis on the present and future.
I have to say, your idea to celebrate the Friday after Thanksgiving was perfect. It wasn’t the exact holiday with all the tradition and emotion, it was a day around the same time with a little less significance. It allowed your family to have your private celebration, plus honor your bonus daughter’s wishes. That’s good ex-etiquette.
It’s also good ex-etiquette to approach interaction with the ex in a business-like manner. Your husband knew that and agreed to it. That’s why I think he just got swept up in the moment. Sometimes it’s feels good to let down your guard after all those years of hate, but parents have to walk a fine line—not only with their new partners watching, but with their kids (no matter their age) watching, as well. Children of divorce, particularly younger ones, may find overt familiarity between their parents confusing–especially if they have remarried. At some point all kids entertain the wish that their parents might get back together, but they’re also trying to figure out how relationships work and what’s right and what’s wrong. If dad and mom divorce break-up, are then committed to other people, but continue to joke and flirt in front of the kids, the kids are left scratching their heads (and so are the new partners). Everything we do as parents demonstrates the right or wrong way to approach a relationship. Respect for the new union is an important component. Your husband and his ex should have taken this into consideration while they were skipping down memory lane. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who 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, and other Ex-etiquette books. 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.