Q. My husband and I almost broke-up and during the fall-out I did some snooping. He has been sending his ex-wife email in the form of ecards (birthday, Mother’s day, Easter, Xmas and Valentine’s Day) and has two years of saved emails in a special folder. After seeing the folder I confronted him. He got angry and claims he is just thankful for all that she does for his mother. (They have no children.) All ecards refer to how special she is. The emails from her thank him for gifts and one of his stated, “You look just like the day I met you, but I am prejudiced.” I feel used, lied to, and cheated on. What do you think? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I think there is an entire orchard of red flags in your front yard, because, you see, I don’t really understand how such secrecy could be compensation for his ex being kind to his mother–unless he was afraid their continued interaction might infuriate you. Then, he might be compelled to hide, but at face value, sending emails that say things like, “You look just like the day I met you, but I am prejudiced” is definitely questionable behavior in my book—and it is in his book, too, or else he wouldn’t have had a secret file on his desktop that you knew nothing about. From an ex-etiquette standpoint, intimate communication with an ex is inappropriate once you remarry. Actually, intimate communication with anyone other than your spouse is inappropriate. Comments such as the one you describe are reserved for your current partner—not a former partner when you’re committed to someone else. Of course if you divorce and both stay single, it’s open season, but secretly writing his ex and giving her presents when he’s married to you—that’s dishonest and certainly not what good relationships are based on. If it’s necessary to keep in contact with her, for whatever reason, then he should do it with your full knowledge. If he does it behind your back, that’s the indicator that his motivation is questionable and that’s when the red flags start waving like crazy. The problem as I see it is not that he has been secretly sending his ex e-cards. It’s that he WANTS to continue communication with her on the level you describe. Since they have no children, and that’s what usually prompts communication between exes, he’s using her relationship with his mother as an excuse to stay in contact. With that in mind, it’s time to get serious. Stop sneaking around behind each other’s backs and start asking each other some serious questions, like “How are we going to make this relationship work—and do we even want to?” And, if the answer is “yes,” get yourselves to a good marriage counselor so you can examine what you have to do to build a life together once and for all.
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in child custody, divorce, remarriage, and stepfamily mediation. She 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.