Q. I have been dating a man who filed for legal separation from his wife of 13 years about four months ago. We have decided that we are dating each other exclusively and we are both excited about this new relationship. The trouble is, it’s his wife’s birthday tonight and he is going to have dinner with her and the kids, ages 7 and 9. I am feeling really uncomfortable–even jealous, and I would like to know if this is good ex-etiquette. If we are exclusive, should he be having dinner with his ex-wife and kids?
A. Oh boy. In my opinion, you’re moving way too fast. There’s a reason someone files for legal separation instead of divorce. It may be religious, financial, only he knows and, quite frankly, you should know before you go any further.
That said, going in you must understand that life with this man will not be like a first-time relationship–you will always have to share him with his ex and his kids. Not share as you might think–share in the sense that he will continue to consider another woman’s feelings even though he is not physically involved with her because she is the mother of his children and they share custody. This is a difficult concept for first timers to get. They take it personally, think it means that their partner will always prefer the ex to them, and get themselves into “either/or” ultimatums, when that is not it at all. If this man and his ex co-parent, they must communicate, take into consideration each others feelings on a subject, and then compromise in the best interest of the kids. That’s hard to deal with when you are worried that your guy and his ex might run off together at the drop of a hat. Many in your position find themselves so jealous they just can’t handle it–which makes the new relationship impossible.
The most turbulent time in a relationship is right after you separate. Most are angry and hurt and have a very difficult time communicating. If he is attending his wife’s birthday dinner so soon after separation, it sounds as if these two people have an amicable separation and will co-parent very closely. This is commendable and in the best interest of their children. But, take note: Most who separate attempt reconciliation at least once, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they try it just one more time. To commit to another relationship at this point is not good ex-etiquette on either of your parts. The future has too many, “what-ifs.” His responsibility at this juncture is to address the issues with his wife, get his ducks in a row, and then he will be free to start another relationship. Being upset that he’s spending time with his family will just complicate his transition–and seems like a very unfulfilling alternative for you. I suggest you wait just a little bit longer until you two can plan a life together–and it won’t be a life where you just stand on the side lines and watch.
Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, 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.