Q. My ex cheated 10 years ago. We had been married for more than 20 years and it was quite a shock. My daughter was 15 and also hurt very badly by his indiscretion. I’ve forgiven him as a person and we’re very good friends, but I have no desire for reconciliation. My daughter, now 25, sees us together and thinks the ease in which we relate means we still love each other and will get back together. I have made it very clear that although I will always love her father, I have no desire to get back together, but evidently, her dad has confided that he wants a reconciliation even though he’s been living with someone for five years. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. So many red flags! Rather than spend a lot of time on the fact that he may be a nice guy, but he doesn’t sound like he’s changed much — he’s living with someone and talking about getting back with you — I would like to take this opportunity to talk about two things I often see that causes after-breakup havoc.
One, being too friendly with your ex in front of the kids.
Two, using your children as your confidant.
So, what’s too friendly? Flirting, being too touchy feely, spending a lot of time talking about the good old days…Things like that are fine if that’s what you want to do on your own time, but if you do it when your kids are around, they’re bound to think there’s a secret passion lurking in the background. And, since almost all kids — unless they faced abuse of some sort during the relationship — have a secret desire for their parents to get back together, you’re doing your kids a disservice letting them think it might happen. Plus, thinking if you say things like, “I will always love your dad (or mom)” might lessen the blow, it really doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse. People equate the word love with longevity and if you will always “love” dad (or mom) your kids will wonder why aren’t you together? In those situations, try saying things like I will always “care about” your dad or mom. “Care about” reassures your child of your continued regard and concern — and that’s what they really want to hear. Feeling as if their parents hate each other undermines their self-esteem and feelings of security. Badmouthing their other parent is extremely bad ex-etiquette.
Which brings us to the second problem — using your children as your confidants.
Even though we all need someone to talk to when times seem bleak, your child simply does not have the tools to take care of you and fix your life. Find a friend, a clergy person or a therapist to guide you through the process so you can fix your own life — and be the role model your kids need. Your ex should never had told your daughter of his desire for reconciliation. Even though it might have been a heartfelt wish, it was extremely manipulative to have told her so. Knowing she hopes for reconciliation, who looks like the bad guy now? That conversation should have been kept between you and dad. That’s good ex-etiquette.