Dear Dr. Wish,
Please help me get my thinking clear about my boyfriend “Don,” who has been divorced for two years and has seventeen year-old twin sons who live with his ex. We’ve been dating for a year. I have never been married and I don’t have any kids.
My problems are that Don is always over the house of his ex. He eats dinner with the boys every night, and I’m not invited. He spends a part of every weekend with the boys, and I am not invited at all. When I ask him if I can be included at least some of the time, he says that I just don’t understand divorce. He’s never told me very much about his previous marriage. The only things I know are that they both had affairs and that he still likes his wife very much and is sorry it had to end this way. Am I nuts for sensing that there is something wrong here?
No, I don’t think you’re going crazy. Divorce is tough on families, especially when children are involved. Don might be feeling very guilty about having an affair and realizing that it “sped up the break up.” They each had affairs, and this fact is a signal that they had a lot of unhappiness that they managed in dangerous ways. He and his ex might even have second thoughts about getting divorced. Since his sons are probably nearing high school graduation and leaving home, Don might want to spend every last minute with them.
Regardless of Don’s reasons, Don might have one foot out of the marriage—and one foot in it still. It is unusual that after a year Don does not include you some of the time with his sons on the weekends or for dinner. I’m sure you must be wondering just what is going on after dinner! Here are some things to consider. Use these tips to help you clear the air with Don.
Dealing with Divorced Partners who have Children
1. Respect your partner’s need to have private time and special traditions with his children.
2. Understand that even in the ugliest of divorces, exes might need time to discuss things in private.
3. On the other hand, if your relationship is healthy and loving, expect to be part of your new partner’s life and family. When the partner with children excludes the new person over time, it might be a signal that the partner does not feel as sure and committed to the new person.
4. You and your partner should be able to develop a schedule together of his time with his kids, your time as a couple, and your time with his children.
5. The role of the new mate to the divorced partner with children is to serve as a respected and desirable sounding board and helper with the partner’s children.
6. Discuss your doubts with your partner. Don’t accuse. Instead, ask your partner about how he sees your role and contribution to his relationship with his children. If he says that he wants to keep his two worlds separate, ask him to help you understand his reasoning.
7. Trust your intuition. If you sense inflexibility, secrecy or doubts about you or your partner’s divorce decision, then you might want to move on in your life. But don’t threaten to leave. Seek counseling if you are not sure of your observations and thoughts. If you decide to leave, then tell him calmly and nicely—and then leave.
I hope these tips help. Thank you for stopping by.
Dr. LeslieBeth (LB) Wish is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker #7132, honored for her pioneering work with women’s issues in love, life, work and family. The National Association of Social Workers has named her as One of the Fifty who has contributed to the field. She is the subject of biographic entries in many Marquis’Who’s Who publications. Her latest self-help, research-based books are “Smart Relationships: How Successful Women Can Find True Love,” and “The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie,” the cartoon companion book where you can follow a year of Cookie’s love missteps and learn about yours! Go to her website www.lovevictory.com