By Lisa Barr
I was working on a blog when an old friend came up to me: "Hey, how are you? How are the girls? I see you've been busy!"
She looked great. I leaned forward, away from my laptop. "I'm so crazed. Trying to keep it all together. But good," I said. "And how are YOU? How are the kids? How is Dan?" (Dan is the first guy she'd been with since her divorce, who she really fell for ... he was good to her, nice, cute, deeply caring, great in bed, successful, and most importantly, she felt great about herself with him. BUT ...
Dan had a huge Red Flag attached to him ... He was divorced but had not yet EX-tricated from his EX. He, like many other men and women Out There, are divorced but still "married". They simply don't know how to let go.
Her head lowered. "I really like Dan. A lot. But he is TOO attached to his ex-wife and it has become unbearable ..."
I remembered the Big One ...when Dan and his EX were going to visit their child at camp and had decided to get ONE hotel room. Obviously, that didn't fly with my friend ... and Dan quickly rectified the situation.
She continued. "The problem is that there are no boundaries between them in their divorce. And after so months together, I really didn't know what to do." Her eyes were glassy. I could tell that she really cared about this guy. "I had to end it just a few days ago. His inability to separate from his EX is killing me, and it's certainly killed us."
Dan had always been the one who did all the TO-DO at home -- taking care of the kids, driving them wherever, buying them clothes, grocery shopping. His EX worked and traveled. But even after the divorce, with their separate households, Dan ...
"STILL GROCERY SHOPS FOR HER HOUSE -- what is up with that?!" my friend exclaimed. "It's ridiculous. I know it's not a sexual thing between them. She has a boyfriend. But Dan has not stopped doing any of the things he did during the marriage. Any whim the EX has -- she uses the kids -- and he comes running..."
"I truly get that Dan wants to be there for his kids -- it's admirable," my friend added. "But in divorce -- a 'New Normal' has to be set -- or he really shouldn't be dating. It hurts me constantly. It's like I'm dating BOTH of them.
There's actually a name for it: Co-Dependency.
It can be very confusing for kids of divorce if their parents are separated on paper BUT NOT separated in their actions. It's "as if everything is the same ... but it's not."
In fact, my friend told me that Dan's teenage daughter has not even told her friends that her parents are divorced -- and it has been almost a year. The lines are clearly blurred for everyone involved.
That friend left ... and I swear this is true ... another woman saw me writing and said: "Okay, so what's the next blog?"
I told her. She shook her head. "Oh, I've got a story for you. How 'bout the fact that the guy I'm dating has been divorced for eight years, and he tells his EX EVERYTHING -- I'm talking details. A few nights ago, he told her where we went to a concert, where we had dinner, and that I had slept over ... and she knows people I know. The next day a friend called: 'I heard you had a hot night last night ...' I laughed and asked her how she knew that. And, she named the EX. I was mortified. It's like he reports to her. He and his EX sit on the phone, talking and comparing details.
"I get it, if it's about the kids," she continued. "I'm divorced with kids. But sharing intimate details about who they are dating and what they do on those dates -- c'mon. This is all too-close-for-comfort -- weird -- and I'm really questioning things."
Divorce is about letting go. The catch is when kids are involved -- especially young ones -- contact with the EX is usually in some shape or form on a daily basis. But when there is a New Person (man or woman) in your life and that relationship is blossoming -- or you are in a new marriage -- letting go of the "intimate" (read: not sexual) connection with the "first" spouse is not only necessary for your new relationship, but also a MUST for your new relationship to really work. No new person in your life wants a threesome with the EX.
In a twisted 'When Harry Met Sally' philosophy -- you cannot sustain best budship with your EX if you are deeply committed to another woman or man.
There are exceptions: I do have one friend who is literally best friends with her husband's new wife. They hang together, they shop together, and she really cares about her. That is NOT the New Normal, or the Norm. But it does work for them, only because all players are on board.
For most couples living Life-In-Divorce, true separation is about establishing BOUNDARIES as an essential component for Second-Time-Around success.
Here are some makeshift Divorce Rules ... (and feel free to add more in the Comments section, or feel free to totally disagree...)
1. Don't call your EX late-night -- unless it is an emergency about your children -- that trumps all. But a call simply to remind him/her to do X, Y, or Z can wait until morning. Nothing is more of a bed-time buzz killer with a new spouse/significant other as when the EX calls for something that is really just a detail and not life-changing. It feels invasive.
2. Don't share intimate dating details with your EX about your relationship/new spouse. It's none of their business -- and it ALWAYS gets back to the other person. However, if New Person is involved in something that affects the welfare of your child/children directly -- i.e. new spouse is mean to your child -- then discussing the impact of his/her actions is important.
3. Be honest with the new person in your life (if you're dating) about the true amount of time that you spend with your EX. It allows that person the CHOICE to be with you or not. Especially someone who is recovering from their own divorce -- it is not fair if you keep hidden the fact that Sunday nights is Family Night (meaning You, your EX and the kids).
4. Make sure your kids really know that Mommy and Daddy are NOT getting back together, but they are friends, and what they DO share is their love for their children. Clarity is key. Inside, kids truly want both of their parents to be happy, friendly and to get along. Establish boundaries early on between you and your EX, so they can get used to it. If you have no boundaries, they will never have closure nor acceptance, and constantly be fantasizing that you and your EX will reunite. In addition, the kids will never give New Person a chance.
5. The truly difficult piece between Exes is if the playing field is NOT level. If one spouse is in a serious relationship and the other one is alone or dating (unsuccessfully). The balance is off -- and it makes boundaries and true separation difficult, especially if you are say, attending some event related to your kids and you are bringing New Boyfriend/New Hubby or New Girlfriend/New Wife along. It's complicated but if you want your new relationship to work -- you MUST put the New Person's needs in front of your EX's.
You can say to your EX: "Hey, I'm bringing "Steve" to Adam's baseball game. I'm truly sorry if it makes you uncomfortable but he is a good guy and an important part of my life. I do hope you can understand and accept it. And when someone special comes into your life, I, too, will learn to accept it." In that one conversation you accomplished a lot: You gave your EX the heads-up so he or she can be prepared.
You also established that someone is important to YOU, and you have given HIM the special status he probably deserves (if you are at the point of bringing him to your son's game). EX-wife/EX-husband needs to remember that, yes, the kids are first, but the EX no longer has that same status -- that hold -- over you.
6. Most importantly, YOU should get to know the EX, and try to build a relationship -- if you are going to be in each other's life for the long haul, because it affects EVERYONE involved. Go out of your way to be friendly, even if at first it is not reciprocated. You don't have to be best friends -- but find small ways to connect. You like kick-boxing/I like kick-boxing. You like to read/Loved this book ... Sometimes this "fragile" relationship takes a while to marinade, but you WILL get there.
Boundaries. Communication. Clarity. -- are the Divorce "Traveling Trio". Whatever player you may be in the scenario (the Hubby/the Ex/the New Wife/the New Hubby/Boyfriend/Girlfriend)... keep these three items close by and The New Normal will be a good thing, a better recipe for happiness, for ALL of you.
Lisa Barr is the Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: A Mom's Guide to Surviving the Suburban Jungle (www.girlillawarfare.com) and Author of "Fugitive Colors" (historical suspense/Available on Amazon).