Q: My ex had an affair and we divorced as a result. It was humiliating when he married the woman, and not long after I met her ex for coffee. We married a year later. So, essentially, we've traded partners. My ex is incredibly manipulative and has bad-mouthed me so badly that my husband's middle school-age daughters will not even come to visit. He's made it look like we were the ones who had the affair and the girls despise me. I try to be accepting and do special things for them on their birthdays and around the holidays, but it doesn't seem to matter. Should I continue? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: I would never tell anyone to just give up, particularly if they are doing their best to follow the rules of good ex-No.5 and 6. You're doing the best you can – and that's difficult when all you want to do is come right out and tell the kids that their dad is the liar. But, you have to ask yourself how will that make things better? At this point, will the kids siding with you and your husband be better than the status quo? For you, maybe. But, since the kids deserve both their parents to be active in their lives, they are the losers any way you look at it.
My suggestion is to continue to do exactly what you are doing. You could look for paybacks, plot and, plan, and get your revenge, but the danger in doing that is that it may not even phase the girls and your devotion to getting revenge may be the demise of your current marriage. If all you think about, all you talk about, is stopping your ex and swaying the girls to your side, there will be little room to build the love and devotion your marriage needs to flourish. Your kindness is a positive example and even if the girls don't see it at this point, your husband does.
Some feel that you should never discuss an affair with the children, however, as you can see, if the information is not presented properly, it can cause huge problems. Although too much information can also be detrimental, rather than the need to set the record straight, it may be more productive to concentrate on the love your husband has for his daughters. Make sure THEY know THAT will never waiver.
While the following may not be helpful in all situations, I often suggest you use the word "mistaken" to describe an ex's misinformation.
For example, "Mom said you left us because of Janeen."
Your comment could then be: "Your mother is mistaken. I met Janeen a year after your mother and I split up." No need to editorialize further. You have found a way to state the truth without calling mom a liar. "No bad-mouthing!" (Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 3. ) That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)