I’m writing to you today about my husband’s ex-wife. They were together for seven years and have a 6-year-old daughter together. I adore his daughter and have a fairly amicable relationship with his ex-wife. My issue arises from her familiarity with him.
For example, this weekend at a soccer game while we were all socializing with other parents, my husband’s daughter went up to him and insisted he pick her up, which he did. He picked her up while lying on his back, put his feet on her hips, held her hands and lifted her into the air. When he put her down, his ex-wife rushed up and demanded “me next!” He obliged and half-heartedly lifted her up and set her back down. I was across the field watching the entire incident.
I spoke with my husband later. I told him how I felt and he said he felt just as uncomfortable as I did but didn’t know how to avoid the situation.
This isn’t the first time his ex-wife has crossed the line and been inappropriate. I get the feeling she is extremely socially inept. I want to let her know it is very inappropriate and insulting that she acts the way she does with my husband. How do I get the point across to her without creating strife?
I want to have an open and productive relationship with her for their child’s sake, but I cannot put up with her being flirty with my husband like she does.
Answer follows below.
Your reaction to their interactions is completely understandable. That level of familiarity should be reserved only for his daughter and for you. Regardless of her intentions, engaging in physical play with a married man isn’t appropriate. Let’s talk about how you can address this situation.
First, this isn’t a conversation you need to have with her. It’s your husband’s responsibility to protect the marriage. Her intentions with your husband are less important than his commitment to protecting the marital boundaries around physical touch and emotional sharing. She can only get as close as his boundaries allow.
If you and your husband haven’t formally discussed these boundaries, this experience opens up a timely opportunity to address them. While their behavior was clearly offside, don’t limit the discussion to their interactions. You both need to be clear with one another about how much access other people have to your emotions, your thoughts and your bodies.
The good news is that your husband felt uncomfortable with her proposition. Start the discussion from this mutual understanding that the interaction didn’t feel right. Share why it made you uncomfortable and ask him why it was uncomfortable for him. The discomfort for him may not only be touching her, but also how to talk with her about her inappropriate requests. It sounds like she is someone he has difficulty redirecting.
Defining the boundary is only one element of the conversation. In fact, he may already have an internal sense of his boundaries around touch with other women. The other element is how to enforce that boundary and still maintain a working relationship with his ex-wife as a co-parent.
I recommend he place a phone call or compose an email to her discussing his concerns. He can lead with accountability and let her know that he appreciates their ability to get along with one another for their daughter, but he made a mistake in allowing them to have that interaction. He doesn’t need to criticize or blame her. The boundary will speak for itself.
He can explain that he won’t be physically close to her in the future and would appreciate if she could honor that boundary between them. He doesn’t have to be rude or shaming. They both made a mistake; so to blame it all on her is unfair.
Regardless of her cooperation with the boundary, the boundary can still stand. She can’t cross any lines he is actively protecting. Every couple benefits from defining boundaries around potential threats to the marriage. You can never be too united and purposeful about protecting your marriage from outside threats.
Your husband has created an opening that needs to be closed and reinforced. Let him lead the discussion. Expect him to protect you and your marriage.
He can show his ex-wife that she’s not welcome to have access to him in these ways. She needs to hear it from him and you need to see him close off an opening he never should have created.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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