Monday, December 28, 2009

Holidays With His Ex

Dear Terry:

My boyfriend of 10 months is 55, and I am 32. We have a lot in common and really enjoy each other's company. We are happy and our relationship is progressing normally; we are able to talk about everything and work through issues with respect and compassion for each other. We both feel that we are heading towards being married in the future.

My question is about the relationship he has with his ex-wife and their daughter. The daughter is 19 and goes to college on the other side of the country. He was married to her mother for over 20 years and they had an amicable divorce. In fact, they are still friends. I trust that.

But, what do you feel is an appropriate relationship for all of us to have? I don't want to spend holidays with his ex, but his daughter wants to see both her parents on holidays. My boyfriend feels torn.

Is it too much to ask that she will have to visit each parent separately? I don't have any real animosity toward the ex, I just don't want her around for every holiday. I realize that in a few years from now, once my relationship with my bf is not "new", I might feel differently about his ex being around...but right now, I'd prefer a little distance. I also have an 8-year-old son (whose father is not involved). I want to have a "family" and, honestly, I don't want that to include his ex-wife.

His daughter is certainly included (if she wants to be), but do I have a right to insist that holidays are not spent with the ex? I am very willing to spend time with the ex for functions dealing with their daughter (graduation, parties in her honor, etc.) but I think that's where the line should be drawn.
I would love your advice/suggestions! Thank you.

-Maybe Later I'll Feel Differently


Dear Maybe Later-

First off, let me apologize for responding to your question on December 28th, but since Christmas lasts until January 6th, you may still be waiting for my answer.

I completely understand that you want your first Christmas with your boyfriend to be special. Who wouldn't? You've been with the man 10 months, and you're talking about marriage.

That said, I wouldn't insist on anything with regard to his ex-wife or his daughter. They've worked out a routine that so far has worked for them, and heaven forbid the daughter interpret your understandable desire for family time as an attempt to wedge her mother out of the picture.

Instead, I would tell him, "I really admire the way you and ____________ have handled your divorce and the way you've raised _______________. I would like a little time alone with you during the holidays. Is there a way we can work that out?"

Then wait for his answer. He may need time to think it through. After all, he's had a routine that used to make everyone happy, and now he needs another plan. Would you be amenable to spending Christmas Eve but not Christmas Day with the ex? Or New Year's Day but not New Year's Eve?

The daughter goes to college far away, so she doesn't get a lot of Mom and Dad time. As she gets older and gets involved in career, relationships, and perhaps marriage and children, she may require even less (if she gets married, she'll probably be expected to spend some of the holidays with her husband's family).

Let me repeat: I do think you're being reasonable (because, really, what guy would want to hang out with your ex every holiday?), but I would take a long view here.

After all, you're the one he plans to marry.

4 comments:

Jenn said...

I just wanted to say that I agree wholeheartedly with Terry's advice and reiterate that What Maybe Later is asking is NOT unreasonable at all. I'm in a very similar situation, except that my boyfriend's daughter is 16 (sophomore in high school) and not only are he and his ex still close, he is highly integrated into her entire family (and she is from a culture where family is important and there are lots of big, family events). They have joint custody (my boyfriend has his daughter with him three nights a week) and they definitely co-parent (he talks to his ex pretty much every day, though most of those conversations are entirely about their daughter). His own family is on the other side of the country, so in the years that his daughter is with her mom for the holidays, he stays in town as well and spends Christmas with them (and the ex's extended family). He's also over there for birthdays, Mother's Day, etc. Needless to say, this has all been difficult for me to understand and accept and I don't think I could have dealt well at all if my boyfriend weren't 100% supportive. He totally gets why it's weird for me and he has tried to limit his involvement with his ex's family out of respect for me - the times he still sees them are occasions when his daughter would be really upset for him to miss. He is also entirely honest and forthcoming about his ex, checking in with me every time he goes over to their house or spends time with her. When the holidays were coming up, we had a lot of conversations about what he was going to do - us spending Christmas together was not actually an issue because I was planning to go home to spend it with my own parents and I would not ask him to spend Christmas away from his daughter. But I certainly wasn't excited about him spending it with the ex, and I had/have lots of questions about what these celebrations will look like in the future.

So I think Terry's advice to talk to him, and how to phrase it, is really good advice. One thing that I think helps a lot in my situation is that my boyfriend's daughter not only likes me a lot but she is mature enough to understand why her father is not attending events that he would have attended in the past - he has explained to her that he is trying to be respectful of my feelings and asks her to do the same, and she gets it. So I did wonder if Maybe Later's boyfriend has talked to his daughter, and what her attitude about it all is?

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your suggestions. Interestingly enough, things worked themselves out. My bf spent the evening with his daughter and her mother and then at 11:40, my doorbell rang. It was him. He drove 100 miles to be with me at midnight. It was so amazing. I was surprised and couldn't believe he did that!
He drove the 100 miles back home after staying for about 45 minutes and I went down to his house on Christmas Day.
So, Christmas ended up being very special. And, I'll heed your advice and refrain from insisting when it comes to this issue. It's so hard at times just to trust and let things unfold the way they're going to. I'm sure I'll be writing to you more :)
Thank you

Jennifer said...

Jenn,
It's good to know that someone else is going through this as well. You asked about how is daughter acts toward me? Well, she's rude. She has never spoken to me without me carrying the conversation. She brings people over to the house and doesn't introduce me...in fact, she acts as though I am not there. She has never spoken to my 8-year-old son. She is a negative presence.
My son and I gave her two Christmas presents which she truly loved. She did not bother to get my son anything (I knew she wouldn't get me anything and I wasn't expecting it.)
I am still nice and respectful toward her because that's just the way I am, but inside I want to scream.
Her dad (my bf) is at a loss.

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