Strategies for Dealing with Ex Spouses

If you've been divorced, there's no getting around dealing with ex spouses, especially if you have children. You want to get on with your life, but part of you is still tied to the past. This can be a hot button issue not only for the spouses that got divorced, but also for their new partners in life. 

As a woman, the challenges of co-parenting and maintaining a positive relationship with your ex can feel overwhelming. However, it is possible to navigate this tricky terrain with grace and dignity. If you're wondering how to handle some of the issues that may arise, these answers from Life Coach Gloria Swardenski give practical tips and strategies to help you deal with an ex-spouse, including establishing healthy boundaries and honest communication.

FAQs about Dealing with Ex Spouses

Is it wrong that he is so close to his ex?

Question: How do you handle it if your fiancé is still close to an ex, even if they ended their relationship 20 years ago? What bothers me is that he talks to her more than he talks to any of his other friends. He tells her a lot of personal information... things that he should only be talking to me about. He also thinks that it should be okay with me to let him go out to lunch with her every once in a while without me. I'm not okay with it! He was also married before, and his ex-wife didn't allow this, so why should I? Am I wrong for not feeling comfortable with this? 

Gloria's Answer: Instead of asking yourself if you are wrong for feeling this way, I'd love for you take a few minutes and ask yourself why you are feeling this way. More than anything else, I'm hearing that you are afraid of all the "what if's" associated with your fiancé in this relationship. Why? Is there an underlying feeling of distrust there that is building up inside of you? 

It is very common in a divorce situation or with a past girlfriend to have to deal with a relationship that still exists. I often hear of ex-spouses who can continue to be friends after they divorce. I would say that that is ideal, but not always the practical or realistic expectation - especially for the new girlfriend or wife. 

My suggestion for you would be to get real with yourself on where these feelings of insecurity are coming from. Is it coming from a past experience of yours or something that your fiancé has brought from his past? From there, decide what you want to do with them.

I would encourage you to talk with your fiancé to let him know the boundaries you are comfortable with. Personally, having lunch with a past girlfriend and without you is something to make anyone think twice. Then honor yourself enough to stand by those requests.

If you truly want a solid, intimate marriage with this man, it is good and healthy to be open and honest with each other now. Just because you both say "I do" doesn't mean all of this will automatically go away.

How do I keep my doubts about his ex from hurting our relationship?

Bonnie's Question: Like the question I just read, I am dealing with an ex-girlfriend. They have a child together, so I know she will always be around. My problem is that she just separated from her husband, and now she thinks that my husband should be there for her. When it comes to their daughter, we have always been there for her, but now the conversation is about her and she is starting to turn her back to me. Once she even requested to talk to him alone in my house about his daughter, and it lasted 2 1/2 hours. I trust my husband and our relationship. But how do I stop my suspicions before it interferes with us?

Gloria's Answer: It is true that the more lives we touch, the more our lives become intertwined with one another. And for your husband, since he does share a daughter with this gal, it will continue on. I can hear from your question that you do want to trust your husband, but I can't help but wonder if that isn't at the heart of the question. You wonder, even as great as your marriage is, if your husband can resist the lures and ties of this other woman.

There is a couple of things here that I truly believe you can address with yourself first and then with your husband. First, be very honest with yourself about how you are feeling. The frustration, jealousy, doubts, and insecurities will seep into your relationship if you don't address them within yourself. Instead of trying to push them aside, take some time to be with each of these feelings and see what you can learn from them. Second, as his wife, be honest with your husband about how you feel, your real fears, and your desire to set some boundaries around their relationship.

Your husband can feel that he is between a rock and a hard place. He loves you, yet wants to see the mother of his child well, able to take care of his daughter, and even happy. Be grateful that you married a man who is caring in that way, and at the same time, be wise in communicating what you need to make it all come together perfectly. You can do this!

How do I deal with his ex being part of all family functions?

Carolyn's Question: I have been married to my husband for almost 10 years. This is a second marriage for both of us. His ex-wife is encouraged to attend all of his family functions by his sisters as if she is still a family member. How do I handle my feelings of jealously?

Gloria's Answer: I'm not sure if you are jealous in regards to your husband or jealous of the relationship that she still has with his family. I'm guessing it's the latter, and after 10 years of marriage, I would love to support you in moving beyond them. 

Family relationships after a divorce are always tough because there are no rules around what the family is supposed to do with the ex-spouses. It sounds as if they had a very strong and loving relationship between the ex and the sisters, and didn't want that to end just because the marriage did. 

My suggestion for you would be to decide what kind of relationship you would like to have with the sisters and the other family members. If you want a closer relationship with the sisters or others, stop waiting for it to happen and create it. If you don't, then know that that is your choice. 

Like other feelings, jealousy is a choice. You can choose to feel slighted because the sisters still include the ex and you would rather they include you more. OR, you can choose to let go and create your own healthy relationships in your own way. Let go of what you think the relationship should be with the ex, and begin to create what you truly want.

What can we do if his ex-wife makes our life miserable?

Rhonda's Question: I have recently married someone who is divorced with children. His ex continues to call and write letters requesting items she left behind after the divorce, or money she feels he owes her. He states that he doesn't respond to her request so she continually harasses us. She even left him several messages on his phone while we were on our honeymoon with harassing requests. Any suggestions on how I should handle this so the problem can go away?

Gloria's Answer: I wish I could wave a magic wand for you, Rhonda, to make this all go away, but because there are children involved that will probably never happen. The doors of communication need to stay open in the best interest of the kiddos.

My suggestion for you is for you to understand that this isn't your problem. This is your husband's ex-spouse and not yours. By continuing to try to fix it and make it go away, it is only going to frustrate you and create friction and resentment between you and your husband.

Accept that she is going to be who she is, that your husband is going to have to deal with her the best way that he can, and your job is to take care of yourself so you can endure, support your husband, and stay sane in the midst of it all.

Why does my ex deny that he's involved with someone?

Patricia's Question: I just found out from my ex-sister-in-law that my ex has been involved and living with a woman who he has been "hiding" from me. Worse yet, my 14-year-old daughter (who lives with him) knew of this relationship and has been lying to me all along. What recourse do I have now?? They are talking about marriage in a few months, but my ex denies he is even involved with anyone! 

Gloria's Answer: I don't know how to make this sound nice Patricia, but in truth - you have no recourse! You have no say, control, or power to change any of this. You gave all of that up when you divorced. 

What I am noticing though, is that the two of you share a 14-year-old daughter who is getting caught up in lying, too. I'm not sure who she was feeling like she was protecting - your or your ex! 

My encouragement to you would be to stop trying to control and begin opening up the doors of honest communication between yourself, your ex, and your daughter. Ask yourself why everyone is lying to you. Is it because they are afraid to tell you the truth because they are afraid of the recourse? 

And if your ex is getting remarried soon, which will include a new step-mother for your daughter, the sooner the better! 

How do I deal with it when my ex starts dating?

Tracy's Question: What are some coping strategies for dealing when your ex-spouse starts dating? 

Gloria's Answer: What a great question! And it is definitely something that we all usually face at one time or another as we begin to move on just like our ex. 

My first thought is to continue to take wonderfully good care of yourself first. Make sure you are getting enough rest, you're eating well, you are exercising and taking nice long walks, and you are well-connected to your friends who support you. By taking such loving care of yourself, you will need much less from your ex-spouse- like approval, regret, jealousy, or acknowledgment. 

After that, challenge yourself to stop looking. Unplug from your ex and all that is going on in his life. I know that sometimes with kids it can be challenging when they come home and share with you all the latest and greatest in Dad's life, but you can do it. It's perfectly wonderful not to know! And then let your kids know that you love to hear about their lives, but you don't want to know all the details of their Dad's anymore. 

Just these two things will support you to begin to move through to the peace that comes from accepting that your life is changing, the people in your life are moving on, and sometimes whether we want to or not, we are changing and moving on, too.

What can I do if my ex abuses his visitation rights?

Sharon writes: My ex & I have a civil agreement which states that I will have the boys during weekdays and he has them on weekends. I let them go freely during the week if they want to see their father, but any time I ask to spend time with them during the weekend, he makes other plans for them. If a holiday falls on a Friday or Monday, he takes them out of town for the extended weekend. I am constantly giving in to make things easier for him, but no one seems to appreciate it. What do I do? I'm tired of losing any quality time I should have with my children. 

Gloria answers: I really don't mean to sound harsh, so please take this in the spirit of love and empowerment. My suggestion would be to stop complaining about it all and begin to do something about it. So often we as women feel so helpless and powerless when there are many things that we can do.

You can find a good attorney who will look out for the best interests of your children. You can make some telephone calls to follow up on the back child support. You can lay down some ground rules beforehand about when the children will be with you and learn to say no if the two of you aren't working cooperatively together. You have the power to do this! 

It is much easier to play the victim, complain to everyone who will listen, and justify how you are feeling with so many others feeling sorry for you than it is to deal with all of this. But when you dig in your high heels in, roll up your lacy sleeves, and lay down some solid boundaries and hold your children and ex to them even when it's hard, the end result will be well worth all of your time, tears and effort. It isn't easy, but I know that you are up to it!! ~Gloria

How do I deal with an ex who is habitually late for visitation?

Amy's Question: How would you deal with an ex who is habitually late picking up the children (2 hours with no phone calls) and who also asks to bring them home at least 2-3 days early when it's his parenting time? I've analyzed this situation from every angle, I've gotten angry, and I've come up with lots of excuses why he feels he needs to do this week after week. The fact is, our children are the only ones being hurt. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? I'm at my wits end and about to blow a gasket!

Gloria's Answer: Dealing with parenting issues after a divorce is never easy. Always at the top of question list is who goes where, when, with whom, and how do you get there and back. And when you have a parent who isn't holding up his end of the bargain, it can be even more stressful. At the same time, I do believe there are some things you can do to make this a little, or maybe even a lot, easier though.

I read in your note that you are angry, yet it doesn't sound like you are doing anything productive with that anger. You're holding it in and getting frustrated. Begin by asking yourself what it is that you are really angry about. Is it the fact that he is always late? Or is it that he is hurting the children in your opinion?

It may be both of these or part of these, but the key here is to be as specific as you can be, so that you know what needs to be addressed. I'm going to address both of these for you.

First, he's late. We all can be late now and then, and it does help to be flexible with one another, but consistently 2 hours late is another story. You need to communicate with your ex that being consistently late is not okay with you, and then spell out what will happen the next time he's late. It may be that you decide to take the kids to his place and drop them off. It may be that he loses his time with them. It may be that you take legal steps as he is breaking his parenting agreement.

It is frustrating, but you have much more power within you to create the situation you want vs. sitting around for hours waiting for him to show up. Get angry about this, and let him know.

Second, he's hurting the children. The best way to support your children is to work with them regarding their own expectations. We get disappointed because something doesn't happen that we expect to happen. So, with your kiddos you may decide to be very general about when he is picking them up, how long he is going to keep them, and how he will be with them. It isn't that you are making it okay, but by stopping yourself from being upset and hurt, the kids will not pick up on that from you.

From there, you may even have a great conversation with them about their own expectations. This is not a time to rip their Dad to shreds, but to talk to them about how they feel about the situation, and how they can best deal with their own anger and frustrations.

Life is full of frustrations. The best life lessons are found in how we respond to the frustrations, and not just the best way to avoid them.