Trouble with the Ex?

Does she…

  • Always dictate what happens with the children?  Involve them in the divorce and ask them to take sides?
  • Make all communication as awkward as possible?
  • Complicate arrangements when a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would do?
  • Think she can interfere in your life?
  • Try to punish him for moving on?
  • Tell slanderous lies about you or him to anyone who will listen – including your boss, your friends, or your mother-in-law?

As many of our members can testify, a vengeful and bitter ex-wife can be hell-bent on making sure that everyone around her shares her misery.  Sometimes it may seem justified, if only for a short while, but some women become very bitter when their former partner moves on, even if they were the ones to end the relationship.  And sometimes the bitterness can last for years.


One member writes:

“My reason for joining the Club was that I fell in love with a married man, and he left his wife. Inevitably, there are many ‘other women’ on the site, although we are not a majority.  My partner and I were naturally prepared for his wife to be angry and upset, although their marriage had not been a happy one, but we were not at all prepared for the extreme rage, vitriol and viciousness that surrounded the divorce (and to an extent continues to this day, about seven years on).   I was particularly unprepared for the way in which the children were used as weapons.  I am divorced myself and get on well with my ex and his new wife; our children are happy and balanced.  I was therefore horrified to see my partner’s oldest child develop some really serious problems – way more than you might expect in a ‘normal’ divorce situation.

She did not work, the children were at school, so she was able to devote a huge amount of time to being difficult. It took nearly four years for them to come to a settlement. During this period of limbo, with the children used as hostages, it would take weeks of painful negotiation just to agree holiday dates, while every weekend revolved around the activities she planned for the children on my partner’s time.  Family life? We rarely had even a meal together. And if arrangements for the children were all about disrupting our time, the starting point for discussion about finances was vengeance.  In all this, she was egged on by her friends, who no doubt thought this was a useful warning message for their own husbands.

One big surprise to me was that many members had met their partners long after the divorce took place, often even when the first wife was already remarried and apparently happy.  They innocently entered into a relationship, and all hell broke loose.  So it is not just ‘other women’  or an affair that triggers bitter ex-wife behaviour. And when I say, ‘all hell’, I mean that some people’s lives are literally made a living hell – violence and emotional abuse requiring intervention from the police.”

Another member writes:

“Why can’t she move on? Everyone except the very young or very dull has felt the pain of breaking up with someone they love at some point in their lives and grief has exactly the same effect of the psyche of those left behind. We all go through stages of denial, anger, negotiation, depression and acceptance.”

Not everyone goes through these stages at the same rate (it’s estimated that it can take someone up to half the length of a serious relationship to get over it, so if you were married for fifteen years the emotional effects can live on for another seven or eight years, and seriously impact your next relationship(s).

Sometimes you can experience two or three stages at once; sometimes you barely experience a stage at all. If a new trauma comes along to awaken old wounds you can go back to an earlier point on your emotional journey. You can get stuck at one of the stages (and if that’s happened for any length of time then it’s time to call in the professionals to help you gain some perspective, seriously – pick up the phone and dial for a counsellor).

Stage of Grief * Type of Behaviour
Denial The ‘IT’S NOT HAPPENING’ stage.  If you are going through a split this can be denial that your partner wants to leave you or a belief that they will change their mind, as they can’t really mean it. Ok so they called you every name under the sun on their way out of the door but after all they loved you for all that time, they must still love you really, no really, deep down they do even if they don’t realise it.
Anger Or ‘WHY ME??!!!’ stage.  You are angry at the world, angry at the situation even if you were the one to walk away, angry on behalf of the others who were hurt by your or your partner’s actions.
Negotiation CAN I PLEA BARGAIN MY WAY OUT OF THIS?  If I’m a nicer, more desirable, funnier person will s/he recognise that and come back? Can I possibly hang on to the dregs of this relationship; surely I can salvage something here? Typically not very dignified.
Depression IT’S REAL AND I CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.  The reality hits home and so does the misery. This is when the depression can strike, when alcohol and other dependent behaviours can take hold, and Prozac seems like a lifesaver. At this point there is nothing left to lose.
Acceptance IT’S OVER – NOW WHO AM I?

*With thanks to the work of psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross ‘On Death and Dying’.

So what has this got to do with a second wife? Well, sometimes it’s not good news.  People work their way through these stages at different rates, and even if you were the one to call time on the relationship, you will still go through all of these (and you may have a huge dollop of guilt to deal with as well).

Your new partner may not have dealt with all his issues before embarking on a new relationship, but even if he has, there is a chance that his ex-wife won’t have either. If you are the woman next in line when your partner’s former wife is working her way through one of those stages, then all that ugly raw emotion may be turned directly on you.

Of course, if you were involved in the break up of the relationship, then it’s no big surprise if his former partner holds a grudge against you. But even if you had nothing to do with it, even if you came along years later, or she was the one to end the marriage, then guess what? It will make no difference.  If she is not emotionally separated from her former partner and that grief is still raw, then you are going to have a very rough ride ahead.

Stage of Grief Type of Behaviour
Denial If she is has not yet faced up to the reality of a split, then his Ex Wife/Partner can refuse to deal with the implications of the new situation. As the Ex sees it, there’s another chicken in the hen house, a new significant other in her partner’s life (note ‘partner’- not ‘former partner’ as she hasn’t yet drawn that boundary). As far as she’s concerned she’s still his Wife, possibly she is also the Mother of His Children. You are the interloper here!As a second wife you may want to satisfy your curiosity about this other woman, at the very least you will want to talk to her about the care of the children. Guess what? She doesn’t want to know. If she can pretend you don’t exist, then that’s fine by her, at worst she’ll hope you’ll be just a passing fancy and in the end he’ll see that she was the one true love of his life. Even if she doesn’t actually want to be with the reality of him, she will still cling to the dream of the relationship and you are getting in the way. You are a threat to her status as The Wife and The Mother, both within the immediate and extended family (she doesn’t see it as two separate families yet). She’ll reach for the extended family on both sides to shore up her position – expect lots of family get-togethers at which you won’t be invited, but your new partner and their children will be the star attraction. She may try to prevent you interacting with the children at all. She will probably insist on maintaining a relationship with your partner in which you are actively excluded.She may even try to act as if she and he are still in a relationship. Many second wives are incensed by inappropriate behaviour from the ex-wife, ranging from the unforgivable attempting to entice him into bed when he drops off the children, to a knowing kiss on the cheek or a hand placed possessively on his arm when she’s stood next to you both, or emotionally intimate phone conversations and emails.This is her way of saying quite clearly: he’s still my man and I’m still in control here.
Anger It’s all your fault! No really, everything is your fault!  Even if she walked out on her husband, they were getting along just fine until you came along. Now he’s standing up to her, refusing to mow her lawn on request, or be an emotional crutch for her when her new partner isn’t available. It’s your fault! Their kids now have to adjust and it’s your fault too that they are hurting.Suddenly he has other financial responsibilities which are going to detract from his ability to support her children, worse still you may have children of your own and (Oh Lord, it’s an earth-shattering thought!) what if you and he have children together, your child and hers would be related! She never thought she’d be in this situation, she didn’t choose you as a relation, she had no say in it at all, and how dare you impose yourself on her like this!Venomous emails, angry telephone calls, altercations in Tesco, anonymous letters to your boss telling him what a slut you are…and that’s nothing compared to what your partner is getting. It’s often at this point that a former partner uses Parental Alienation most destructively. Sanity has nothing to do with it, she’s angry, she’s lashing out, she is going to use the best weapon she has and you are both going to pay. She’s spending like a lottery winner on the joint credit card account, but tells the children that she can’t afford to buy them clothes or pay for their ballet classes any more. And it’s all your fault!  You are taking their father away from them and their father is letting it happen. Soon, she will tell them, he won’t care about them at all, he’ll only care about you and your children, so they might as well have nothing to do with either of you!
She’s realised that she’s losing all the benefits a relationship brings – companionship, and emotional and financial support, and it’s amazing how many women think they can hang onto those after a divorce. But the more aggressive she is, the quicker he moves away from her. She may try to be nice now because she wants something – to find a way to regain control of the situation. And you’ll know it, because every move she makes feels so insincere she gives Cassius a run for his money as she smiles and plots your murder. She’ll try to stay as involved as she possibly can in every element of what happens in your home.Prepare yourself, ladies! You can’t possibly be expected to know how to care for her children, so she’ll either exclude you completely, or send them over with lists of instructions, packets of gluten-free pasta and her old iPhone (now she has the latest model), so they can keep her informed, minute-by-minute. Their friendships, school life, and home life in both homes will all be subject to her control – after all they are her children and she has every right to judge whether or not you are taking care of them (and taking good care of her partner too – yes she still may not accept you and he are a couple, and that she and he are not).There will be a stream of complaints – how dare you send little Johnny to school without his jumper? (Helloooo! it’s a heat wave). You will be slapped down for stepping into her territory at every turn and her territory may not stop at the children. It will probably include the school, the extended family on all sides, her children’s friends, family friends, even her favourite brand of perfume or designer. Do not get caught wearing the same coat as her from her favourite high street store, even if you have had it for ten years and so do 50,000 other women. Don’t be at all surprised if she comes into your home uninvited and acts as if she has the right to do that even if it’s somewhere she never lived. In her head, where the children go, she goes. She is their Mother and there are no possible boundaries to that.
Depression You have probably blown a fuse by now or else have left the relationship in search of a single man with no children. She’ll be miserable, possibly clinically depressed, potentially using drugs or alcohol to ease her pain. If you are still around you will either be on medication yourself, or will have insisted on boundaries being put in place and, without doubt, those are going to upset her.  If she’s given the opportunity, she will ask your partner, and possibly even you, to be her emotional crutch.She won’t give a thought to how you feel or all the pain you as a second wife have had to deal with so far, but she will expect you to care about her emotional distress. She’ll be clingy with the children and your partner and communication will go crazy. The children will turn up with a major guilt trip about enjoying themselves on every visit – if they feel they can leave her side or have not washed their hands of their father and you, so they don’t have to deal with the stress of it all. (And yes, that will still be all your or his fault)
Acceptance   This is where you stand a chance of finding a way through all the mess. Finally she will see that there is no way back and she has to forge a relationship for the future. Of course, some women deal with this by concluding that the best way to get on with their lives is to wipe their previous relationship from existence. They remove themselves and their children from having anything to do with their former family, up sticks and make a fresh start somewhere else, leaving your devastated partner to get on with his new life with you minus his children.Some women do come to their senses. They can see that you are not the wicked witch of the west, that you do care about their children, that you are competent and kind, and they will try to turn things around so at the end of the day the children come out of this OK. The trouble is, by this point you are probably so traumatised by all the emotional trash she’s shoveled in your direction that you don’t trust her, you don’t like her, you are allergic to her name, your partner doesn’t want to have anything to do with her either, the money is tight, but the solicitors are wealthy and the children need counselling. If you can get to this point quickly, then there will be less trauma to deal with, less harm to your relationship and to the children.And once everything has settled down, if your partner is rushing around to help his ex to move house, doing everything he can to play happy families with his former family out of guilt for the effect on the children, fear of losing contact or grief of his own, then he is doing himself and everyone else no favours and you should consider the merits of asking him to decide which family he wants to be part of:– ‪The one you and he will create with his children when they are with you‬ or– ‪The one he had with his ex-partner and their children.‬  So gentlemen, it’s make your mind up time…

Chances are his ex-wife will be a permanent pain until she’s worked through her issues and come out of the grief tunnel. It’s perfectly natural for her to feel like this, but it isn’t going to be pleasant. All you can do is hang on for the ride and remember the second wives mantra:

These are his ex-partner’s problems,

You can’t control her behaviour and make it better,

You and your partner can only control your behaviour.

Try to detach.

And if you can’t

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