Friday, January 11, 2008

Lover's Ex-Wife Won't Let Go

I am a gay man who is in a relationship with another man who was married for many years and then came out of the closet. He has maintained a very good relationship with his children and ex-wife -- perhaps too good, in the latter case. His ex-wife refuses to move on and date new men, and still clings to her ex-husband, calling on him at all hours, expecting him to help her out, and be her best friend no matter what. Out of guilt he runs when she calls because she was devastated when he ended the marriage. I know he has no real feelings for her anymore, but it's clear that she just can't let go. And she's always hugging and kissing him -- he claims it's just affection and out of habit-- and sometimes he even comes back from doing a chore for her with her lipstick on his collar from a "thank you" hug. Ron in Albany.

Well, at least her lipstick isn't in other places -- you hope! I understand that your lover is feeling guilt and yes it's good that he and his ex-wife get along and he remains close to his children, but a line has to be drawn and you've got to establish that line if he won't. You may eventually have to sit down with the ex-wife and in a compassionate way explain how you feel, that you're trying to build a life with your man and she needs to move on. (Know any nice straight single guys you can introduce her to?)

You also have to make sure that these "chores" he's doing for his wife aren't sexual in nature. He may still be a bit uncomfortable being in a relationship with a man after so many years with a woman and feel some kind of "macho" need to engage in hetero intercourse -- for all the wrong reasons. Cheating is cheating, no matter what. And you need to know if he's still conflicted.

Even if that's not the case, the situation here needs to be "straightened" out before it gets worse. The more the ex-wife believes she can take advantage of your lover, the more she will. Ultimately, it wouldn't make a difference if your lover had moved on with a man or another woman, he's with somebody else now and the ex has to accept it. He shouldn't leave it to you to handle the situation.

Sit down with your lover and tell him how you feel. Remind him that in this case guilt is a useless and even harmful emotion -- harmful to the relationship you are both trying to build together. Hopefully, once he realizes that he might be jeopardizing his future with you by overly coddling his ex-wife, it will be easier to him to say "no" to her. He also needs to understand that the more he coddles her, the less likely it will be for her to look for -- and move on with -- somebody new, which isn't good for her. The hugs and kisses she gives him may be merely "affectionate" and meaningless to him, but they are in no way meaningless to her.


Michael said...

WOW! What a relief to know that I am not the only gay man in the world who is experiencing this situation! My partner and I have been together for 4 years and the problem with the ex-wife had existed since day one. It has been 20 years since my partner and she have divorced, but she still has a "rein" on my partner. They are not affectionate and she admits she still "has her guard up", but that doesn't stop her from intruding in our lives. My partner does not think she is being intrusive, but I strongly disagree. Yes, I think my partner still feels guilty for leaving his ex and three children (ages 30/male/single, 28/female/married, 24/male/single) and he says that he feels they will abandon him if he doesn't cater to their every need. After many sessions of therapy (which hasn't helped my partner to see how his relationship with his ex affects me, I am beginning to think it would be best if we dissolved the relationship (which his ex and children would love, even though they say that they like me). His ex and children managed to cause friction and break-up my partner's previous 10-year relationship and I feel they are trying to do it again. In case you are wondering, his ex is not in a relationship. And to make matters worse, my partner is his ex-wife's Supervisor at their place of employment. My partner is Doctor/Chief of Staff (age 59, his ex, a Physician's Assistant (age 59) and I am 49.

Any other websites, literature, or support groups pertaining to this subject would be greatly appreciated.

Bill Samuels said...

You are certainly in a difficult situation. You mention that your partner is getting therapy -- do you ever attend these sessions or have you considered couples counseling ("marriage" counseling in other words)? You need to be part of the whole process. He has to understand how this is all affecting you. I assume you've talked to him and have just not gotten through to him?

His concern that his children will "abandon" him is a bit senseless as they are all fully grown and at a point in their lives where most adult children do not really welcome parental interference. He's more likely to be "abandoned" by the fact that they're developing -- or on the verge of developing -- their own lives, relationships and even families.

It is also troubling that your partner has been divorced for 20 years and this stuff is still going on. It's good that he and his ex-wife presumably got along during the years when the children were growing up, but now they are adults. It would be much easier for the ex-wife to find a job elsewhere than for your partner to do so, yet she stays there, perhaps in a petty need to remain part of his life come hell or highwater. I have a feeling if you talked to her she'd only become defensive.

Guilt is a powerful and destructive emotion. Your partner has to realize that he's in danger of losing you. There's no reason he can't have a good relationship with his children and ex-wife, but there have to be boundaries set.

You've invested four years in this relationship and it isn't easy to let go. In addition you were brave enough to enter this relationship knowing there were emotional pulls from other people on your partner (but I assume you were not aware of the full extent of them). If he shows some sign of understanding the problem and has a clear willigness to try and fix it, that's one thing. If ultimately it looks as if nothing will ever change, then you might have to consider moving on. While it's not impossible for him to find a new relationship at 59, it will be much easier for you at 49. Make your partner understand that he will LOSE you if the situation continues as it has.

I hope things work out for you.