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“When two divorced people marry, four people get into bed” Jewish proverb.
June 12, 2012 2:03 AM   Subscribe

Is it ever OK to get involved in disagreements between my husband and his ex-wife?

My gut response is “No, never” – but maybe I’m wrong?

Husband and ex-wife share roughly equally a Son who is 8.
I have been with my husband since Son was 1 year old.

All disagreements are regarding Son's life and are usually via text message and voice mail. I've always silently supported my husband and not been actively involved in any disagreements.

If it’s relevant, the ex-wife will start name-calling, yelling, and making off-topic disparaging remarks and accusations when my husband does not agree with her request/order. My husband is calm, respectful but firm - often revising text messages to de-snark them. His most antagonistic response is telling her that her behaviour is disgraceful.

Are there any circumstances where perhaps I should be getting involved?

For example, in these specific circumstances:

What if the ex-wife's husband gets involved in the disagreement (not helpfully – threats, put-downs)?

Or the ex-wife's decisions have serious consequences for Son's development (backed up by his teachers)?

Or ex-wife revokes a previous temporary schedule change – that benefited Son in allowing him to attend 2 activities – one medical, one sporting, and was actually very inconvenient for my husband - as punishment for my husband not agreeing to her latest request/order?

Or my husband is considering ignoring ex-wife and any of her requests/orders to try to avoid the disagreements?

If the answer is ever “Yes”, should I try to mediate or should I push my husband's view? I fear that I won’t be a good mediator because I think she’s totally wrong on most things.
posted by jacanj to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I'm thinking no to all of those. Each of them is still about her, and him. Or her, and him, and their son. Or her, and him, and her partner. But none of them was about you, directly. The idea of you as a mediator implies that you could be a neutral middle party. But you are not neutral, nor are you (nor do you want to be I think) in the middle. If you get dragged into it, then defend yourself by all means. And if your husband seeks your support emotionally, then give it. But your role in this is already complicated and loaded with emotion for all parties. You are not going to be able to step in without adding to the drama, I suspect, no matter how well intentioned or respectful you try to be.
posted by jojobobo at 2:33 AM on June 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


No, I don't think there's anything you can do in terms of either mediating or arguing for your husband's point of view. The ex-wife is trying to fight, not cooperate. She doesn't want your opinion or your help. Your participation isn't going to give her more of your husband's attention or more control over the situation, which are the sorts of things she's fighting for. You'll just be a new enemy.

It does sound like there are probably better ways for your husband to respond, than participating in fightey text and VM exchanges. Maybe you could both make a project out of learning how to deal with this more effectively. Put together a reading list, work through it, talk about how you can apply what you're learning, and maybe also see a family counselor.

Divorce Poison

Emotional Blackmail

The Verbally Abusive Relationship
posted by jon1270 at 2:44 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My gut response is “No, never” – but maybe I’m wrong?

That's probably right.

If it’s relevant, the ex-wife will start name-calling, yelling, and making off-topic disparaging remarks and accusations when my husband does not agree with her request/order. My husband is calm, respectful but firm - often revising text messages to de-snark them. His most antagonistic response is telling her that her behaviour is disgraceful.

Are there any circumstances where perhaps I should be getting involved?

If the child were in imminent danger of harm, that would probably be the time to do it. Your husband and the ex-wife are both rational(ish) adults with a long-standing conflict that predates your involvement.

One thing to consider is the factoring for connections:
Two people = one connection
Three people = three connections
Four people = six connections
Five people = twelve connections

If we consider the current situation has three people (husband, ex, child), there are currently three connections. If you become involved, although you are adding 33% "people" to the situation, the complexity rises by 300%.

Further, it may well cause a rift between yo and your husband, for currently, he speaks with one voice for your new family to his old family. If you add an independent voice, it may well complicate your relationship with him. If you're going to do that, the reason for which you do that must justify the complications that will result. Thus, if the child is in imminent danger, it is worth complicating the situation, for the sake of the child.

What if the ex-wife's husband gets involved in the disagreement (not helpfully – threats, put-downs)?

Now, there are four involved, and we have six connections. Getting messier. If you join, there are now five involved and twelve connections (!). (on a side note, this is why the UN rarely gets anything done).

Or the ex-wife's decisions have serious consequences for Son's development (backed up by his teachers)?

You'll probably need to go with your gut here, based on above comments. If the son's development is being compromised, you have to make a choice as to whether increasing the complexity of the situation will result in a better situation for the son. It may, it may not. You and your husband need to make that judgement call together.

Or ex-wife revokes a previous temporary schedule change – that benefited Son in allowing him to attend 2 activities – one medical, one sporting, and was actually very inconvenient for my husband - as punishment for my husband not agreeing to her latest request/order?

That starts getting into custody territory and the boundaries provided. If she is doing these things to manipulate your husband, at some point, the legal authorities may have to be involved to arbitrate. Your involvement may well not change the situation. The conflict at hand is not a rational conflict – these people don't need anything explained to them – rather it's an emotional conflict with roots beyond the rational. You may not even know what the roots are, emotionally. You may know rationally, from your husband, however, there's obviously something driving this behaviour that is outside the realm of rationality – therefore, non-binding external interventions (what you can bring) may not be helpful, rather may be quite inflamatory.

Or my husband is considering ignoring ex-wife and any of her requests/orders to try to avoid the disagreements?

This may well be what she is after; running him down. She may see that as 'winning' in some regard. If she can move him to a place of indifference or passivity, she essentially will have developed a power over him.

It sounds that you are getting quite close to lawyer-territory on this one.

If the answer is ever “Yes”, should I try to mediate or should I push my husband's view? I fear that I won’t be a good mediator because I think she’s totally wrong on most things.

If you need a mediator, than you need a lawyer. You cannot mediate as you are not objective. You come from one side of the agenda. If you imagine a sporting match, your husband has been in the game for quite a while and he's tiring. You're sitting on the bench, you've been watching, you're fresh and you're ready to go.

But you are in no way objective; you want your team to win.

Whilst lawyers are ugly, consider that the result of these kinds of situations is often pre-determined, it's just a matter of time. If the situation has degraded for some time, despite the best intentions of both parties, it will continue to degrade until something changes. Your involvement well may be an accelerant in that process. The change it sounds like that would help is an objective external mediator. Given the rancour, a psychologist may not be the right person, rather a lawyer may be able to make short work of this via whatever the original custody agreement was, or modification to that agreement.

If your side brings the lawyer first, it's a powerful message that "We cannot deal with you any longer. We still care greatly, however, your inability to operate civilly is negatively impacting the son, and thus we now must engage a professional arbitrator." Aka "You're being cray cray, so be cray cray at the lawyer and see what happens."

A final note, whilst I understand your side of it, please do realise there are two sides to the story. Neither side is right nor is the opposing side wrong. The other couple may well reiterate your exact sentiments. Hence, why a professional of some type is in the best position to help you.

A nice litmus test is in proposing a professional. Who ever balks at involving an objective professional – especially because of the fees involved – is more interested in being right than in resolving the situation. How do I mean that? An objective professional is there to find a resolution that works for both sides of the disagreement. Neither side will be 'right' rather there will be a resolution. You'll be able to tell the true roadblock by who ever does not want a peaceful resolution, for they are more interested in 'being right'.
posted by nickrussell at 3:20 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a child of divorce, let me answer this authoritatively:

♫ Never! ♫
posted by smoke at 4:09 AM on June 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Your step-son will appreciate having an adult in his life not tangled up in that mess. Stay out for his sake.
posted by milarepa at 4:19 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Anything you say will be twisted so that it appears in the worst light possible and will be put on display (in the worst light possible) on a whim anytime from now and for eternity. Count on it.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:12 AM on June 12, 2012


There's nothing you can say that can do anything but aggravate an already shitty situation. Support your husband silently, but this is his battle to fight. You don't make things more equal because her husband is involved on occasion, too. It just adds to the clusterfuck.

I mean, what do you imagine you could possibly say that would make her snap to her senses? No, what will happen is you will make someone who is acting out of hurt and pettiness even more hurt and more petty because there's another irritant in the fray.
posted by inturnaround at 5:15 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am in the same situation---child is younger, but I have been around since he was 1 and I am a child of divorce myself. My first answer is 'no, never' but I would like to add the additional clarifier that IMHO it will help both you and the husband if you learn not to respond to the crazy talk. Recognize that when she does that, it is her dealing with her issues, and not about you. She hasn't got great emotional coping skills about this because she has a blind spot about your husband, so the tantruming is her trying to deal with her stuff, and that's all it is.

My partner spent a lot of time at first trying to respond to everything she said, trying to defend himself if she said something unfair and so on. All it seemed to do is wind her up more. One day, he was asking her about the time for one of his visits and she wrote back with something like 'I'll be there at 12 and that's only because you won't meet me at blah blah blah because you crazy talk insults etc' So he comes to me all upset, how can she say that, WHY would she say it, and I just looked at him and said 'does it matter why? You got your answer...'

So ever since then we have kept our communications with her to be solely fact-based and we have ignored the crazy talk. We answer her emails in point form bullet points dealing only with the logistical information, and we ignore any blah blah blah crazy talk. We can't make her stop saying that stuff, so we just chalk it up to her being her and ignore it.
posted by JoannaC at 5:25 AM on June 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Nthing, stay the eff out of it. You can help behind the scenes, drafting documents for court, giving neck massages, being a non-judgmental sounding board for your step-son. There's plenty of good, wholesome stuff for you to do. Stay above the fray.

The best, passive aggressive way for your husband to deal with the crazy is to disengage. There's no reason to have a dialog with the ex and her partner. He should also limit the texting and email to times and places of pick up and drop off of his son.

Rollplay with him simple phrases, "It sounds like you're upset, I'll let you go and we can discuss this later."

Or program this phrase into the phone, "It's not safe for me to use the phone right now."

There are people out there who LOVE them some drama, sucking all the fun out of this relationship for the Ex is the best way to negate it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:32 AM on June 12, 2012


Arguing with your spouse's ex is about as smart as arguing with his siblings: even if you're right, you lose. Instead, be your husband's drama-free zone. Provide advice. Listen. Validate. But let him fight his own battles.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 9:14 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


No. Just No.
posted by txmon at 9:24 AM on June 12, 2012


The fewer people fighting, the better. For the kid's sake.
posted by feets at 2:07 PM on June 12, 2012


Sounds like your husband is doing fine, so I'd make sure he knows he has your support, ask him if there's any way you can help, and then continue your admirable history of zipping it. You(both of you) may want to document circumstances & events if there are threats, and specific events that were bad for the child, esp. texts and emails. All of the fighting is really hard on kids.

Both parents, but even 1 if that's the only 1 who can do it, can keep telling Child that he's loved, Mommy & Daddy are going to be there for him, that any angry words are just adults being frustrated, etc. Child is lucky to have a parent and step-parent who don't engage with the crazy.
posted by theora55 at 3:25 PM on June 12, 2012


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