Should I get back together with my ex-wife?
July 17, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

I could really use some input to help me sort through all of this. At 40 years old, she was having a lesbian affair and asked me to move out. I was devastated. But in hindsight, our marriage wasn't a good one. And I suppose it was just a matter of time before something came along to unravel the whole thing. Now she wants me back. I have no clue how I even feel, much less if I even want to try again. Wall of text inside.

Basic facts:
We were married for 7 years and have 2 kids. Have been separated for 1.5 years. A relatively amicable divorce was finalized a few months ago.

Her affair:
Not sure what to say about it really. I don't think this is a situation where she's been suppressing her sexual preferences her entire life. I think she just really liked another girl. And our marriage was bad (more on that below) so she probably felt justified. But during the affair there was so much lying and dishonesty and selfishness. And as a result I lost a ton of respect for her. I imagine that's pretty common. When the affair started, I put a tracking device on her phone for many months and didn't tell her. I watched her constantly lie (very convincingly) about where she was and what she was doing. During this time she talked about reconciling. But the secret tracking and subsequent lies undermined any chance of that. I finally told her and stopped the tracking months later. At that point I made up my mind to move on.

About her:
She's a decent person and a good mother. I also think she's physically attractive. She does have father issues that manifested in our marriage. When she was a child, her parents divorced and her dad paid attention to his new family (he remarried with kids) and not her. I think caused an unrealistic and insatiable need for love and attention. She also has a very short temper and creates huge issues out of minor events. Things tend to become a matter of principal immediately. There's also a ton of guilt tripping in her arguments: she has a victim mentality view of many situations. She's very socially adept and has good intuition. She told me once that her therapist said she might be codependent (I assume they were talking about her affair).

About me:
I am an introvert although very capable socially. I have a good career, a healthy work-life balance, and am physically healthy. I like my alone time and am highly independent. And as a result, I've really been enjoying my newfound single status. I do have baggage like everyone else. I have been excessively dating. Not because I want a relationship but because I have an unhealthy (probably) need for affirmation and vildation. I think I have low self-esteem in some areas of my life and so being "liked" by others feels reassuring. I also have mild ADD I think but I dont take medication. I just live with it and manage. I also have an over developed sense of personal accountability and am very quick to accept responsibility, blame, and subsequent guilt (I'm working on this and it's getting better).

Our marriage:
Talk about a disaster in terms of emontiinal connection. We are wired differently. Independent vs codependent. Victim vs overly-accountable. Trust issues vs self-esteem issues. Two good hearted people that enabled all of the dysfunctional qualities in the other. But still two good hearted people... which is what makes this so frustrating and confusing. Our sex life was just okay at the start of our relationship. Then became practically nonexistent after a couple years. We fought like crazy... Her blaming, me defending, then eventually me accepting responsibility for stuff I didn't think was my fault. Eventually resentment set in.

My paradox:
Now she wants to start dating me. She wants to see if we can rebuild something good. I'm curious if two good intentioned people finally change, grow, and build a healthy, posiitve marriage? I love the idea of reconciling for all the obvious reasons. But mostly (1) the kids deserve an intact family, and (2) life would be so much simpler. I'd love nothing more than to find a path to happiness with my ex-wife but I'm also a realist. If we couldn't make it work when the stakes were high, how can we make it work now? She says she's changed and finally understands her role in our bad marriage. And her tone sounds different lately. But I dont know if people really change that much. Ultimately I want to live a happy life. And I know I can be happy on my own (I'm doing it now and it feels good). I am so much happier now than during my marriage And the kids have also adjusted really well. And I dont want to mess that up either. I just fear that by not at least trying, I might be making a huge mistake. But its taken me so long to get to a healthy place emotiinally that I dont want to go though all the pain again.

I'd love to hear from people who've been through something similar and how it worked out for them.
posted by normal_guy to Human Relations (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

People change, but sometimes that's someone else's benefit to reap. If she hadn't asked you for this, would it have occured to you to ask her? Of course not.

I'd just say, "Denise, I sincerely hope we can be friends and good co-parents to our children. I've moved on and I think you should as well."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:15 AM on July 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

You should continue to enjoy not being in a horrible relationship.
posted by steinwald at 8:15 AM on July 17, 2014 [35 favorites]

But mostly (1) the kids deserve an intact family

The kids deserve a happy family. An unhappy intact one is not better than a happy separated one. It doesn't sound like you'd be very happy together.

And I know I can be happy on my own (I'm doing it now and it feels good). I am so much happier now than during my marriage And the kids have also adjusted really well.

There you go.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:16 AM on July 17, 2014 [58 favorites]

Rule of thumb: When someone lists all the pros and cons and tells the whole huge story, whatever they say last is what they really feel:
I dont want to go though all the pain again.
Sounds like you're looking for permission to tell her "No." You have it.

Want more details? Okay, this jumped out at me too:
the kids deserve an intact family
No, they deserve a functional family. For some families, that means that mom and dad live together and are married and monogamous and suchlike. For other families, that means that mom and dad don't live together but get along well. For still other families, there are other methods.

On the other hand, you say she sounds different, and she says she's changed and so forth. So maybe what you should do is what she asks -- date her. Maybe not even exclusively for now, but will it really damage you to give it a try? If she backtracks, you can break up with her and say, "I was happier when we were apart."

But really, it sounds like you're looking for someone who isn't her and won't be. You talk about her positively only in terms of her being attractive and a good mother. Let her be those things. They don't mean "wife."
posted by Etrigan at 8:19 AM on July 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

Put the children first. Are you a better parent married to their mom or as a single dad?

I think that if you start dating her, it needs to be kept secret from your children. Divorce is confusing enough without having them get their hopes up and having them dashed. They deserve better than the roller coaster ride that their mom wants to put them on.

And she will put them and you on the roller coaster, if you let her. Her past behavior has shown her to be someone who wants drama, at the expense of everyone else. If it were me, I would stay off the roller coaster.
posted by myselfasme at 8:20 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

She fucked you over, and now she wants you to pick up the pieces of her miserable life? What a selfish person.

No, people don't change that much. She's just being nice in order to go back to the way things were, typical of abusive people.
posted by Melismata at 8:20 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm very anti-divorce-make-it-work-especially-with-kids mentality, but I don't see a thing in there for you if you go back. I'm so make-it-work that if you'd asked 2 years ago or so and the marriage had been intact, I might have asked you to try to hang in there.

But assuming you're telling the story straight, I'm team DTMFA (or whatever that means in the past tense). Yeah, the tracking you did is a little rum, but she lied, she cheated, and all that's assuming at this point that she's interested in any man, let alone you.

I think you'd be better off, and especially the kids would be better off, for you two to try to be amicable as you raise them cooperatively, and you might be the odd case where resuming the marriage isn't the best way to do that.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:21 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

She says she's changed and finally understands her role in our bad marriage. And her tone sounds different lately. But I dont know if people really change that much.

It's wonderful that her tone is different now. I think after a divorce is final and the anger from the break-up/betrayal/divorce process evaporates, former spouses can feel more warmly towards one another. This is not a sign to get back together. This is a sign that you can be good parents and maybe even friends.

I would bet money that you and your ex-wife will be better parents and partners separately than you were together. Your kids will appreciate their happy parents and their functional family far more than they would a forced reconciliation that doesn't take.
posted by gladly at 8:23 AM on July 17, 2014 [13 favorites]

If she has issues with codependency, then of COURSE she wants to get back with you now. Presumably her new relationship didn't work out, and now she has had a great idea- why not just get my old relationship back? Much easier than putting myself out there and facing rejection!

Don't do it, man. It's not about her or you, it's about the two of you, as a couple, not working.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:24 AM on July 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your ex sounds inconsiderate and selfish at best. At worst? I'll keep that opinion to myself. She has not changed, she is just putting on a show for you and unfortunately, you are falling for it.

OP, you are already out! For the sake of you and your children, STAY OUT. Why spend your life wondering if you can ever trust this person again?
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:25 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

She says she's changed and finally understands her role in our bad marriage.

I believe that people can change, but I also believe that what anyone says on this score doesn't mean much unless it's clearly and repeatedly backed up by significant changes in behavior.

In other words, if you find that over the next few years, she demonstrates that she can now deal with the ups and downs of parenting (and life in general) in a new and healthier way, that means she's changed. And if that makes you reconsider being with her (and if she still wants to try to rekindle things), then you proceed from there.

But right now, today, make your decisions based on what you know. And you know you are happy single and that your kids have adjusted to the split.
posted by scody at 8:26 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

But in hindsight, our marriage wasn't a good one.

I think you could have stopped right there. Why go back to that? To someone who cheated and lied and destroyed the family you built together? There are billions of women in the world, many of whom you could have a happy, respect-filled, love-filled life with, devoid of cheating and lies. Take what you've learned from your former marriage and go find the relationship you deserve if you want it.
posted by cecic at 8:33 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't go back to this relationship. I don't think it will be any better or different the second time.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 8:38 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nope. You haven't presented a convincing case as to why you would want to go back, and really, not a great case as to why she would want you back. Sounds like you're happy where you are. Stay there.
posted by xingcat at 8:44 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm curious if two good intentioned people finally change, grow,

That's a big IF. Have you? She says she has, and she's the only one with any real perspective on that (and...she also has an agenda, not a secret one, which is to get back together with you, so take this with some salt). Have you? Honestly and truly, have you changed your patterns and thinking and behavior that contributed to your portion of making the relationship worse?

But mostly (1) the kids deserve an intact family,

You can have an intact family without being married and without living together and without even being together. I know a lot of (queer) families like this. There are a lot of not-queer families like this, too.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

My parents divorced and--as far as I could tell--things were very cold and hostile between them for about a decade. My dad did change, in a big way, namely: he started treating his depression. He got active in church, met another woman, and remarried. He became a happy person again.

And only then was he able to enjoy himself with my mom at a family event where we were all thrown together. It took 10+ years and us kids were in college and beyond, but they are actual friends now. So, IME, change is possible, but change does not always equal reconciliation.

And we were all better off with the two of them divorced, because neither of them was at their best when they were a couple. My dad and stepmom seem to be operating pretty close to "best" levels, having learned from the mistakes of the past and entering a meaningful course of therapy, etc., and my mom will be just fine.

Things will work out for you.
posted by magdalemon at 9:03 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love the idea of reconciling for all the obvious reasons.

Going by what you wrote, there are no obvious reasons to do this.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:08 AM on July 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

"I'm curious if two good intentioned people finally change, grow, and build a healthy, posiitve marriage?"

NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! This is not a good experiment!!!!!

You start dating someone NEW because you're curious about them and the possibilities.

This is just a hellishly bad idea. Try it out when your kids are all grown and happy and adult. When the only person it effects is you and your ex-wife- because this would seriously seriously fuck up your kids. They would go into future relationships without having a clue about what a real ending means, what real boundaries are. Wouldn't life be tough if you grew up without any way to feel faith in the thought that "wow, finally that's over" or, "I miss it, but its over, I'll have to accept it to move forward"

No. no. no. no. This is just such a bad idea. And life would not be simpler.

You can be involved as a family unit without being back together with mom. Do that. Don't date her. Please!

And people deserve all kinds of things, but it doesn't mean we get them. End of story.

This is the most phenomenally bad idea I have ever heard.
posted by misspony at 9:12 AM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Now she wants to start dating me. She wants to see if we can rebuild something good.

Why? You described the marriage as "...a disaster in terms of emontiinal connection. We are wired differently."

Why would she want to go back to that? Why would you? It makes no sense. Is it just for the children then? Forget that, the kids are adjusting well and you had an amicable divorce. You're happy now. Why got back to miserable relationship that didn't even have good sex?

One can put up with a lot if they're getting banged right, but you describe that aspect as just "ok, then non existent." Not a ringing endorsement, man. Move on unless you're having some major feelings for her suddenly, but it doesn't sound like you are.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:18 AM on July 17, 2014

(1) the kids deserve an intact family, and (2) life would be so much simpler.

Nope. From my personal experience, kids know the difference between "intact" family and "happy" family and they don't give a shit about the first one if they get the second one. I had parents who stayed together too long for this purpose and while I'm not (too) bitter it was the wrong choice made by people with the best intentions who were also sort of ... not up to the work of being able to live separately and raise children. There was mistrust and fighting and I basically grew up with bad ideas about relationships and families and also very very isolated. I don't suggest it as a tactic.

You're happy now. You can have a happy relationship with someone else and channel the current "Hey I am reconsidering" energy into being a good co-parent with your ex-wife who abused your trust and should work to rebuild that not by playing "Hey maybe we should get back together" games. Be a friend to her. Be a good co-parent with her. Don't start this bad cycle again.
posted by jessamyn at 9:25 AM on July 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Check out "why we love people who hurt us" Ross Rosenberg - he's on youtube loads too.
posted by tanktop at 9:28 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you really need to spend some time thinking about the difference between what people say and what they do. Your ex is a very accomplished liar, you have straight-up proof of that. She looked you in the eye and expertly lied to you on many, many occasions. For me, it would be impossible to live with this person and the lack of trust. It would be torture on a daily basis. Because you know her words do not not match her actions. You know it.

If you are really serious about trying it, I think you should set a time period of watchful waiting before you consider dating your ex. Six months at the very least, a year or two would be better. And watch. Listen. Judge. Cast a very critical eye on her. A duplicitous person can keep up a front for a while, but not for a long time, in my experience.

You deserve to spend your life with a quality person. One that shares your values. I don't think your ex is that person, but only you can decide that. But do your due diligence, because you owe it to yourself and your kids.
posted by raisingsand at 9:30 AM on July 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

It's only been a year and a half. Give it ten more years and then see if you are still interested in building a healthy, positive marriage. No reason to try for that now. Just see if you can do what you've been doing to make yourself happy for the last year and a half (which is not that much time, really) for a few more years, and re-evaluate this question then.

If you are meant to work this out and get back together there is absolutely no reason or need to jump on that train right now.

I dated an abusive guy who treated me like a piece of garbage for three years. Guess what? I left him, and his tone changed, too. A lot. Since I left, he's been all sweetness and roses. I even got an "I'm sorry for the horrible way I treated you" in his last communication to me. That is a different tone indeed. Before, it was all my fault; now, he's actually acknowledging that he feels remorse because he treated me horribly. And I think he is sorry. But being sorry is not the same as changing.

And I'll admit, a part of me is a little curious about whether or not we could make it work. But, like, that part of me is the size of a speck of dust. The rest of my entire being is saying (wisely): "that is a one way ticket to hellsville let's get on the nope train and head in the opposite direction."

I am so much happier now than during my marriage. And the kids have also adjusted really well.
That is your answer.

Best of luck to you as you work through this. Divorce is very hard. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 9:30 AM on July 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

You sound very self-aware, and you also sound like you are in a place, emotionally, where you'd recently made peace internally with yourself about what had happened, and were moving along with your life.

And of course, just like clockwork, your ex suddenly decides she wants back in.


This is textbook rebound behavior. It really is uncanny how our exes can tell when we are OVER it, and suddenly, we become ever-so-attractive to them.

Re-engaging in this dynamic with her won't advance your cause, or your children's cause. To put it more clinically: it will add no value to your life, or theirs.

I suggest staying the course, continuing to date and continuing to introspect, and continuing to adapt to your increasing sense of self and self-worth, separate from your ex. Your quality of life will be greater that way, I think.
posted by nacho fries at 9:39 AM on July 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't see how you get over someone cheating on you and lying to you. You can say you will, but will you really? If you don't get along and argue a lot anyway, then that pretty much makes it a no-brainer. If you're happier divorced than you were married with her, why start dating her again? It sounds like she has some issues that you know enough about to keep away. Just be good co-parents and don't use the kids as chess pieces between mom and dad who hate each other. Be friendly and the kids will be just as fine if not better than if you were together and bickering all the time.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:51 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Should I get back together with my ex-wife?

posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:05 AM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

But being sorry is not the same as changing.

This, 100%.
posted by scody at 10:27 AM on July 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

I feel sorry for the kids. That's the only reason I'd even consider reconciling. There isn't really anything to suggest things would be different the second time around, though. Once in a while people really change, but mostly they don't.

I like sockermom's post a lot. Give it five years or so and see how things have gone then. In the meantime you can try to use this goodwill from Ex for the benefit of the kids (for however long it lasts).
posted by mattu at 11:20 AM on July 17, 2014

Let me get this straight...

You want to date, and possibly re-marry, someone you've already married and been divorced from?

The two of you got divorced for very good reasons that you outlined in your post. You've lost a lot of respect for her. This is just my personal opinion, however, I could never date someone I didn't respect, and furthermore an affair is an absolute deal-breaker for me -- regardless of how good or kind a person she is or even if she is Mother Of The Year. (Disclaimer: I have no experience with affairs in my own marriage, and I have every reason to think it will stay that way, so I don't know for certain how I'd react, but my principles say I would be out the door.)

You two had a far less terrible divorce than most people who get divorced. The fact that you have children together means you will be in each others' lives forever no matter what happens. You can be civil together. Leave it at that.
posted by tckma at 11:51 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have her channel all of that new-found enthusiasm into thoughtful co-parenting and creating a good relationship with you. A good, respectful, and platonic relationship. The children deserve stability and happiness with parents who respect and care for one another in healthy and productive ways. That can be done in your current situation. Don't try to re-do the marriage. Regret over bad behavior is not a good enough reason to give it another whirl.
posted by quince at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2014

Add one more resounding no to the numbers above.

You two did not play well together. Work on your issues, and find someone that you can develop a healthy relationship with. Your ex needs to take care of her issues, and you need never to stoop to the level of spying again. (Tracking device--wtf? Very wrong, dude.)

Your kids will be much better with non-dysfunctional parents who have their shit together in other relationships than in an 'intact' mess.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:13 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

How do you feel when she walks into the room? Does your heart sink, or do you feel happy? The answer to that question is one way you can get at a possible answer to the question of whether you should get back together. Keeping the family intact for your kids would also possibly be the basis for an answer as well, especially if you think your kids very much want you to be back together and would be happy.
posted by Dansaman at 4:27 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd say, try dating, but keep your eyes wide open. Don't be so suspicious that you ruin everything, but pay close attention to any little warning signs. Don't jump right into anything serious. But try dating, sure.

Somebody above suggested keeping it a secret from the kids, and I wouldn't go quite that far. I'd say, tell them that Mom and Dad are trying to get along better. You want to be the best parents you can be, so you are spending some time trying to work through your issues together. (It's true, even if it's not the whole story.) Don't sneak around behind their backs or anything. IF they ask if you are dating, then maybe lie, and say no. But otherwise trying to keep this all a secret from your kids sounds messy and potentially harmful.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:01 PM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

No. Stay away and try to be good co-parents together as friends.

And you may want to reconsider your independent/co-dependent dichotomy. I think you may be more co-dependent than you realise, and I say that as someone who is both independent and (a recovering) co-dependent.
posted by Kerasia at 7:21 PM on July 17, 2014

It sounds like the only good thing that came out of the marriage was your kids. You still have your kids.

It's awesome that you've both changed and are continuing to change for the better. But I can tell you a couple of things, speaking from personal experience and the experience of someone close to me: it's so, SO easy to slip back into unhealthy patterns when you try to resurrect a dead relationship; and it's nearly impossible to let go of the sense of distrust and betrayal after an affair. I'm not saying it can't be done, it can ~ when you're working to fix something that was otherwise amazing. Your marriage wasn't.

Don't be afraid. Keep moving forward.
posted by kattyann at 7:49 PM on July 17, 2014

I was in a relationship with someone with two children who did not treat me well. We broke up several times. Having recently ended his marriage, he'd wanted to maintain a great deal of independence rather than act like a traditional couple. Deep down what I really wanted was to partner with someone and to create a solid home for the kids, who really needed it. At the same time, I'd always prided myself on my independence and so I gave it a shot. I also think I knew subconsciously I should not be with someone who treated me poorly and this also allowed me to rationalize keeping my independence--so in a way I was lying to myself. What made staying apart after each break up difficult was that I was very attracted to him, we were in many ways compatible, and he had two wonderful children I had grown really fond of and they me.

The time we finally ended it something happened that hadn't happened before. Just as you saw your ex-wife's true character, so I saw his. He was, I finally realized, not someone I could trust or respect any longer.

You think she will change, she talks about changing. I've heard that one, too. We all have because words are cheap. It's such a common refrain in bad romance movies it's a joke: "It'll be different this time, baby!" Actually, it won't. Your kids are happy now. To get back together would risk dragging them into another roller coaster of drama and betrayal. Find a woman who can treat you with the kind of honesty and respect you deserve.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 7:41 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

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