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Divorce dilemma 6: ‘My ex-husband is dating our daughter’s friend’
He is setting a dreadful example to our children and, worse, he fails to see that he has rejected his own daughter by putting his affair with this girl first
August 12, 2013 | By:
Our correspondent is furious with her ex-husband, and their daughter no longer speaks to him. Divorce specialist Charlotte Friedman advises. Plus: pose your own divorce dilemma
Divorce_Couple not speaking-620 Corbis

A tangled web: the couple’s daughter is no longer speaking to her dad. Photo by Corbis

I have been divorced for seven years and, although it was an acrimonious and painful process, I thought my ex-husband and I had arrived at a civilised point in our relationship. It’s really only our three children, who are now 25, 22 and 17, that have kept us in contact in the intervening years. We had both finally moved on.

But nine months ago, the woman he left me for dumped him. Since then he has been having a mid-life crisis. He moved into a loft apartment and revamped his image with a new haircut, contact lenses and a Paul Smith wardrobe. He has re-kindled his love of music and goes to gigs again, and has acquired younger friends. This, from a man who became so boring and judgemental during our marriage!

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Our son and eldest daughter started hanging out with the mark II version of their dad, going to the cinema and making plans to go to festivals. It was good to see them having a better relationship with him, and gave me space to devote to our younger daughter, who is stressing about her exams. And my new husband and I (we have been married for two years) had more time on our own.

Revelation

But last week my daughter let slip that my ex is seeing one of her oldest friends, who is 22. It has been going on for four or five months and it’s getting serious. My daughter has now fallen out with both her friend and her father, who she refuses to see.

What the hell is my ex-husband thinking of? He is 55, for goodness sake, absolutely not the right person for a 22-year-old who hasn’t the experience or maturity to know what she wants.

What on earth are her parents going to think, and what line are they going to take with us? My daughter worries they will blame her, and I can’t say I relish the thought of bumping into them.

I was hurt and furious that my daughter – and son – have been lying to me by omission but I’m incandescent at their father. Why can’t he see he is acting irresponsibly and the fall-out is going to affect us all?

I think he is setting a dreadful example to our children and, worse, fails to see that he has rejected his own daughter by putting his affair with this girl first.

When I spoke to him, he said I’m just jealous of him and his new life, but this is not true. He shouldn’t be involved with a girl half his age, let alone a friend of our daughter’s.

All the old feelings of rage and helplessness have resurfaced, and I don’t know what to do. The strain is telling on my younger daughter at a time when she needs support, and my present husband is feeling shut out because, once again, my ex has taken centre stage. It’s one big, horrible mess. What should I do?

Charlotte replies:

I can see how devastating this is for you, feeling that  your hard-won, post-divorce equilibrium seems to have come unstuck. You put your finger on it when you say how helpless you feel. There is a truth in that, as you are helpless to affect what your ex-husband or your daughter’s friend do with their lives.

That feeling of helplessness causes rage in you, because you can’t influence an outcome that you so badly want. However, although you think your ex-husband is behaving in a thoughtless, inappropriate way, you do have control over how you deal with it.

We all feel devastated when something external happens that affects our children. But how we manage it has a huge impact on how they are able to manage it for themselves. You have tried the pragmatic approach of talking to your ex and that hasn’t helped.

But why should your 17-year-old or your husband have to be drawn into it to the extent that they are? If your 17-year-old was left to her own devices, wouldn’t she just shrug and move on? Just as you feel helpless, I imagine your husband feels helpless in getting you to notice him and the life you have with him.

It is understandable that you have taken up the cudgel on behalf of your 22-year-old, who must be suffering and feeling the loss of her friend and now her father. But you are shutting out your husband and younger daughter. They deserve more than that.

Some quiet talking needs to be done with your eldest daughter about whether she can tolerate this inappropriate relationship and salvage something for herself out of it. If not, you need to hear her pain and grief without making it catastrophic both for her and for your family.

There is every chance this relationship will blow over. Until it does, you can understand your daughter’s pain without taking it and dumping it on everyone else, for whom it need not be catastrophic.

You have a divorce. Get back into your present and leave behind the past, and the provocation your ex can still heap on you. Everyone around you, including you, deserves that.

Charlotte Friedman runs the Divorce Support Group

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