Is the Ex-Wife’s Behavior Odd?

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Reader’s Question

I would like to know if an ex-wife’s behavior is odd. She gives gifts out of the blue, after four years of being divorced; asks to go to the movies; gives expensive cologne; and caters to him, like making soup when he is sick. Just three weeks ago she was screaming at him, telling him that he’s sick and harassing. Now she is trying to be his best friend, milking him of all of his money, and doing things in order to spend time with him, even though she knows he has a girlfriend of one year.

Psychologist’s Reply

I have to admit that her behavior does sound odd, and I would wonder about her intentions. However, there are several tricky things to realize about divorce. First of all, at one point there was an intimate personal relationship between the two of them. This may have dissipated completely or the relationship could have its ups and downs. Only the couple knows for certain, so it might be worth asking the ex-husband about their relational patterns. It may be that this is normal behavior for her and you’ve just never seen it before.

Another complicated dynamic about divorce, is when there are young children involved. This means that the couple has to stay in contact with each other when dealing with visits, holidays, celebrations and other social events. They also must deal with the finances surrounding the care of the children. You didn’t mention if there were children in the picture but if there are not, I would wonder why the ex-couple has so much contact with each other.

As a family psychologist, I deal with a lot of divorced families and there are several trends that I see. One is that, no matter how amicable the original divorce, the presence of a new partner (on either side) changes things. Ex-spouses may be angry that their former spouse got over them so quickly. They also tend to not like it when their partner seems to have ‘traded up’ (they feel betrayed) or ‘traded down’ (they feel insulted). Oftentimes, ex-spouses can handle a new relationship just as long as it doesn’t seem serious. If it appears to be going somewhere, they may change their behavior; they may sabotage the new relationship, or sometimes it even causes them to want their former partner back.

Divorce is always difficult to manage, particularly when you are the new partner (which I assume that you are). If the ex is still in the picture, you have to figure out how to deal with her. It is frequently easier to blame her for the interactions between the two of them because she is easier to blame. However, the reality is that it is your partner with whom you must deal, because he is the one in relationship with you. The ex can do whatever she wants. Thus, if your partner is accepting his ex-wife’s gifts, eating her soup, spending time with her and giving her money, then he must be the one you confront. An amicable relationship between an ex-couple is always best whenever there are children, but there should be boundaries. Consequently, you must decide what behavior from him you are willing to accept and then let him know.

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