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D-My partner feels divorce guilt so lets his ex interrupt outlives (6/18)
06-29-2018, 04:47 PM, (This post was last modified: 07-01-2018, 12:54 PM by Cathryn Bond Doyle.)
D-My partner feels divorce guilt so lets his ex interrupt outlives (6/18)
Dear Cathryn, 

I found my soul mate in August 2010. I met the most amazing man 2 years ago and am still amazed by him 2 years later.

When we first met we were both in different relationships and were never able to do anything about it. So we really got to know each other first, and became really good friends first. During our friendship, even though he had been separated when I first met him, he technically was still married.

He filed for divorce in April of 2011, and by October of 2011- his divorce had been finalized.

I just recently moved in with him and his two beautiful daughters in March 2012- and since then there is one argument that we continue to have OVER & OVER again! It feels like we are having the same “discussions” about how excessively the BM calls/ emails/ texts/ and continues to try to “hang out” with my FDH!  I know from having read many threads/ posts on this issue that it is not just an issue with the BM, but also with FDH. I agree with what people have been posting about how my FHD keeps letting her get away with it- so she continues to do it….and the cycle goes on.

I think I got to the bottom of it the other night, when I finally got him to open up about why this continues to happen. He kind of made me look at it in a completely different way that had never occurred to me…. He said that I didn’t just want him to ignore BM, which is what he says he has been doing (I beg to differ on some regards to that- but that’s a different story) but that I wanted him to  be an “a-h@le” to her.  As much as I would like it for him to be an a=h@le to her, since I’ve been so mad at her for constantly calling him all the time, sending him inappropriate messages trying to make him take her back, and making snarky remarks about me to him- I realized at that exact moment that the reason he was allowing her to get away with that behavior is because he felt guilty.

He felt guilty for having brought her out to California to provide their kids with a more diverse upbringing. He felt guilty for her having developed an addiction to prescription pills. He felt guilty for her having tried to commit suicide a few months after he had asked for a divorce. He felt guilty for when her family and friends basically shamed her into moving back to California to be a mom, instead of going out and partying every night (she had moved back to her home state when she had been released from the psych hospital to get help). He felt guilty for her struggling to make her rent every month because she is absolutely refusing to find a job that she would really have to apply herself at. He felt guilty that she now has moved back, and has no one to rely on. He feels guilty that she has no “significant other” in her life, and to top it off he feel’s guilty that his daughters have been exposed to all this.

Here is this man that I absolutely adore, and who I know loves me too- struggle with this issue of allowing himself to feel guilty by all the things that BM did! He confess to me that he did love her and care for her, but not in the same way that he loves and cares for me. He said he loves me, and chooses to be with me. He said he wants to have a life with me, and grow old with me…all of the things that I want with him too. We fit each other perfectly!  But he struggles because he wants the best for BM. He wants to see her end up happy- and in love- and be successful at life…all of the things he has.

For some strange reason…I get this.

I want the same for my ex. I care for him and do love him since we were together for so long. I too want to see him end up happy, and in love, and be successful at life- like me. But like my FDH- choose not to be with him because I knew we were just not right for each other.

So my question for you is…How on earth do he and I get past this? I’ve tried stepping back, but just get so mad and upset whenever she calls and texts him with random thoughts and stories. It makes me furious that she considers him her “Best Friend Forever”.  It sounds childish..I know…but he and I are suppose to be each other’s “Best Friends Forever” and for the most part we are- but sometimes I don’t feel like it because it seems like she is always in the middle of us!!!!!

Please help! I am at my wit’s end and am not quite sure how to go about this whole, “BM’s excessive communication issue” without making him feel even more “guilty” for having to put his foot down and stand up to her constantly bugging US!!!!

Thanks! Stella

PS Why couldn’t I have just met him first?” lol


Hi Stella, 

It seems you’ve done a good job sussing up what’s going on and so I will toss in a few ideas for you to consider. Guilt, what we call “divorce guilt” is a very powerful emotional force that can change the strong, wise, sexy man you love, into a 99 lb weakling, which surely isn’t all that attractive, even when we do understand why it is happening. Did you read my article about an approach to dealing with divorce guilt? It sounds like you already know most of it, but check it out in case there is more there to glean from my experience.

Guilt is often a form of anger that we either don’t feel we have a right to or feel we will get in trouble for expressing. Guilt also putrefies into resentment, another form of anger that’s caused by an imbalance of giving and receiving. It sounds like your FDH would really benefit from some support in understanding more about what’s driving him. Is he open to learning more about this? About what part of him feels that it’s his responsibility to make up for HER choices? Is he able to see that his actions are actually fueling her belief that he is always going to be there for her and is one of the reasons (unconsciously) that she is NOT getting out there and having her own life? Why should she, she’s got your FDH on a guilt laced string that is getting stronger, not weaker, every single time he responds to her “call.”

He may be trying to assuage his guilt and I certainly believe that he wants to help her. The question is what’s really help versus what she’s doing under the guise of help. Does that make sense to you? What I’ve noticed with some ex-wives, is that when they lose power in one form, they often try to re-establish it in another way-just so that they can tell themselves, they are still connected to their ex-husbands, that they still have control. It is a delusion, but very real, as you two know. 

It may also help to realize that there is NOTHING in it for his ex to change her behavior because it sounds like he is trying to make her comfortable and people usually only change “to avoid pain or seek pleasure.” If she is feeling good enough with his attention and controllability, then he is actually getting in her way of moving on to a new life where she has detached from him. Make Sense?

As I see it there are at least 4 healthy ways things can change for you all:

1. Your FDH can get some interpersonal training and learn new healthy ways to interact with his ex that will TRULY help her. (long term not just moment to moment.) I call it training instead of therapy because this tactical approach seems to appeal to men. Make it clear to the therapist that you want to learn about practical applications that are healthy for all parties. He can decide later if he wants to dig deeper once he already knows if he likes the counselor or not. This is no secret, just a different approach. 

2.You two can decide new ways to set boundaries for his response to her communication attempts. When he calls her, he can start every conversation by saying, ‘I only have a couple of minutes, what’s up?” then he needs to stick to it and feel good about it.  

This could also look like, turning off the ringer once he gets home, agreeing to only reply to her 1 or 2 times a day (or when you’re not together), so that no matter how many times she reaches out, you and your FDH agree on a response allocation of time that meets his needs to avoid guilt and your need to feel that you two have your life and she is just one of his daily chores and NOT interrupting your time together or your life for that matter. Note: As he puts boundaries and/or stops jumping whenever she shouts, she will most likely increase her attempts (depends really on her mental issues but there’s always a shift when we shift). As long as you two can agree and he’s willing to stick to it, her increased activity will not impact him too much.

3 He can get another cell number and tell everyone but her that he has a new number. Then he can leave the phone home or on mute or handle it differently so he doesn’t feel anxious about all the calls and texts he doesn’t reply to. 

4.As far of’s about deciding what’s most important to you. Your choices will certainly be impacted by whatever your FDH is (or isn’t) willing to do. Your choices can also be based on what you need to do, think and feel based on what you need AND what you can and can’t control. This is a hard one, as we can’t control hostile bio-mom’s and it’s not very loving to try to control our DH’s or FDH’s by getting them to prove their love for us by acting in a way that makes them feel badly. 

With that said, once you talk about any of these ideas with FDH (or don’t) you will have some choices that you can make. Choices like; 
A. Choose to put the full force of your faith into your FDH and his actions (for whatever reasons) and choose to NOT let her impact on you both or steal any more of your time and attention. This is a challenging but doable one. If you two can be a team on a specific way of dealing with her, it will make all the difference in the world. He will not feel caught in the middle, he will most likely be even more grateful to you and you will not feel left out.

B. Make the decision that whenever FDH communicates with his ex you don’t want to know about it AND that you leave the room and entertain yourself, if he chooses to communicate with her while you two are already doing something/anything else together. If you leave, it is not out of anger, but out of self-care and self-respect and the awareness that “hanging around” while he assuages his guilt by giving his attention to his ex is hurtful for you. When you get up and leave the room, you do so, lovingly understanding that he can’t seems to help himself right now, and that it is the only thing you truly do have control over...your own actions. (hostility here is a manipulation and I never condone that-even as tempting as it is. why? because hostility is hurtful. see my article “Hostility is NOT fine!” for more about this tempting, but un-helpful reaction.)  

C. It can be very helpful to have a list of things you can do, at a moments notice. Things that you want to do, pick up a craft project that you only work on when she reaches out to him, a great book that you only read when she calls, a journal that you write in so you have a place to express every single vile, angry, vulnerable, painful, rude, crude, scared, thought and you write and write and write so that YOU can honor all those feelings. You can also write about all the good things that you and FHD have planned in your life together. Writing about happy futures can be very empowering in vulnerable moments. This does work, I know from personal experience. 

I believe that you do not want your FDH to treat anyone badly and I also believe that you are not really asking him to act in any bad way. What would be so very helpful is for him to see that his kindness and concern is making him very manipulatable and that there are other ways for him to act that will make HIM feel confident that he is really helping her, in the long run, even if she can’t or won’t see that at this time. If he’s willing to expand his options from either this way or feeling badly, all kinds of good possibilities can show themselves. It would be a very kind gift for all of you...if he’s willing to open up to that being possible. 

I bet everyone reading this understands how hard this is for you and we’ve probably all thought what you did, if only we met them first. What I wish for you is that, together, you two can find some acceptable options for your actions and your responses so that whatever the bio-mom does, you will always feel good about being on the same side as your FDH.

May your FDH will be willing to work with you on new ways to give you all a better chance at moving into healthy happy futures, Cathryn

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