Enabling an ex's behavior

by Amy
(Pittsburgh)

Finding it difficult to deal with enabling behavior towards ex

Finding it difficult to deal with enabling behavior towards ex


After twelve years post divorce, raising 3 children, working two jobs, putting myself and my children through college, I am ready to start my life with the most wonderful man of my dreams. We have such a healthy and respectful relationship. The problem is the support and concerns for my boyfriend's ex wife by his immediate family (sisters and mother).

My boyfriend has paid dearly for the divorce, as she fought him long and hard for 80 percent of large home, and a hefty settlement with alimony in a no fault divorce state until age of 62-1/2. He financially supports his 22 yr old son and college and all I see is a very selfish self-centered ex wife who gives nothing of herself to her children, and also still seeks out support and sympathy from my boyfriend's family. They are enabling a behavior that prevents her to move forward in life and hopefully find a new relationship.

My boyfriend has always taken the higher ground and never said anything negative about her, but she has continued to bash and berate my boyfriend with her bitterness. My question is - how do I stay in a healthy relationship with all the enabling behavior towards the ex wife after all the hard work I have done to keep my children and me healthy, without showing resentment towards my boyfriend's family or the support they give her instead for their own blood, who stepped up well beyond the plate to settle with his divorce settlement. I truly feel that this is part of the reason she fought so long and hard against him in court due to her feeling the support that what she was taking from my boyfriend was owed to her, as we all know she did not deserve or earn any of it. It was always about her, not the children and how her actions may effect her grown boys. There are still pictures in his parents' house of her, which is very difficult to see without making my blood boil. She took years of life from my boyfriend and will continue to play on his family's heart strings to feel sorry for her. Torn to love a future family who supports an ex who does not deserve the enabling sympathy and prevent her from moving on in life.


Editor's response:

Hello Amy, Yes, I agree your situation is certainly not an easy one to handle. Your sympathy and support for your boyfriend shows through your writing. And your resentment towards his ex, and his parents for providing emotional support to her is quite understandable.

I gather that your boyfriend and his ex must have been married for a long time, for her to have such an emotional connect with his parents. I don't know if there is anything you can do to change that equation, although I agree this may prevent her from moving forward in her life. And as to your boyfriend, he is probably merely fulfilling his legal (and perhaps moral) obligations in catering to his son.

What you can only do in such a situation is to separate things you can control from the things you can't. You can't control how your boyfriend's parents feel. You can't control the behavior of his ex wife. What you can do is to get your boyfriend to sit down with you in a quiet space, and talk to him about how you feel - about his parents' and his ex's behavior - without necessarily casting a blame on either (you need to take into account how your boyfriend might feel about the whole situation, and particularly towards his parents).

Additionally, if you feel he is giving undue emotional support to his ex, you definitely need to let him know that as well. Maybe he is not realizing it when he does that (old habits die hard), and maybe he can even influence his parents to tone it down a bit in your presence?

But on the other hand, if he is merely fulfilling his obligations and not expending himself emotionally on her, all you can do other than conveying to him how you feel, is to adjust your expectations to your new reality (you already seem to be doing an excellent job of that) - as there seems to be little choice outside of that in order for you to continue with this relationship.

On a practical front, maybe you can take a few steps like restricting meetings with your boyfriend's side of the family to a bare minimum. Additionally, you may also consider engaging yourself in other activities or hobbies, or even take a small vacation of sorts if it's possible, as getting your mind off of it for a while, one way or another, may help you comeback to it with a fresher perspective.

I hope this helps a little in providing a perspective, and I wish you much success in your new-found relationship. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. - Shan


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