Q. I’m 45, single, and in a serious relationship for the past five months. All good, except: My boyfriend has been divorced for nine years. He and his ex-wife had no children, yet they are platonically tied at the hip. (They’re really not sleeping together.) He says I have no reason to be jealous: This should prove that he’s a loyal, trustworthy person who can keep a relationship going. Am I wrong to feel weird about this friendship to the point that I want to issue an ultimatum — her or me? —Susan
A. As someone whose best friend of over 20 years is an ex (not husband, but it was a serious relationship), I can attest that this type of platonic friendship is possible. Indeed, I’ve made it clear to men I’ve subsequently dated that I’d love them to accept that David is a part of my life.
That said, boundaries are always in place. The romantic relationship is the priority. For example, I asked my current boyfriend to tell me if he ever felt I was treating him with disrespect. And he is the one with whom I check out the Hamptons; who I confide in and who I speak to every day, and so on.
Debra Warbling has been divorced for 10 years. The 49-year-old Pennsylvania publicist is "very close" with her ex, much to the unhappiness of his fiancee. Says Warbling, "While I am respectful of her position, I think she is missing the boat. If he and I had what it took to go the distance, she never would have been able to enter the picture." Here is Warbling’s $60 million dollar point: "I am confident in his affection for her. Why is she not?"
In the letter writer’s case, trust issues may be triggered by her own history — a past hurt, such as not feeling loved as a child. Until one finds and heals the wound, the past keeps being repeated through distancing tactics, which ultimately alienate loved ones. Perhaps for this woman, there is a worry that, if the situation were reversed, she might be tempted to cheat.
Consider the advice of Tina Tessina, LMFT, PhD, a California psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again: "If they still have a friendship and neither did anything unforgivable to one another, that’s a good thing. Instead of making the ex the enemy, get specific about the problems. If he interrupts time with you to commiserate with her on the phone, ask that he not do that. But don’t be grumpy when he calls her back later."
Still, even if the relationship with the ex is platonic, the boyfriend must be sensitive to his partner’s jealousy issues. Remember, boundaries and priorities. Arizona sex and love addictions counselor Jeff Schultz, LPC, CSAT says, "Those little intuitive senses of people in close relationships might mean, in this case, something is off. Either the boyfriend is unavailable emotionally with his partner because he is emotionally engaging with his ex, or worse."
But an ultimatum should be, if anything, a last straw. Instead, make it a problem-solving conversation rather than an adversarial edict. What can a win-win feel like?
Or say something like, "How can I feel confident if you’re still talking to your ex-wife? I might feel differently if we took our relationship to the next level." This should, with very little risk, bring the conversation to a more thoughtful place without the guy feeling like his back is against the wall!
Hopefully this can be an opening, not a closing. Maybe the problem one day morphs into, Should his ex be invited to the wedding?
Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?
E-mail Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.
About Sherry Amatenstein
Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.
Originally published in MORE.com, March 2009.
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