I have been married to my new husband for three months, even though we’ve dated each other for the past five years. His first wife and myself get along pretty well. My husband and her share custody of their 11-year-old daughter. Ever since the first day I met her five years ago, she has always somehow managed to tell me a story about when they were married or when they dated. It makes him feel uncomfortable and, frankly, it irritates me. She often does it when the children are around so we can’t really say anything to her immediately when it happens. My husband and I feel like it’s her way of letting me know that she was first. In reality, she was the one who left him and put them through a very nasty divorce six years ago. Recently, at their daughter’s eleventh birthday party, my husband and I were there and so was her new boyfriend. It wasn’t long before she went into a story about some vacation that they took when they were married. It made everyone uncomfortable. Out of some sort of defense, I suppose, my husband grabbed my waist and he told me he loved me out loud in front of the whole room. She just stared at both of us. I immediately looked at her boyfriend and he raised his eyebrows as if to say, “Can you believe she just told that story in front of my whole entire family?” What can we do to stop this? It’s been going on for five years and we’re tired of it.
Her insistence on telling stories about their marriage make me wonder if she has regrets about divorcing him. As odd and uncomfortable as this interaction has become in your social gatherings, it’s really quite sad to see her referencing something she gave up on years ago. It sounds like she really misses being married to him.
Your husband’s response is actually quite funny and appropriate. Perhaps he figured that since she wasn’t worried about social convention, he wouldn’t worry about it either. As strange as it is to spontaneously declare your love for your new wife in mixed company, it would be even stranger to quietly watch her carry on about her marriage memories.
There is no need to be defensive or confrontational in your response to her. Your husband is on the right track. Pull each other close and enjoy the relationship you get to have with each other. She had her chance with him and, as sad as it is to watch her obsessively reference something she lost, you can’t prevent her from bringing this up or feeling regretful.
You might even try asking her questions about her current relationship so she can talk about things she and her boyfriend enjoy doing together. I’m sure he’s feeling unimportant and compared to the husband-that-once-was. Support their relationship by asking them both questions about them and redirecting the focus on their current reality.
Nobody is fooled, so the only discomfort in the room is her regret. You see something happening that calls for compassion. Jesus was able to forgive those who hurt him because he could see something they couldn’t.[i] She can’t see what she’s doing and how unhealthy it is for her own relationship. You have the advantage of a secure relationship that protects you from having to fight her.
You have nothing to hide, nothing to fight, and nothing to defend. If she’s trying to stir up new sentimentality with your husband and reignite something between them, it sounds like it’s backfiring. Your husband knows who he wants and he’s making it known. She’s not a threat to you guys.
In fact, as you turn the conversation back to her so she can talk about her own current relationship efforts, it might just strengthen her relationship, which would be good for everyone. Congratulations on your new marriage and for having a brave husband who is wiling to stand up for the truth. With that kind of commitment, I see good things for the two of you.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[i] Luke 23:34