I have been married to my husband for almost ten years now and still to this day his ex-wife tries to make him and I pay for moving on. They had a toxic marriage and her way of getting him to completely go along with her demands would be to either threaten divorce or file for divorce but never follow through all the way. The third and final time she filed for divorce she went through with it under the pretense that this would be incentive to work harder to win her back and then they could be married again. Well, he met me and never went back. This caused her to unravel and the only leverage she had at that point was their kids. She worked hard for years to slander and shame my husband with his friends, family, coworkers, and just about any who would give her an audience. Most of all her biggest priority was to make sure their kids took her side. My husband feels she has caused enough trauma to the kids, so he has never spoken his side. He’s never defended me to his daughter, who’s been led to believe that I was a mistress that broke up their marriage.
So now years later we have paid a significant amount of my stepdaughter’s wedding, but she is uncomfortable with me attending. So, out of respect, I had my husband tell her I wouldn’t be showing up to the wedding. Once she learned I wouldn’t be there, she sent him an official invitation. I’m mad because this is his ex-wife still being vindictive. They only act civil toward him when they want money from him.
I have suggested to my husband that I take a small trip on her wedding day and de-stress. Then, I can come back and continue getting dumped on by his ex-wife and daughter. I don’t know if I can live happily ever after. With his ex-wife always doing something vindictive and always getting away with it. His daughter is now following in her mother’s footsteps of dumping on my husband. Any time they have a bad day it’s his fault for choosing me.
I can understand how distressing this is for you to feel like as long as you are married to him, the punishment won’t stop. Your very presence in this relationship is a permanent signal to his ex-wife and daughter that the dream is over, and they will not be an intact family again. It’s not your fault that you choosing to marry him created this dynamic in their family. However, let’s talk about ways you can strengthen your marriage to your husband despite how everyone is responding to your marriage.
It’s awful to have stories made up about you that slander your character and your intentions. This has happened to both you and your husband and it can sometimes feel impossible to respond without looking defensive or guilty. It takes tremendous courage to continue forward with your life hoping that your integrity and character will overcome the negativity and lies. while there certainly are times it makes sense to defend yourself and speak your truth, in many cases, it only feeds more drama and can create an impossible hamster wheel of exhaustion as you try and get in front of the fraudulent messages.
The Savior was constantly misunderstood and misrepresented by those around him. While we can’t know how he responded in every situation, Isaiah saw the pattern of how he would respond to mistreatment when he wrote, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth”[i] this doesn’t mean that the savior was silent about who he was or his mission, but he did not engage in pointless debates defending who he was. He simply “went about doing good.”[ii]
It’s also important to recognize that there are three relationships your husband is trying to manage. Each one of them has difficult dynamics and, while you don’t need to erase your expectations and pity him, it can be helpful to have some compassion for how complicated this can feel to someone in his position. Even though it’s not your responsibility to manage these relationships for him, I’m going to outline some observations about each one that might help create more understanding.
First, he’s still dealing with the broken attachment from his ex-wife. I know nothing about their dynamic, but he still must contend with the fallout from that relationship and how it impacts his current relationships. It doesn’t appear you’re worried he still wants to be with her, but you do worry about his feelings of obligation to her. It’s likely that his feelings of obligation to his ex-wife spring from his longing to have her see him as a good dad. In other words, it’s easy to believe that he is loyal to his ex-wife when the competing loyalty is really to his role as a father. His ex-wife might be telling him he’s a terrible father for not supporting their daughter and he will likely struggle to clearly see his role. This is especially true when the criticism is coming from his children’s mother. He might unintentionally keep himself locked in that dynamic with her to validate himself as a good father. What can you do? Reassure him that she doesn’t get to define who he is as a father. Remind him of the wonderful things he does for his family. Highlight the attributes you find admirable. Let him experience your true support in his role as a father.
Next, he’s dealing with the loss of esteem in his daughter’s eyes. It’s likely that his ex-wife has told the children that all he’s good for is money, so this is the only way they know how to relate to him. Sadly, this may be the only way he can stay connected to his children. Again, it’s important for you to extend grace as he’s trying to salvage any form of connection with his children, even if it’s transactional. Clearly, it’s not ideal, but sometimes something is better than nothing. As mentioned before, you can support him in his role as a father by not inducing guilt as he financially supports his daughter. You don’t have to compete with his daughter for his affection. His daughter is a victim of being caught in the middle of a horrible divorce and she may not know any other way to relate to her father.
Your relationship with him is the one relationship you can influence. If you believe he is spending too much time fretting and organizing around his ex-wife and daughter, ask for more balance so that your relationship gets the appropriate amount of attention. Weddings and other events are difficult when there has been a divorce. Old wounds surface, loss and grief are ever-present, and defenses are high.
I’m guessing neither one of you want to be alone on his daughter’s wedding day. What would happen if you both joined together to create a secure and unified front? Could you both be a strength to each other? Could you let him know that you see how painful this is for him and ask if he can see how painful this is for you? Is there a way you both can go forward in partnership and use this as a way to strengthen your relationship instead of letting his ex-wife and daughter split you? I don’t want to pretend this isn’t easy thing to do, but having this as a goal can give you both something to work toward.
Do you need reassurance from your husband that he doesn’t view his marriage to you as a mistake? If you have that reassurance from him that he’s grateful to have you in his life, that can help buffer the rude and hurtful barbs delivered by his ex-wife and daughter. Strengthen your bond with him and outsiders will become less of a distraction.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Isaiah 53:7
[ii] Acts 10:38