Guilt, Control, and the Ex

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-28-2002
Guilt, Control, and the Ex
Tue, 08-20-2013 - 6:19pm

Hello, all...never been on this board before.  I suppose I was hoping I didn't have to, but things have got so crazy that I need some advice from someone who may have been there.

My DH has an ex that controls him with guilt and his kids.  Guilt because he was the one who asked for the divorce (and apparently for numerous things that he seems to still be making up for that happened during their marriage), and control because she uses her relationship with their kids to keep him close.  It's a very subtle DH tells me things that she has said or done so casually like it's no big deal, and I look at him like he's, why would you allow her to say that to you?  Why would you agree with her?  I think after so many years with his ex, her actions just seems normal.

The result is that he can't ever seem to let go of his relationship with his ex enough to have a truly full and connected relationship with me. At least, that's how it feels.  Don't get me own parents divorce was WWIII, so I don't wish that on him or his ex.  But after three years, I certainly expected to feel as if his connection would be lessened toward her and strengthened toward me.  I feel as though if his ex and I were both in a crisis, he wouldn't hesitate to go to her side first, as though he somehow owes her more than me.

And if you are wondering about their children, they are not babies anymore...they are both in college, although living at home with the ex.  It just seems as though she has DH convinced that without her to act as some sort of emotional intermediary, he would be a bad father...that he would "do it wrong."  She calls him all the time to let him know how the kids are doing...for example, "DS had a bad day at college today, so make sure that when you talk to him, you don't bring up his English class."  And then he doesn't!  I tell my DH that he is a good father and more than capable of having a direct relationship with his kids without checking in with his ex to see what's happening with them first, but it does no good. Again, I think it's a habit that is hard to break.  But so long as he thinks he needs her for this, he'll never let go.

I'm not sure there is a solution to this, but I thought I'd throw it out there.  How have any of you 2nds loosened (not severed) the ties between your DH and his ex?

Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Tue, 08-20-2013 - 8:03pm

Welcome!  I see you have been around iVillage for a while.  Your name looks familiar.  You are definately in the right place!

Ugh, such a common topic here.  If there is any guilt involved, men tend to really struggle with this.  The younger the kids are, the worse it seems to be.  You are correct that what you are describing is uncalled for and inappropriate.  It is tough, because it isn't flat out mean or hurtful.  Just annoying and unnecessary.  You should see some of the stories here when the kids are young!  Many xW's treat their xH's as if they were still married and just not having sex.  Sad, but true.  They want all of the benefits of a DH without any day in and day out stuff that goes with it.

I digress....

You said three years.  Did you mean they have been D for only 3 years, or you two have been M for 3 years?  Either way, I know it took my DH a very long time to work through the guilt.  We were together 7 years before we got M in June.  Granted, the first two he was still legally M.  But still, it took 5 more years. 

His youngest is 19 now and I can tell you that he no longer has a reason to talk to his xW.  Sure, stuff comes up occasionally, but his DDS19 does not live with mom any longer, so truly it is rare for them to communicate. 

Here is what I used to do....

I would say things like "I need help understanding...." or "this is my perception..." or "this makes me uncomfortable...." or "can you at least kind of see where I am coming from..." 

Although my DH and I didn't always agree or see eye to eye, he at least always acknowledged what I was saying and feeling.  He never said "you are wrong." 

He was married for over 20 years and it was hard for him to shake the idea of being the provider in that household.  He still continued to do some things for her that we by no means bad or wrong, but not really his responsibility any longer.  He would come home frustrated, shake his head and look at me and say "I know, I know.  Don't say it, I know..." 

Hopefully there was something helpful in my babble.  :) 

Serenity CL making a second marriage work


iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Tue, 08-20-2013 - 8:46pm

I haven't been in this position myself.  When I first read your post, I thought that he was afraid his DW was going to deny him visits with the kids, then I was surprised to find out they are adults.  I think this is going to be difficult because he won't want to tell her to stop calling.  If she was calling him to help out at her house, for example, he could tell her that it's not his responsibility, but if she calls him to talk about the kids, I think it would be hard and sound rude for someone to come right out & say don't call me about the kids.  I really don't know how he will prase that any better and I'm sure if he says it wrong, she'll be telling the kids that dad was mean to her.

I think that it's difficult for some men to forge an independent relationship w/ their own kids because they really believe that mom knows best.  My parents were married until my father died and I hardly ever talked to him on the phone or did anything independently w/ him because I preferred being w/ my mother & was closer to her.  I think one way to encourage him is to make sure he is taking the initiative to call the kids and do things w/ them even though they are grown.  Maybe a professional counselor would have a good suggestion as to how he can cut the apron strings between him & his ex.  Of course I do believe that things will improve when they move out of her house, but I don't know how long that will be.  Maybe she's the kind of mom who wants her kids to always be dependent on her cause it's a big part of her identity too.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-28-2002
Thu, 08-22-2013 - 9:20am

That sounds about the same as what I've been dealing with.  I can't imagine how much more difficult it would be with small children, though.

DH never says I'm wrong when I say anything to him about it, either.  He tells me I'm right, and he knows that he shouldn't be allowing this and that, but then he does it anyway.  I think that's what is so frustrating...that he acknowledges my feelings, but then ignores them.

Like you, DH and his ex were married for a long time, and that sense of responsibility is strong.  Surprisingly enough, it's one of the characteristics I love about him (most of the time).  But in this case, it's making me a bit crazy.

Hopefully, if I keep stating my case long enough, something will sink in.  Or, in the ideal world, his ex would find someone else and then won't need DH any longer.  Oh, wishful thinking!

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-28-2002
Thu, 08-22-2013 - 9:31am


iVillage Member
Registered: 09-28-2002
Thu, 08-22-2013 - 9:35am

I think it will help when the kids move out, but the youngest is only a sophomore in college.  And, they both have it pretty good at home...not spoiled exactly, because they never throw a fit about anything.  By they definitely never have to ask for anything twice.  Given how good they have it, they probably will never leave!  And I think you are right...DH's ex definitely defines herself as a mother first and foremost.  I think that will always be the case.  But what I don't like is that she is always subtly telling DH that he wouldn't be a good father without her help.  It's like brainwashing...years and years of the same becomes normal, unfortunately.

Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Thu, 08-22-2013 - 12:18pm

Music makes a good point about your DH developing a R on his own with his kids.  My mom and dad are still married, so I don't have frame of reference there.  But like Music said, my dad still hands the phone to my mom. 

At least your DH acknowledges you and isn't defensive.  He is passive, as am I.  :) 

This is kind of a stupid question, but is he always answering her calls?  Does she have to talk to your DH or is she just leaving voicemails? 

I am wondering if they are actually talking to eachother, if he could say something like "I appreciate the heads up, but DS is an adult now." Or "I appreciate your concern, but you really only need to call me if there is an emergency.  I can call my DS myself." 

I realize that your DH may be in fear that this could backfire.  But if the calls get annoying enough, he will find the words.  Now, if she is leaving voicemails then I suppose him simply not acknowleding the call, she may eventually figure out that it isn't necessary.  

IDK, just some ideas. 

Just yesterday my DH's xW sent a similar text, and they rarely talk anymore.  So, it never totally stops.  Well, at work and I gotta' go.  Good luck and let us know how things go.


iVillage Member
Registered: 02-20-2002
Thu, 08-22-2013 - 3:28pm

Hi Cedar--

Yes, the Guilt/control/ex thing has been a HUGE issue in my situation---although, from the sounds of your situation, it's basically amicable with the exW, and she's not attempting to alienate the kids from dad---she just wants to keep the role as "mom" and keep your DH *dependent* on her in this role.

I guess I have a few thoughts on the subject, one is that my SO has made HUGE strides ....however this is all over 10 YEARS....and, yes, I completely agree with you that these men see what exW doing as "the norm" for so long, they just dont even think about it, or think that it should be any different.  So, one option would be(as someone suggested) a counselor who DID see that perspective, and helped direct his thinking that way also.If the whole situation is so negatively affecting YOUR relationship with DH, then it may be time to do this (you said you really feel as if he had to "help" *either* you or her, he would go to her......that's not a good sign.)  (as I told my SO more than once back when this was a bigger issue, "if you want to keep doing all of that stuff for her, you need to just go back and re-marry her!"......geesh).

OK--thoughts i had ---

I guess my biggest concern is (again) the deal where feeling that he feels such OBLIGATION to her----I think you need to be having some honest discussions with him along the lines of , how will she EVER develop a support network of her own to take care of her, if he continues to do all of these things?  Does he at least see this point intellectually?  (and if he wanted to continue taking care of her forever, why did he divorce?)

 If he does, then the battle is half won, and I think it's just a matter of time and encouragement ----

First off, he needs to be LESS AVAILABLE to do these things she asks of him.  He needs caller ID, and he needs to let all calls go to voicemail.  If there are real issues that need an answer, he can email, call , or text her---but he does not need to pick up the phone when she calls.  

Secondly, ...YES....he needs to be developing his own relationship with his kids.  THIS you can DEFINITELY play a role at encouraging.  

Also---I think you need another honest discussion re: they are adults, and he can talk with them individually, and does not need third party to know what's going on with them.  If they live nearby, he can meet them each for lunch once a week, or invite them over , etc.  He can CALL them on the phone......Again, if you can at least get an intellectual agreement of his that this is true and desireable....I think the battle is half won, again, and it's really just you helping/encouraging him to see these options and push him towards moving on them.

It seems really sad that he has such little belief in his ability to carry on a conversation with his own (grown) children without getting cue card notes from his exW prior to the conversation!! ?? !!

How is YOUR relationship with the kids?  How about bumping up how often you BOTH see the kids---and YOU initiate the conversations, etc.  Heck, if the kid had a bad day in English class, the BEST THING might be if dad DID bring up the subject, and then kid gets a different (dad's) perspective on the situation!

Not only that....but I think if I were the ages of those kids, I'd be pretty annoyed that mom was going around "behind my back" basically telling dad all sorts of things about me/my life, KWIM?  In fact, I think it would be a great thing for dad to tell the kids that they are old enough to come to him with their concerns, he always wants to hear from them, etc et cetc.  

THEN get more adamant re: brushing off exW when she calls.  One thing re: caller ID and messages, if she's the type that leaves a message , "call me".......I think when he DOES call, and the reason she wanted to be called was along the lines of what's going on with the kids.....he needs to say, "you dont need to call me with this stuff, I talk with Joey/Jill myself", or something like that.

ALSO.......he needs to start realizing that his behavior of his is starting to undermine his relationship with YOU----so, eh, is he willing to let his relationship with you deteriorate because he's allowing (and it IS his choice to continue allowing this) exW wants to keep them tied together as a family ?



Keep us posted--looking forward to hearing more from you!