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Bad-Mouthing My Ex-Wife

October 2, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

My ex-wife’s behavior is hurting our daughters and I’m having a hard time stopping myself from saying what I really think.

Dear Emuna,

My wife and I are going through a messy divorce. She is not the same person she was when I married her and she has become very angry and hostile. I can deal with that but she has also proven to be very unreliable when it comes to our two beautiful daughters, telling them she’s coming to see them one minute and not showing up the next, promising them gifts and outings and not following through and so on. Needless to say, I experience the brunt of the girls’ frustrations with her behavior and I have a hard time excusing it. I know everyone says you’re not supposed to bad-mouth your ex to the children but it’s getting harder and harder to control myself when I see their pain. Do you have any suggestions?

Very Frustrated

Dear Very Frustrated,

While I understand your situation and empathize with your frustration, you are the adult and you must exercise self-control. You must stay focused on the big picture and recognize that, in the long run, bad-mouthing your children’s mother to them will be much more damaging than her actual behavior. This is very hard to recognize and hold on to in the moment and I am sure just adds to your own despair over your choices, but it is something you must do for the sake of your children.

Try finding a mantra, something like “I understand your frustration but she is doing the best she can” that you can repeat to your girls over and over again when yet another promise is broken. Don’t get into the details. Don’t rescue her but don’t criticize her either. Children are smart. They will get the picture on their own pretty quickly. Your job is to provide love and security and to model mature, thoughtful, non-reactive behavior. You can’t control their mother’s behavior but you can control your own, thereby demonstrating that they can too. Since this is a short answer to a very distressing and complicated situation, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend professional help for both you and your daughters.

Old Friend Becoming More Religious

Dear Emuna,

I have been close with my college roommate – let’s call her Debbie – for almost 25 years. We have shared a lot of our challenges and participated in each other’s celebrations. Recently I have started exploring my Judaism and I have become more focused on growing as a person and developing my spiritual side. Debbie says she has no interest whatsoever in these pursuits and makes fun of me for my efforts. I don’t want to see the friendship die (we have so much history) but I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?

Old Friend

Dear Old Friend,

There are two basic possibilities here. The first one is that Debbie really has no interest in personal growth or in spirituality. People who are interested in neither are rare but they do exist. If this is, in fact, the case, then I suspect your friendship may have run its course. Sometimes even with old friends, the ties that once bound no longer do and while you can certainly remain cordial, the depth and closeness that you associate with friendship may no longer be available.

If, on the other hand, what’s really going on is that Debbie feels uncomfortable and threatened by your changing interests and behaviors, then you have what to work with. Your job is to ensure her that your caring for her and your commitment to her is unchanging. Hopefully if you are really growing, your behavior will be getting better not worse and she will be a witness to and a recipient of your better side. Additionally you want to give her the opportunity – in a light, no-pressure environment – to share what you are experiencing. You want to expose her to the classes or wisdom or insights that have prompted your growth and exploration so that she can decide for herself. It is very rarely religion or growth that gets in the way of relationships; it’s all about character.

My Kids (and Husband) Don’t Like My Cooking

Dear Emuna,

I have a very trivial question but it’s one that plagues me day in and day out. I like to cook. I like to try out new and interesting dishes. I like to be creative and use exotic spices and plants. My husband and children are the opposite. They like plain food and would be happy with noodles, sauce and cheese every night. Actually they would be happy with just noodles and cheese. I know it sounds petty but this is a creative outlet for me and something I have to do every day. How do I satisfy everyone’s needs?

Family Cook

Dear Family Cook,

I don’t know the size of your family but I’m surprised that you haven’t learned by now that it’s impossible to satisfy everyone’s needs! In terms of your children, I think that children’s palates are expanded only through exposure. For them, I think you could intersperse some creative options with the noodles. And on those more exotic nights, you could follow our old family rule: If you don’t like what’s for dinner, you can eat cereal!

With your husband it’s a little more complicated. If you are cooking for him and he doesn’t like it, what’s the point? On the other hand, you could probably gently nudge his tastes out in further directions. Start slow and small. I think the same applies to clothing. Women and men want to dress in such a way that their spouse will find them attractive but they may not have the same taste. To dress in a way they don’t like just because it’s “your style” seems counterproductive but I certainly think you could gently and gradually push out those boundaries as well. Sensitivity to other people, particularly our spouses, should always be our guiding principle – whether dealing with issues big or small.

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