Dear Emuna: After the Divorce

December 9, 2012

8 min read


I get along with my ex-husband, perhaps too well.

Dear Emuna,

I have been divorced for several years and have a good relationship with my ex even though we had a very contentious divorce (due to his lawyer). I see him every day because we share the children, and most of the time it doesn't feel like we are really divorced. We are somewhat different in personality but share common values and background. He was very influenced by his sister who got divorced before us. We are committed to Jewish values and mores.

How do I get others to understand our situation – i.e. that I do not hate my ex and in fact get along like we did before? How do I understand this situation that was apparently a result of his sister's negative influence? My children see us getting along and eating dinner together every day. He will not consider reconciliation due to his family and does not tell them of our daily interactions.

Confused Ex-Wife

Dear Ex-Wife,

Since your letter is brief, I am forced to read between the lines. And I’m afraid you won’t like what I see.

I know you are in pain and you wish the situation was different. But it isn’t. You are divorced. The fact that it was contentious is blamed on your husband’s lawyer. Was your husband a completely passive participant? Presumably he, in fact, paid his attorney to take that argumentative position.

The fact that you got divorced at all is blamed on your former sister-in-law. Did your husband have no say in the matter here either?

Please forgive me but it sounds like you are holding on to hope of reconciliation even though all the signs point otherwise.

It is certainly better for your children that you get along well, but you shouldn’t hold out false hope for them, either.

If your ex-husband is as passive as you imagine him to be, then it’s highly unlikely he’s going to suddenly take action now (the time for that would have been before the acrimonious split-up). And if he is actually an active player, then, as I said, he hired and paid his aggressive lawyer, he initiated and pursued the divorce.

It breaks my heart to hear your story, but you and your children have the best chance of mending if you accept it is over and move on.

As far as getting others to understand, it’s not really their business. What difference does it make whether they understand at all, and in what uncomfortable way do they manifest their lack of understanding? Is it possible that what you see as lack of understanding is also a gentle nudge from your friends not to get too cozy in this arrangement and not to read more into it than is really there? If so, they are good friends and you should listen to them and lean on them when you make the truly difficult and painful choice to let go.

Meddling In-Laws

Dear Emuna,

I love reading your column and have learned a lot from doing so. I'm writing now to get your advice regarding an ongoing situation with my in-laws. My father-in-law questions our parenting very frequently (we have one child, a toddler). Some examples include guarding my baby from falling while I'm holding him; asking my mother-in-law, right in front of me, whether the spoon I had chosen was safe; suggesting that we legally change our son's middle name; and questioning the limits we set with our toddler. My husband has spoken to him, twice (very respectfully), and the situation has improved somewhat (which I appreciate), but is still unacceptable in my opinion.

My mother-in-law does not interfere in this way (and tries to stop her husband from doing so), but she'll make rude or 'just under the radar' comments directed at me, and has been rude to my family members. Things that she's said behind my back have also gotten back to me. (I know I shouldn't put too much stock in these things, but it's hard!) Again, my husband spoke with her (very kindly and respectfully) about some of these issues, and the situation has improved somewhat, but not entirely.

It's gotten to the point that I dread their visits or visiting them, and I feel very resentful. I have been a good wife and mother, and I've tried to be a good, polite, grateful daughter-in-law. I'm a mild-mannered, gentle person and people generally like me. There are religious differences that I think may be playing a role in causing resentment on my mother-in-law's part, though we have tried to be as respectful as possible.

There are also potentially cultural issues as my parents are immigrants, though I was raised in the U.S. My in-laws were also much older than us when they married and had children (though we are financially self-sufficient). I don't speak with them on the phone between visits (we sometimes email) – maybe this is something I should change?

They are good in-laws in many other ways, and are always willing and eager to help in any way we need, including babysitting, which I know not all grandparents are willing and able to do. I think they genuinely want a good relationship with me, at least as the mother of their first and beloved grandchild. Thanks in advance for your advice.

Frustrated and Confused

Dear Frustrated,

With the proliferation of support groups these days, I’m surprised there aren’t more for mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law – separately of course! I get more letters on this topic than on any other!

You are fortunate that your husband has been supportive and has spoken to his parents. This is frequently a source of tension and not all husbands are willing to step up to the plate. You are already ahead of the game.

As far as the rest, there is only one person in life you have any real ability to change – you. I know it’s hard, but focus on the good, on their eagerness to help, on the opportunity for your son to have a relationship with his grandparents. Grit your teeth where necessary. Laugh it off when you can.

And try giving to them in return (Judaism’s sure-fire method to deepen your caring). I heard a lovely story of a woman who, on the occasion of her husband’s birthday, bought her mother-in-law flowers – to thank her for bearing and raising such a wonderful son. Gestures like these may bear fruit in your mother-in-law’s behavior. They definitely will in yours.

Married to a Weight Watcher

Dear Emuna,

My wife is always watching her weight. Even though I frequently tell her how beautiful she is, she doesn’t seem to really hear it. This is a source of frustration in our marriage for two reasons:

1) I enjoy cooking and eating the fruits of my labor (or even the occasional special restaurant meal). It inhibits my pleasure significantly when she’ll allow herself only a tiny taste before eating her standard grilled chicken breast and salad (no dressing, not even on the side!).

2) I feel like nothing I say makes a difference and she constantly walks around feeling unattractive and insecure. She is a beautiful woman, internally and externally, and I want more for her. Can you help?

Frustrated Gourmet

Dear Frustrated Gourmet,

While I know the first issue pales in significance to the second, I certainly understand your frustration. I frequently feel like my husband and I are like Jack Sprat and his wife (he orders salad, I order steak!), but I’m sure you also recognize that it’s a small thing. Whatever she eats (or doesn’t) is really irrelevant to the pleasure of her company and the time spent together. I hope you are telling her that. It will certainly help with issue #2, although it won’t solve it.

It is a big topic (women’s self-esteem and body image, societal expectations etc. etc.) but I will say briefly that ultimately it’s her job to move past all the negative voices that tied her self-worth to an idealized body instead of character and effort. Ultimately only she can recognize that her true source of strength and confidence comes from the One Who created her and gave her the ability to actualize her inner potential. She has to know and internalize that what really counts are those eternal qualities and actions - and not the ones like weight that are ephemeral (Hey, this is a good lesson for me to internalize!)

Keep building her up and keep telling her, as we tell our small children at night, that “the Almighty loves you most of all.”

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