You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
It sounds like the plot of a sitcom or a chick flick starring Cameron Diaz, but the concept of being friendly with your ex’s new Significant Other seems to be gaining popularity. Tiger Woods’ ex Elin Nordegren apparently likes Lindsay Vonn –- at least enough to go to dinner with her. The fact that Elin can maintain a good relationship with Tiger after all she went through speaks volumes about her as a person. My hat is off to that woman.
I’ll admit I’m no saint in the friendly-with-your-former-spouse department. Although my divorce was not in the Tiger/Elin league of spectacular endings, all divorces suck, and my ex and I have had our share of nasty go-rounds since our contentious split years ago. But when he met the woman he was to marry, things went surprisingly smoothly for a while.
In the name of goodwill, and at the behest of my daughter, they even invited my then-fiancé and I to their wedding (we went!). It was almost too good to be true. Then soon after that, it all went south and battles ensued on a regular basis. I was an excellent pot-stirrer in the beginning and she was a fierce adversary. We traded nasty blows and had some knockdown drag-outs about any number of issues and then my ex would get in the ring, too, and it would become a full-scale war. Needless to say, it was detrimental for everyone.
We’ve had plenty of time to sort through that now and happily it’s all water under the bridge. The very clear and simple reason I must strive to be a grown-up about this (and preferably a nice grown-up) is that I have a child in the equation. I’m obligated to make it as amicable as I possibly can, whether it suits me or not.
The cold truth about divorce is that when you have kids, you can never really sever yourself from your ex-partner. On paper it may look like you’ve made your escape, but you’re effectively still tethered to each other until your kid turns 18. By extension, you're connected to whomever your former spouse chooses to marry. Whom he chooses for his new bride is something you have no say in. All you can hope for is someone who is nice to the children you share.
What you don’t anticipate is just how much this new mate will affect your own life -– it’s almost like you’re being roped into an arranged marriage. You may find yourself stuck with the unpleasant task of having to negotiate sticky custody schedules and logistical issues with this new wife, which can quickly become hellish.
I met this challenge with both good and not-so-good behavior, depending on how things were going. But regardless of how any of us feel, sharing custody means that this woman has direct influence on my kid and is with her as much as I am, during holidays, birthdays and important events. In light of that, I decided to really commit to seeing if we couldn’t find a way to get along better. We went out to dinner together a number of times and found that if we set aside our grievances, we could actually enjoy each other’s company.
There are a number of obstacles in this "Let’s be friends!" scenario. We'll start with the most vexing. My ex’s wife is beautiful, with impeccable fashion style, and no matter what the occasion, she always looks perfect. (I mention this because in my revenge fantasies he would naturally be married off to a homely creature with zero fashion sense and a shrewish disposition.) Had I not been okay about how things ended up (and being in love with another man definitely helped), the reality of her inherent fabulousness would have been tremendously irritating.
Even though we're very different types, with different backgrounds, I found myself liking her. She likes a lot of the same things I do (it’s hard to escape that one since we both married the same guy) and we share some similar sensibilities. Conversation can become tricky, though, with both of us wary of how much to reveal. Typical juicy topics I might delve into with other girlfriends not married-to-my-ex-husband would include sex-life challenges, arguments with their mates or child-raising complaints –- and those are all best kept off-limits.
Neither is it advisable to play a round of Who Knows Him Better? Under different circumstances we might even have become good friends but she’s married to my ex and that puts a limit on how cozy we’ll get. We may not have the typical wife/ex-wife relationship, but it seems to be working well these days and that comes as a huge relief.
I’ve seen this equation from both sides of the fence now, as I have since remarried and have step-kids of my own. These new marriages have forced me to grow up a lot. It can be such a delicate balance with many emotions to consider; if you’re smart, the last thing you want to do is willfully stir the pot and cause ill will with a person who spends a tremendous amount of time with your kid. Do you really want her venting about you and what a jerk you are around very sensitive ears? It took a while to get to this point but life is so much more pleasant if you can co-parent without the conflict. I make sure to send her a Mother’s Day present to acknowledge all she does for my child, and my daughter benefits from the mutual goodwill. Everyone wins.
Of course, if you’re dealing with someone who has emotional or substance issues or simply isn’t open to being civil, all bets are off and the best thing you can do is maintain your distance and keep tight boundaries. Some people are never going to be friendly with their ex’s new partners no matter what and that’s okay, too, but it becomes so much easier on everyone if you’re not engaged in that constant drama. It’s toxic, and a giant waste of energy.
The best ingredient in the mix is time. With the passing years, everything gets easier and we’re able to negotiate a healthier balance. While we’ll never be BFFs, I respect her and appreciate what she brings to the equation. I thought we were unusual, but I recently met a family that frequently vacations with the husband’s ex and her new husband. Now that’s a very unique divorce!
While we are a long way from doing that, this past Christmas we had them over for dinner and it was very pleasant, and she continues to be very gracious towards me. As you move on, you find you’re less inclined to begrudge people around you any happiness, because you’re be too busy being engaged in your own life. It’s not for everyone, but perhaps it’s a modern interpretation of a happy ending.