Dear Dr. Jann: I’m really having a problem dealing with my husband’s ex. I know it’s crazy, but I can’t get past the fact that she was once important to my man. She drops off the kids—they stay with us every other weekend and Thursdays after school–and tries to be nice, but I don’t want anything to do with her. The kids can see it. Just last week the six-year-old asked me, “Why do you hate my mommy?” I felt terrible, but I can’t help it. Help!
Dr. Jann says: Well, if the child’s reaction isn’t a red flag, I don’t know what is. And, if your resentment is so obvious that the kids can see it, it’s time to get a handle on this one. If it’s any comfort—you’re not alone. I hear what you are saying from both men and women. Jealousy, on both the parts of the ex-spouse and the new spouse is one of the most difficult problems to overcome.
I could give you the big, “marry the guy, marry his baggage” lecture, although you probably already know that. That means, what you are really asking is how you get all this straight in your head so that your jealousy and resentment no longer affect your life or the kids. That’s no simple task, but there are a few things we I suggest to get you started.
First, try not to obsess about his past or dwell on what you think might have happened. Even if he told you she left him and he cried for years, dwelling on that sort of information just undermines your self worth. My new favorite saying was recently sent to us by a reader. When you’re faced with being angry or resentful, just remember, “Resentment is letting someone live in your mind—rent free.” I like that one a lot.
Second, find a support group where you’ll find camaraderie and ongoing help from people who have already faced the issues with which you are struggling. Although counseling is usually the first thing suggested (and I also suggest it to you now) the importance of close friendships when facing something like this is often overlooked
Finally, although this sounds like a small thing, it can really help. When you refer to the ex, trying using labels like, “Susie’s mom” and not “my husband’s ex-wife.” Just changing those words can help to depersonalize the ex-relationship and put things into perspective. Bottom line, it’s a waste of time to obsess about things you cannot change and if you want to be a role model for your family, it’s time to act like one.