When co-parenting seems impossible, seek help from a pro

Jann Blackstone

Q. My ex and I have been divorced for almost 10 years. We are friends, that’s it. We share children and we have always worked together on that basis.

Not long after the breakup, I started dating someone else. We started off as friends, and I probably confided too much about my feelings for my ex: I told my friend my ex was the love of my life.

Fast forward to today. My friend is now my girlfriend, and she has never forgotten what I told her about my ex. My girlfriend’s insecurity is interfering with my relationship with my kids because she is so jealous of their mother. The holidays are coming up, and my girlfriend is saying I can’t see my kids if my ex is there. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. I’m all for honesty as the best policy. Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8 is, “Be honest and straightforward.” But everyone out there in Ex-etiquette Land, be careful about volunteering too much about your feelings and the past. The reason? Because feelings change.

Right after a breakup, when you are heartbroken and doing some soul-searching, regret may be front of mind, which can intensify feelings of love and loss. However, put a few years under your belt, and that “love of your life” may become someone you respect and were happy to know, but you’ve moved on. Then you have to convince someone you care for now that maybe you didn’t mean it after all.

It’s not surprising she doesn’t believe you. She’s probably afraid you will go back to her. After all, you share children, and she was the love of your life. New partners can have a very long memory.

A relationship based on fear and insecurity is a very unhappy relationship for both parties, and when that fear and insecurity bleeds into your relationship with your children, that’s a huge red flag. You can’t take back what you said, but you could sincerely explain your feelings have changed and make a pact to go forward together.

If she can’t let it go, take a serious look at that. That will keep you stuck in the past and is very unhealthy for everyone. Neither of you will be able to progress to the person you want to be now or have the relationship you are fully capable of having together. You’re both on the defense. No game can be won when all the players are on the defensive line.

Of course, that’s just a play on words. This is not a game, and winning is not the outcome we are looking for.

A basic rule of good ex-etiquette if you want a new relationship to work is this: It’s not the new partner’s responsibility to dictate policy.

New partners join the club. If a co-parenting relationship is floundering, a new partner might lead by example, but never by ultimatum. If people think they can bully or nag you into submission, that’s because you haven’t made your boundaries clear.

Your job is to make sure your relationship with your children continues to be healthy and strong. If someone is interfering with that, you have a very serious decision to make. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Blackstone is founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com, and may be contacted at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.