DEAR CAROLYN: My husband has a child by his ex-girlfriend. They were never married. Six years later he met me and now we are married. Every time he has a family event, his family invites her. I try to take it in stride, but too much is too much. This past weekend, his family invites her to a week-long family vacation. She made a case to his sister how she was trying to be my friend.
This is not going to happen.
My husband talked to his father about this, and my father-in-law said he can’t do anything about it. From speaking with other family members, I get the sense they think we should all be friends, but they don’t see her high-conflict ways.
So since there is a child involved, should I be forced to deal with this woman? Is it normal to invite ex-lovers to family events? If so, how about everyone invite their exes to Thanksgiving dinner?
Ex-Girlfriend, New Wife, Husband And Child Make Four
DEAR MAKE FOUR: Do you know what “This is not going to happen” is, regarding friendship with the oft-present mother of your very young stepdaughter? It’s a “high-conflict way,” and it’s all yours.
As is dismissing the mother of one’s stepdaughter as an “ex-lover.” Contempt is just confrontation without the guts.
I’m not saying the ex is a bucket of peaches. In fact, your letter gives no examples of her behavior, so I’m not saying the ex is anything.
Except this: A woman you are absolutely forced to deal with. At the very high stakes of your stepdaughter’s emotional health.
So as they say in much more stylish movies than this one: You can do this easy, or you can do this hard.
Hard is trying to live your life as if you were handed a different set of facts from the ones you have.
Easy is working with those facts, as is – even if it means learning to deal with someone (because she isn’t going away) despite finding her wholly unpleasant (because she isn’t going away).
Dealing with her can take many forms, and I recommend availing yourself of all of them:
Try to see the good in the ex; embrace the spirit of your in-laws’ inclusiveness, even as you choke on the reality of it; take the occasional break from his family events, sometimes staying home solo, sometimes as a couple; find a skilled counselor to help you dismantle your formidable wall of anger; and commit yourself fully to the sacred responsibility of helping to raise this child, making that the umbrella under which you place, among other not-pretty demands of parenthood, finding peace with the ex.
Of your own volition, you entered a complicated family situation. While people have proven themselves much more adept at getting into these knotty families than at managing them, ask around: You'll find people who’ve surprised themselves with how deep their reserves are, and how much progress they can make using compassion alone under seemingly hopeless conditions. I hear from them routinely.
Determine what your acceptance can achieve, want it, then take the hard work of getting it done ungrudgingly upon yourself. The common denominator in happier outcomes is recognition that waiting for others to serve up what you want is strictly a sucker bet.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.