This week, two readers share their frustrations with relationships after divorce. One man feels like he's stuck between his ex-wife and new wife, while another reader wants her boyfriend to side with her over his ex-wife. Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle cuts through the fluff with her love advice in TODAY.com's "30-second therapist" series.
Q: I am a 41-year-old man who has been married to my second wife for two months. I have been divorced for over two years from my first wife and am having problems with my new wife. She thinks I am not making her the priority in my life. She feels run over when it comes to my first wife, especially when dealing with my two children from my first marriage. I have a 12-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy. My first wife can be very manipulative. Knowing that has caused some strife, but nothing we both weren't aware of before we got married. My wife is mother of two, and our children mix well together. I guess I try to avoid conflict with the ex, which probably doesn't help with my new wife. I just want all parties to get along as best we can, but that seems not likely anytime soon. My wife has been divorced for over seven years and her son lives with his father five hours away. My ex lives five minutes away, and so we deal with my ex on a daily basis because of my kids. Any advice is welcome. —Husband in the Middle
After only two months, you admit you both knew the issues “before we got married.” Did you think marriage would change things? Your problem is exactly what you sheepishly admit: “I guess I try to avoid conflict with the ex, which probably doesn't help with my new wife.” Dude, when a woman marries a man, she expects that he’ll protect her. If she “feels run over” by wife number one, she’ll feel run over by a lackluster you. Here’s what to do:
1) You’re not Switzerland, so stop your “peace at any price” fantasy.
2) Start taking an obvious stand on your new wife’s side.
3) Refuse your first wife’s manipulations.
Unless you alter the behaviors that remain from your first marriage, you’ll just be repeating the same steps in a different ballroom. —Dr. Gilda
Q: I have been seeing my boyfriend for almost three years. He has three children by his remarried ex-wife. Their relationship seems abnormal to me. Any time she asks him to do anything, he does it “for the kids." If he asks her for anything, she complains about it, even if it is for the kids. He has told me that his kids and his ex-wife are No. 1 to him. He talks to her with respect, but in the same conversation with me, he gets an attitude and raises his voice. He has taken his ex-wife's side when I have tried to help, and his ex-wife thinks I'm trying to tell her how to be a parent. Maybe someone should, since their 7-year-old still has pooping accidents. Her mother gives her a bath, changes her as if she is a baby, and still sleeps in the same bed with her. So I guess my question is, how do I deal with all this, or would it just be easier to leave it all? —Girlfriend in the Middle
When you’re with a man with kids and an ex-wife, don a muzzle. What you consider trying “to help,” is what your guy considers criticism about all that reflects him. Your arrogance that “maybe someone should” tell his ex how to be a parent is condescending. Do you presume that “someone” should be you? You’re an outsider to their cabal, and apparently boyfriend wants to keep things this way.
My Gilda-Gram™ directs that you “Know the difference between physical and emotional intimacy.” The latter is diminished with “an attitude” and a raised voice. These aggressive behaviors also suggest that you’re not the only one who’s angry. If you ask why he's angry, and if he levels with you, that can finally open the communication that's been closed. Regardless, either accept without comment that this guy will only give you secondary status, or exit the drama. —Dr. Gilda
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Dr. Gilda Carle is the relationship expert to the stars. She is a professor emerita, has written 15 books, and her latest is “Don’t Bet on the Prince!”—Second Edition. She provides advice and coaching via Skype, email and phone.