The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Clingy Ex.

My husband's ex won't let go after 20 years.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Interviewer:     Lynn, your husband’s ex is clingy?


Interviewee:     Yes, very. They have not been together for over 20 years, and my husband and I have been together for about 10 years, and it was a situation that he left her, just no indication, no anything. While she was gone, he just packed up all his things and left. And I don’t know if she just doesn’t have closure or she’s lonely. She’s never been with anybody else. She still kind of feels like she’s married to him and has let me know.


Interviewer:     You mean, he feels he’s married? Or she feels?


Interviewee:     She. She still kind of feels like she’s married to him in her head. And then shows up at any kind of place we are or functions, anything that we’re doing together, especially if their daughter is involved, she invites herself and I don’t want to say anything because I don’t want to be the jealous wife. I’m not jealous, but I’m irritated. I’ve just had enough. I’ve dealt with this way too long and it’s escalating.


Interviewer:     How does he deal with it? Does he find it an annoyance? Does he like having –


Interviewee:     He does. But he ignores it. He’s so non-confrontational and will not say no.


Interviewer:     Why do you think that’s the case?


Interviewee:     I don’t think he was taught by his family. His whole family is that way.


Interviewer:     Because in one sense, I think you and I both, I know you’re very irritated by her, and in another context, if she has no closure, then give her closure. He needs to say something. He needs to give her reasons why he left or she can go through life just with huge questions.


Interviewee:     He kind of did two weeks ago. We were at a family wedding and even on things like that, she’s always insisting, “You have to sit right here by me,” and things like that.


Interviewer:     He has her sit next to him?


Interviewee:     No, she does. I just give him that look and tell him, “You do, I’m gone.” You cannot –


Interviewer:     He needs to set really clear boundaries, and it seems like, the question to me is, what is the dynamic going on here? Is she just a wounded puppy? I mean, hurting so much and not making any progress? Has she gotten therapy? This is not your domain, obviously. This is her issue. Has she been able to get some closure and move on? Or is this a subtle way to undermine your relationship over the years?


Interviewee:     I am totally sure she’s trying to undermine it and make him put her before me. When we are out somewhere, he will make everybody aware that she was his first wife.


Interviewer:     He’s the problem, not her.


Interviewee:     They both are the problem. He has no backbone.


Interviewer:     You can’t control him either, but you can work with him. On one hand, you need to be firm with him. On the other hand, you need to be lovingly firm. Just say, “This is hard on both of us.” Number one, I’m putting you on a level playing field – not, “Why are you doing this to me?” which makes everything lopsided like he’s the bad guy and then he’ll become defensive and whatnot. “But this has been going on for so long for both of us. Let’s brainstorm some solutions together that get us out of this Groundhog Day.” Did you ever watch Groundhog Day?


Interviewee:     Yes.


Interviewer:     You know, it’s the same thing everyday. So the same woman, this ex keeps showing up all the time and he caters to her and it’s the same dance that they’re doing over the decades and, hey, he’s married to you! I would be devastated. My husband wasn’t married beforehand, but I would be devastated, let’s say if one of his girlfriends showed up to all of our events and he was announcing, “Hey, this is my former girlfriend. Come sit with us.” I would be very upset. Then there are the dynamics if they had kids together, that’s a whole other layer and how that plays out.


Interviewee:     They had one, and she’s a grown woman now. So if we go out to dinner, she knows where we are, boom, she shows up.


Interviewer:     What does she say about this?


Interviewee:     She wants this whole fantasy of sister wives, that sister wives TV show?


Interviewer:     I never saw that.


Interviewee:     It’s about a Mormon family that has multiple wives, five or six wives. And they were, back when they were married, they were Mormon and she does not condone their divorce, because once you’re married, you’re not ever divorced. She’s made that very clear to me for many, many years, that they are not really divorced. Yet they are.


Interviewer:     So you’ve got an ideology that supports her “morally” – I don’t buy it, obviously – but “morally” supports her pretending she’s still married to him because he can have multiple wives. Do you know why he walked out on her?


Interviewee:     Because she was way too controlling and he says she was just over the edge crazy religious.


Interviewer:     So he’s liberated himself a little bit. He needs to go the whole way though.


Interviewee:     I know!


Interviewer:     Here’s what I would recommend, that you two want to work together. Really listen to him and let him listen to you. Get in a mindset, not when you’re angry or not when he’s angry.


Interviewee:     I never get mad about it, because it’s kind of been a way of life for me the last 10 years. But I’ve kind of turned it into humor, like what is she going to do now?


Interviewer:     You know something? That’s what I call the sitcom solution, where you make it into a sitcom in your head. Not to diminish the pain you’re going through, but to lighten it for yourself so you don’t make it go too deep.


Interviewee:     That’s where I am now, because he would never take any of her seriously. He can be totally annoyed.


Interviewer:     You know he loves you?


Interviewee:     Oh yes. There’s not a doubt in my mind. We think that she’s lonely and has no life, so to speak, outside of work and is looking for things to do.


Interviewer:     Would he consider restraining order?


Interviewee:     No. She’s never –


Interviewer:     Okay. If that’s the case, he can do things that diminish things. Like you can work together and he may goof up for the first 10 times, but practice not announcing, “This is my former wife.” Not giving her any visibility.


Interviewee:     No, he doesn’t. He’s not the one that says that.


Interviewer:     Oh she does.


Interviewee:     She flamboyantly, as loud as she can, telling everyone.


Interviewer:     Then I would leave the events, even.


Interviewee:     “I was his first wife.” And makes it very clear.


Interviewer:     There are some things he could do. He could say, “Yes, and I wish that you recognize the fact that it’s no longer a marriage.” He could say something that would put her in her place, but if he doesn’t have the assertiveness skills or if he doesn’t want to.


Interviewee:     For the very first time, two weeks ago, for the very first time, he did say, during a conversation at a table we were all sitting at, she said something about her, kind of being controlling because she knows she is, and he said, “Yeah, and that’s why you’re not my wife anymore.”


Interviewer:     Wonderful. That’s starting to set boundaries, and that, if you can work together with him, maybe even with that little touch of humor, with that angle, I think the two of you can stay together and figure out how to disengage your connection with her over time, in a way that’s loving with each other and a little bit humorous too.