Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance on dealing with difficult communication with an ex.
“For the past three years, I have been living with my partner who I really love. He was going through a messy divorce when we met, and although it was finalised two-and-half years ago, the ramifications are still going on. His wife has custody of their three children and uses them to manipulate him.
“I am also divorced, but that was some years before I met him and I have a good relationship with my ex-husband (although we don’t have any children, which makes things easier). Our problem is that my partner’s ex-wife is making his life – and so also mine – a misery. She walks all over him and is forever threatening to stop him from seeing his children if he doesn’t do what she wants.
“She used Covid several times to cancel access arrangements, even though I showed him evidence that visitation rights were allowed. I’ve tried to get him to stand up to her, as I end up having to put up with his moods and upsets, but he won’t. He’s afraid that if he does, she will make it impossible for him to see his kids.
“We had an argument about it last month but that has backfired on me, as now he keeps his feelings to himself and just bottles up everything. I love him and I want to help him, but I don’t know what to do for the best. We have discussed getting married and having children of our own, but the way things stand, this seems unlikely.”
“Using children as a weapon to control an ex-partner is so very wrong. It’s bad for both parents but, more particularly, it’s bad for the children, who will be left feeling unsure about their relationship with their father. The fact that your partner seems unable to deal with these problems should ring one or two alarm bells for you, if you’re planning to marry him. If he won’t tackle this issue for you, to keep your relationship with one another going strong, then he needs to be encouraged to do it for his children.
“If they are unable to do this between them, then perhaps it’s time the courts were involved once more – or, more particularly, the conciliation service. The Family Mediation Council (familymediationcouncil.org.uk) holds a list of registered, independent, professionally trained mediators who help separating couples work out arrangements.It doesn’t just happen before divorce though – mediation can also be helpful when previous arrangements need to change, which is what needs to happen in this case.
“He should understand that the process of mediation means he stays in control – rather than losing control of the situation, as it sounds like his ex-wife is pushing him to do presently. The mediator will help him and his ex-wife to find a solution that works for them both and will explain what needs to happen to make an agreement between them legally binding.
“If you love this man and you’re committed to helping him, then I think you will have to show him you are willing to be supportive. By bottling his feelings up, as you say he is doing now, he is going to drive a rift between you, which I’m sure neither you nor he really wants.
“I can’t help but wonder why his ex-wife is behaving like this. Is she still bitter about the divorce, or is it something else? Is it, perhaps, because you have come onto the scene? Perhaps part of her behaviour stems from a lack of trust in her ex bringing the children into contact with someone she doesn’t know. So perhaps it would be worthwhile considering a meeting between the two of you, if this hasn’t happened before.
“That might be difficult, and it might be hard for you not to lose your temper. Keep your cool though and remember that it’s in the best interests of his children – who could one day be your step-children – that you do so.”
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.