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My boyfriend always brings up his ex-wife in conversations, I don't know how to react to this?

Tagged as: The ex-factor<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (21 November 2008) 4 Answers - (Newest, 24 November 2008)
A female United States age 41-50, anonymous writes:

my boyfriend is recently divorced. I know he loves me and I know he was unhappy and lonely in his marriage which is why he left. I also understand whether a person had been happily married or not, it still becomes habit/rountine to be with that other person. What seems to hurt me is that he brings her up in conversations that have nothing to do with her. Today I mentioned that I wished we could dress casual at work and his response was "my wife can dress casual every day at her work". Am I being overly sensative and he's just making a point or should I be worried that he's still thinking about her.

View related questions: at work, divorce, ex-wife, his ex

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A reader, anonymous, writes (24 November 2008):

I know exactly how you feel. Dating a divorced man is extremely difficult. My boyfriend does the same thing (divorced last May), and we have fought about it a bit. But, gradually he is talking about her less and less, and I am hoping with time, I will feel like a much bigger part of his life.

As far as how to respond, first of all, always correct him when he says "wife." I always make sure to correct him and remind him that she's his ex-wife. Also, if you have an ex-boyfriend you can work into conversations, do so. It helped my guy understand my point of view. I even called my ex-boyfriend my "boyfriend" in a conversation just to confuse him and let him know how it feels to be always hearing, "my wife." It's humiliating and feels like you don't mean anything.

I don't think you should worry. It's very common for men to do this after long relationships, and it takes about three years for men to move past a divorce. If he has children with her and has to contact her, let him. Give him opportunities to be reminded of why he divorced her.

I love my boyfriend, but it isn't a great idea to date someone recently divorced. We are in the process of looking for a counselor. I would just let him know how you feel, and if you're a nervous wreck about it the way I am, put a lot of work into building security and confidence. I keep fearing he will leave me to go back to her, which is extremely unlikely, but I still worry about it so I made myself a list of the top twelve reasons why their marriage didn't work out (one for every year they were married). Just reviewing all of the reasons helps me keep a healthy perspective on our relationship.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (21 November 2008):

He called her 'my wife'? Not good. But all hope is not lost. The good thing about him is when he loves, he loves deeply. If you really feel strongly for him, and are a patient woman, then in time his feelings for her will fade. I've heard in a good relationship, a man loves his woman a little more each year. So a strong love can grow with you and him too.

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A female reader, Tisha-1 United States + , writes (21 November 2008):

Tisha-1 agony auntYou have a couple of options as to how to deal with the behavior. What to think about it is something else. I'd be worried that she was on his mind all the time. Now it may be that they were married for many many years and he's still adjusting the the loss. Even if he did initiate the divorce, he's still emotionally connected to her. That's not necessarily a bad thing, if he's not angry with her but just misses her on some companionship level. He may be feeling guilty at asking for the divorce and he's still working through those feelings too. Whatever the reason, just be sure you don't get too emotionally involved with him just yet. Keep a bit of distance and remember there's a reason for the term 'rebound relationship.'

As to how to deal with the comments he brings up, again, a few options here. One is to directly tackle the issue. For example, when he mentioned his exwife and the casual day attire, simply look levelly and calmly at him, and without raising your voice or getting shrill, say something like, "Why do you bring your exwife into our talks? This particular instance had nothing to do with her. You did this on x occasion as well." (Fill in the x, as he's obviously done it before.) "I'm a bit puzzled as to this propensity of yours and have a bit of concern that this signals a potential problem in our relationship." Then keep quiet and LISTEN.

I don't know how long you two have been dating or how close you are. You might still be getting to know one another, and you might not feel that you can have that level of honest, calm communication on a tricky subject just yet.

So the other option is to completely ignore the comment he just made and talk right on without even acknowledging that he brought her up. And whenever he brings her up, look blankly at him and get the conversation back on track. And to further that idea, you could also do a bit of positive reinforcement. When dog owners learn about training their pets, some trainers teach that one should completely ignore the unwanted behavior and reward the desired behavior. To the extent that you ignore it, you could simply act as if a light had been switched off in you when he brings her up. Flat tone, flat affect, polite but immediate end of the conversation. You're on the phone, he brings her up. You say, "Sorry, I have to go. Talk to you later." Then gently hang up. No drama, no fight. Eventually, he may figure out that by bringing her name into the conversation, he loses your interest.

Now, I love men dearly, but some can be quite dense when it comes to these things. He may not understand why you're suddenly vanishing. So you may have to preface this on-the-job training tactic by telling him that you don't want to hear about his ex unless you're specifically discussing his divorce. It might be more effective if you do this, then carry out the ignoring the unwanted behavior.

The thing you don't want to do is show anger or resentment to him on this. She was a big part of his life, and now he has to learn to minimize her in his daily life. It's tough.

Good luck and hope thing turn out well.

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A female reader, Teacake United States +, writes (21 November 2008):

Teacake agony auntI had the same problem... everything was referenced to his ex as he hadn't resolved his feelings. You said, recently divorced so he found someone (you) as a buffer and comfort while he goes though this. Not fair to you - I might keep dating and tell him that he is obviously emotionally stuck and hasn't worked though his feelings yet for her. It becomes a habit after a while and could take years before she is out of his mind.

If they had children, he will always be in her life so better you find someone without baggage unless you can adapt to this.

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