I Tried to Befriend My Husband’s Ex. So What?
Posted February 9, 2018 5:37 p.m. EST
Q: My husband and I fought (again) today about something that happened eight years ago, when we were newly married. He was devastated that I tried to have a cordial relationship with his ex-wife (who wronged him). He felt betrayed that I didn’t mirror his feelings toward her, and abandoned by my attempts to create a workable relationship for their children. Frankly, I can no more apologize and have a hand-holding cry with him than fly to the moon. I am emotionally detached, and he is wildly demonstrative. How to bridge this gap? — S.C.
A: Creating categories can be comforting, even when they are utter nonsense: the four humors of the ancient Greeks, for instance, or the blood-type diet. Your husband is not upset with you because of your incompatible temperaments. No, he’s distraught because you are not (and I suspect, never were) sorry for your behavior. Any apology you made would be unsatisfying. You feel no actual remorse.
Instead, you made a pragmatic call about the best way to deal with his ex-wife. (You rationalize it still, and I may agree with you.) But deciding how to interact with his ex, early in your marriage, was mostly your husband’s call. You robbed him of that choice, probably accidentally, but you seem not to have acknowledged your mistake.
Give him his due now. Say, “I’m sorry I overstepped with Susan, and even sorrier for dragging my heels in apologizing sincerely. I promise that I have your back.” If that’s too “demonstrative” for you, get yourself to a therapist. But if you make an honest go of it, you may be amazed at how nicely your temperaments align.
— Cool It With the Selfies?
Q: My boyfriend and I are in high school. My parents monitor my social media like hawks, which is annoying. His don’t, but I wish they did. Let’s say he goes shopping for new sunglasses. He’ll post 15 pictures of himself on Snapchat in different pairs — which makes him seem pretty vain. And it’s dangerous too, because it gives people the wrong idea about him. Should I say something? — GINA
A: When I was a kid, happily singing along with my mother to “Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall,” my brother blared scary rock music from his bedroom. I remember one song he played, by the J. Geils Band, was about a guy who is deeply distraught that his former girlfriend posed for a naked centerfold in a magazine. Danger is relative, Gina.
Posting 15 selfies to land the right sunglasses does seem over-the-top, but much less dangerous than posting sexually suggestive pictures — or those depicting substance abuse or other potentially harmful behaviors. And, Snap stories disappear! If you are troubled by your boyfriend’s vanity, ask: “Do you think you may be overdoing it with the selfies?” But if he’s like many people on social media, he doesn’t. And hopefully, his followers are guiding him to wise decisions in eyewear.
— Reframing a Gift
Q: When I lost my job and (sigh!) had to leave Manhattan for an affordable city, a friend sent me one of his photographs, beautifully framed, as a housewarming gift. It’s nice, but not something I would have chosen, and it’s never made its way onto my walls. Four years later, I am clearing the house of everything I don’t truly love. In doing so, I found a wonderful photo that is badly framed. Would it be terrible to take it from its bad frame and (to save money) use the one from my friend’s gift? — ANONYMOUS
A: You go, Marie Kondo! Take your friend’s photo out of its frame and replace it with one that brings you joy. We give each other gifts as tokens of affection, not to control what pals hang on their walls. After you thanked him for his kindness, you are free to do what you like with its physical embodiment. (And if your friend hasn’t visited in four years, the coast seems even clearer.)
— No Time for Thank Yous
Q: Throughout my graduate school career, my faculty mentor helped me research, publish and present at conferences. I’d like to thank her, and since we’ve gotten to know each other, I want to make it personal: making her dinner or getting pedicures together. Trouble is, she works like crazy, has two young kids and lives 40 miles from campus. I don’t want to inconvenience her with something meant to show gratitude. Any ideas (other than a gift card)? — JULIA
A: Fear not! I have never given a gift card, and I am certainly not starting with your beloved Ms. Chips. Given that she’s a working mom (with unknown child care), let’s go with a daytime event — and picking up on your lead, one where you spend time together. How about a fancy (or in the absence of cash, delicious) lunch? Ask her what kind of food she likes and treat her to the tastiest version you can afford. Make it close to campus to avoid adding to her 40-mile commute. And voilà: a delicious thank you, with some bonding time thrown in.