Problems with ex-husband


Problems with ex-husband


your avatar   Karen (42 year-old woman)

Divorced 9 years, he has had custody of kids for last 4 years, Ben is 11, Beth is 10. He claims he is still in love with me (he is remarried 4 years) and I am now only allowed to visit kids at his house or on his terms. He always tries to hug me or do other inappropriate things in front of the kids and when I tell him to stop, he remarks about my behavior in a negative way. He was an abusive husband, never to the kids however.

I am working toward financial independence as of 2 years ago when I voluntarily went to drug rehab, but it has been a slow process. He tries to put pressure on me to do things in his time frame, disregarding mine, and has a problem with almost everything I do concerning the kids. When I finally learn his crazy rules he changes them. I have done well at maintaining my boundaries with him since rehab however he still frightens me. His parents are wealthy and that power intimidates me because he has hired top lawyers (I despise their motives) and has tried to bribe me with cash.

How is it possible to keep my ex husband from pushing my buttons and exploding (like he wants me to) in front of kids and in other inappropriate situations? Is there any way I can mentally rise above this person and be consistent in doing so?


    Reena Sommer, Ph.D.

Dear Karen,

Before I address the substance of your question, I want to begin by commending you on your work in rehab. It is fairly clear from what you have written, that you have benefited from the therapy you attended. I have worked with many clients who have struggled with addictions and the road to recovery is rough. When you add to that, an abusive ex-husband with whom you must continue to interact, it makes it much more difficult.

Your ability to maintain a drug free existence suggests that you are strong willed and committed. The challenge for you is to now use these same skills to empower you to cope with your ex-husband. As you know, changing well-ingrained habits and patterns is difficult and it requires vigilance, consistency and strength. If you can imagine your connection and responsiveness to your ex-husband as being as powerful a force as your addiction, then you will know what you are up against.

While you do not have the power to alter your ex-husband's conduct, you do have the power to alter your own. When explaining this principle to my clients, I often use the analogy of a game. This is how I present it to them: Let's say the two of us are playing a game of checkers. We decide that you are red and I am black. The rules of the game say that we each take turns moving, we move on a diagonal on the black squares. When one of us jumps another's checker that checker is lost. And so on and so on. Then the next time we play, I say to you, "I don't want to move along the black squares, I want to move along the red ones." You respond by saying, "well, that's not the rules of the game". I then say, "so what!" Now we have a problem. There are two choices: 1) either you give in to me and do things my way, or 2) the game is over. In any event, things change by the actions of one individual.

If you extend this example to your own situation, you may find that if you change the rules of the game between you and your ex-husband (i.e., no longer respond to his button pushing), then he is left no choice but to change in response to you. For example, think about the things you can do to prevent your ex-husband's inappropriate advances to you. Have you considered bringing someone along while you visit with the children? Can you arrange to visit with the children in a setting other than your ex-husband's home? Consider changing your body language by placing a distance between him and you, changing your posture by standing erect, looking him in the eye etc. All of these things may seem difficult, but with practice and support, they can be accomplished.

Second, do not allow yourself to get into arguments with him. Two reasons why people behave negatively toward others are: 1) they get away with it because the other person puts up with it, and 2) they get a rise out of the other person. Here is a very simple strategy that is quite effective in diffusing distasteful confrontations. If a person says something demeaning, a response such as "I am sorry you feel that way", leaves him/her having to either drop the subject or explain why he/she said what he/she did. In any event, after having made this comment, there is no need to say anything further on the matter. It really does work.My best to you.

You might want to consider taking an assertiveness training course to assist you in coping with difficult situations. Like anything that requires skill, practice makes perfect. While you consider the changes you have already made in your life and the ones that you will need to make in order to cope with your ex-husband, think about caring for yourself by putting your needs before his. When you come to see yourself as being important and valued, making these changes will seem so much easier.

Reena Sommer

This question has been answered by Dr. Reena Sommer is a family life consultant in private practice in Winnipeg, Canada. She heads Dr. Reena Sommer & Associates, a multidisciplinary group of professionals who offer a broad range of services to individuals, couples and families seeking assistance with interpersonal problems. Dr. Sommer' s area of expertise is working with clients experiencing difficulties during the process of divorce. Dr. Sommer combines a solution focused approach with elements of psycho-education to help clients develop effective coping strategies, manage the challenges of parenting and gain the tools needed to move on in life.For more information visit:


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