Critical Ex

25 Mar

Dear LetterBalm: Like many others, I hit a rough economic patch in the last few years. I lost my house and my job. I’ve been able to get only part-time work, so I’ve had to scale back my expenses drastically. I recently moved into a friend’s home. He needs someone to take care of the house and garden and his pets while he goes on the road for his job. It’s cut my expenses in half. There’s never been – nor will there ever be – anything romantic between me and my friend, but my ex-husband is freaking out. He says it’s only a matter of time before my friend and I get involved, that things will get messy and that once again I’ve made a bad decision. (My ex criticizes me all the time about my “bad choices.”) How can I stop his criticisms and make him see I’m doing what I must for myself?

–Tired of the Disapproval

Bravo for finding a creative living arrangement that may well work for you! These days, many people are teaming up in communal situations or returning home to live with family. It’s not a “bad decision.” Ms. L.B. has little patience for your ex-husband’s bossy concern. She assumes you and he have been divorced for some time with no minor children living with you and no major financial support from him. But there’s a larger issue at stake here: Your ex continues to excoriate you for your life choices because he can get away with it.  Perhaps you have deep insecurities about those choices, and he plays upon your lack of confidence. (If you can’t afford counseling, go online to therapy sites or check out some good books on how constant criticism is poisonous, more a reflection of the person doing it, and how to deflect it from your life.) Meanwhile, you have two things to do here: First, make your ex understand that your current living arrangement makes economic sense for you now and is not his concern. Second, let him know that his criticisms will no longer influence you. Tell him by phone, e-mail, face-to-face, whatever you feel will work best. Something like this:

George, please listen carefully. I appreciate that you have some things to say about my current living arrangement. I agree it’s unconventional. As you know, I’ve been financially slammed the past couple of years, and I’ve had to look out for myself. These days, many people around the country have been hit and have had to cut expenses. People are moving in with their families and friends to help make ends meet. That’s what I’m doing now, nothing more. It’s not your concern. And, I want to tell you this once and for all: I don’t need your approval or your judgment about my decisions now or in the future. Your opinion about my life choices will be less important to me than I’ve allowed it to be before. Now, let’s change the subject and move on.

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