The Ex(es) Factor

9 Apr

Dear LetterBalm: I’m about to lose a good friend, someone I’ve been close to for years. It turns out she’s dating my ex-husband. My ex and I were divorced several years ago after almost 20 years of marriage. We actually are better apart than married. Our divorce was amicable, and we keep in contact (and joke about some of our dates) for the sake of our two kids, age 17 and 14. So far everything was O.K. But a few weeks ago, my ex started dating my friend, who is divorced from her husband. The four of us used to hang out a lot together. When she told me, I felt like I was punched in the gut. I’m overwhelmed. It also turns out that many of my friends and my son knew, so I feel betrayed. She wants to stay friends, but I really don’t want to. I don’t want my ex back, but what can I say to her to salvage my dignity?

–Humiliated

Your good friend and your ex-husband broke an implied contract by starting to see each other, even if your respective divorces were friendly. This is because they’ve crossed an implicit line of friendship, and you’re understandably distressed. Your best strategy – for your own peace of mind, if nothing else – is to remain calm and clear-eyed (a good therapist can help here). Your relationship with your close friend and your ex will surely change, and you may not get the opportunity to explain to the world why, even as the three of you are examined liberally by your circle. Ms. L.B. advises that you don’t fan the flames by discussing the subject with family and friends. When you have the opportunity, have a private coffee with your friend. She needs to know why the friendship will change:

Gwen, I want to make your understand why our friendship has irrevocably changed. You and Gene are dating now, and, even though Gene and I have remained friendly after our divorce, the two of you dating have fundamentally changed the dynamic. When Gene and I were married, we shared so much with you and Ernie, including holidays, important milestones, children’s celebrations. We were deep and close friends, and you and I continued to be close. To me, now that you’re sharing Gene’s bed and life is a betrayal. It seems like you’ve broken an important rule. I want to make it clear that I’m not angry, just disappointed, and I wish you both well. Gene and I will continue to communicate for the sake of our kids. But I hope you can understand and respect my decision that quite simply, I can’t be around you or Gene now and maybe never.

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