I Feel Threatened By My Boyfriend’s Ex And Worry He Doesn’t See Me As A Wife.

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I am starting to feel that if I’m in a new relationship with a healthy co-parent that I will always come after him, the kids and his ex. I know I have to establish that I am not coming in to be a step-parent, just a bonus adult figure who may or may not become a friend.

But what is the guy’s perspective? What is the guy experiencing? Is the compartment where he cares for the biological mother of his children, the guilt and responsibility he seems to hold, and the worry over her happiness, separate from his new relationship? Even if he says I am his future, and he doesn’t want to get back together with the ex, is it not because he already has his other needs met like, he has a family already, and I am his fun romance and sexual partner? 

We had the exclusivity talk, and all the right steps that would make any dating coach proud, talked big things from day one, e.g. we kept things light but also started sharing what we were looking for and past experiences, and yet all this is coming up like a giant scare bear. I feel like I am losing out on a lot potentially and I am an ultra-resilient woman who has conquered many odds and created a life I love. I feel like a quivering helpless wimp in the face of all this.

Thank you for your Love U Podcast, thank you for your wonderful material. I have seen your name around since I started looking into dating stuff in 2007. 

-Chloe

This was edited for clarity. What you’ll notice is that there are so many fears running together that it still sounds more like a stream-of-consciousness transcription of your brain than it does a singular letter. Which is why the only way to handle it is to tease out all of your individual questions and address them, one-by-one.

What is the guy experiencing? 

If I were you, I’d enjoy this time because it doesn’t last forever.

If he’s your boyfriend in a new relationship, he is probably experiencing the same emotions that most people experience in the first 18 months: dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and the giddiness of meeting someone he’s attracted to, cares for, thinks about, and wants to be with. If I were you, I’d enjoy this time because it doesn’t last forever.

Is the compartment where he cares for the biological mother of his children, the guilt and responsibility he seems to hold, and the worry over her happiness, separate from his new relationship?  

Yes. This is something that I was literally talking about last night – most men I know don’t give a crap about anybody you dated in the past, yet women seem to be obsessed with it in a way that can veer towards the unhealthy. I’ve been with my wife for 12 years. I can’t remember the last time I asked about him. Even in the first year of dating, all I knew was this: he cheated on her, she divorced him, she had since had an 18 month relationship with another guy who pulled away, and it was going to be REALLY easy for me to be better than those guys. So will a man ever erase his history with his ex-wife? Will he ever stop worrying about the well-being of the mother of his children? I should hope not! What kind of man stops caring about the welfare of the person who is co-parenting his kids? But this is completely separate from you. His old life vs. his new life. Like an old job vs. a new job. The old job helped you learn what you could be, and you take that wisdom to move onto a new job, and, for the most part, don’t look back.

Even if he says I am his future, and he doesn’t want to get back together with the ex, is it not because he already has his other needs met like, he has a family already, and I am his fun romance and sexual partner? 

You’re asking the question I have gotten multiple times every day for 17 years. How can I tell if a man is going to be my husband or not? How can I tell from his profile? How can I tell from this text? How can I tell from how he acts on the first date? How can I tell now that we’re dating? How can I tell now that we’re sleeping together? How can I tell now that he’s my boyfriend? What’s the answer?! I don’t want to get hurt! I don’t want to waste time!

Deep breath. Truth bomb dropping:

You can’t tell, definitively, if you two are going to end up together for the next forty years. That’s what dating is FOR. To experience what it’s like to be a fully integrated couple and see how you feel down the road, when the guard has been let down and everyone has exposed his/her worst flaws. Before that, it’s all an audition and YOU are in control of it. Instead of wondering if he will pick you to be his wife, how about you reframe that and see how you FEEL about your relationship next week, next month, next year. 

Fact is: you may decide that he DOES have an unhealthy relationship with his ex, or that he gets really critical in times of crisis, or that your lovemaking has tapered off dramatically to the point that you’re dissatisfied. Who knows what the future holds? 

The thing to pay attention to right now is not whether he’s guaranteed to be your husband, but rather, how you feel with him. In a good relationship, you don’t always know he’s the one. But in a failing relationship, you pretty much always know when he’s not. Pay attention to that feeling – and pay attention to his corresponding words and actions.

You said he’s talking about a future. I’d take that on face value. Marriage oriented men talk about marriage. Men who don’t want to get married DON’T talk about marriage. As long as you’re with the former and he’s treating you right, I can assure you, he’s thinking about marriage with you. All you can do is enjoy the ride and get off when you stop enjoying it.

Especially if the alternative is worrying incessantly and turning a good thing into a bad thing – based on nothing more than your own fears and insecurities.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Bbq

    So much of this depends on why is first marriage broke up. Did he want it to end, did it end at his insistence? If so he probably won’t have any trouble seeing you as his new wife and the center of his romantic world. If not however then yeah that likely won’t happen as he already choose a woman to make a life and children with and tho he may make the best of things with you, his heart will probably never be a 100% in it. In that case your definitely a fun romantic and sexual partner. That’s natural I guess.

      1. 1.1.1
        Bbq

        I’m not a divorced dad yet, but maybe I’ll get lucky! The odds of becoming one are in my favour.

  2. 2
    Malika With an L

    Hi Chloe, we are kinda in the same boat! I am also in a relationship with a guy who has kids from a former marriage. He has a very cordial relationship with his ex, and as a caring father he is very involved with his kids and shares 50/50 custody. Maybe it will help to hear from someone who has gone through a similar process you have gone through.

    Do the kids come first? Absolutely. Looking at it rationally, would you really want it any other way? The love you feel for your kids is a totally unique and engulfing experience. Looking after them is a huge commitment and from life decisions to day to day planning, looking after their welfare will be as parent top of mind. I remember when dating, having as a potential red flag shitty parenting. I fortunately never experienced this (my ex was also a super dad to his child) but it would be heartbreaking to be the partner to an indifferent or toxic parent.

    Does he still care for the welfare of his ex? Once again, absolutely! If she’s happy, the kids are happy and he gets an equal and healthy co-parent for his kids. In the case of my ex they were together for nearly two decades, you don’t all of a sudden become indifferent to them. He still has coffee with her to talk about the kids and life, and wishes her well when dating someone new. I remember feeling a twinge once, and then realising how nice it was that he had a drama free interaction with the mom of his kids. It’s difficult dating someone with a past, but at my age we all have a rather dense one. At least it’s this, and not something problematic that will impact me.

    And now on to you: Are you the fun and romance partner? Absolutely! And by the way, congratulations! You are not the one he has to talk about the school run with and the cost of the new school uniform, you are the one he does all the fun and romantic thigs with, who when he sees he gets to relax and be something other than a dad. This doesn’t mean he won’t want to marry and have kids with (if that is what you want later), it’s that for now you get to be his partner, unfettered by the big ticket commitments. You can date and get to know each other and form a bond with before you start discussing whether you want to embark kon the big milestones with each other. He has already signalled he is open for it in the future with you, and i am sure as time goes, you will get used to this set up and then decide for yourself whether you want to commit to him further.

  3. 3
    Elle

    Hi Malika –
    I was in a similar situation up until 2 weeks ago (he broke up with me). Single dad, 3 young kids, met just after his divorce. What you describe about being the fun and romance partner is exactly what I experienced for the first 18 months. The only difference with me and Chloe (and perhaps you) is that me and my bf never had the relationship talk at the beginning of dating. We had the exclusive talk and agreed to be in an exclusive bf/gf relationship but we never discussed what we were looking for. I think we both had a crush on each other and wanted to enjoy without thinking too much. That said I was looking for a life partner and I don’t think he knew what he was really looking for. He was more living day by day.

    For 18 months things were pretty serious though, we spent all of time together, I met the kids after 6 months, met the parents, the friends, did tons a travelling together, Went to bars/restaurants/concerts, things he hadn’t done in ages after being married with kids for 15+ years.

    But then he did a few things that concerned me and made me feel like all he wanted from me was this “fun” part (including lots of sex) but that he didn’t care about me as an important person in his life. He would make schedule decisions that impacted our time together without consulting me or even giving me a heads up. That resulted in him being busy with kids/family stuff for almost 2.5 months. I also felt like he was always super flexible to any of his ex’s asks and would always say yes, even if that meant our couple time would take a back seat.

    I started worrying about what I really was in this relationship. He said he loved me and wanted me to spend even more time with him and his kids but every time I brought up things like moving in together or asked if he thought he would ever get married again, that would gave him a ton of anxiety and sleepless nights.

    The last straw was when, he did another huge favor to his ex, something I didn’t like, and only told me when it was already done. We then had the relationship talk (more in the form of “what am I in all of this? Am I just a distraction to you? Do you see a future with me?). Granted I was triggered and emotional so not the best time but a week later he broke up with me, visibly distressed, saying that he didn’t want anything long term. After 2 years of being together! I was shocked.

    I’m still processing and I’m super sad at the moment. Idk if he still had issues moving on from his divorce or truly didn’t know what he wanted and was unconsciously stringing me along.

    I guess the good thing about Chloe is that her bf talks about wanting a future. Whereas mine never talked about it. It just felt like he wanted things to stay the way they were indefinitely And with me just accepting everything that came my way.

    1. 3.1
      Malika With an L

      This must be a very difficult time for you, i am sorry you are going through this. After going through all the milestones together it must have felt logical that he was very serious with you. To then turn around and break things off with you, it must have been heartbreaking.

      While I am sure you wish it had not progressed this far before he showed his true colours, you are at least not being strung along anymore. When the heartbreak has faded you will be able to go out there and find a partner that will invest in you for a serious relationship.

      From the very start we made clear what we both wanted. We knew we were infatuated but it was also obvious that we were a good match for the long term. He had worked out a good co parenting schedule, there was no baby mama drama and they were both adamant that they would be a good team when raising the children. They would both give each other room to develop a lasting relationship and were respectful of the time and space all parties would need in order to make that happen. It has not always been easy, but I was never felt that i was an afterthought. In these circumstances it is then easy to say you are the fun and romance partner. You are valued and taken seriously for the role that you play in the situation. I would not want to give the impression that the non parent/new partner should embrace a background role in the proceedings. We are also very important and if we are not treated as such, we should move forward and find a relationship where our worth is truly seen and appreciated.

      I hope you find the space to mourn the loss of an important relationship and are able to go back to dating when you are truly ready. The right man is out there for you and even if he has kids, you will not feel with him the way you felt in the last relationship. He would be crazy to treat you in such a lacksaidisical manner when you are so important to him.

      1. 3.1.1
        Elle

        Thanks you Malika for the very kind words and for giving me hope. I’m definitely still processing and I must admit that there is a part of me that is still hoping that he realizes what he lost and changes his mind. I know the chances are slim but I can’t help my mind from going there since it’s still so fresh. I did a lot of thinking too on what went wrong and I realized that I added a lot of drama when I was upset which didn’t help the situation. I’m becoming more aware and it will help me in the future regardless of what happens with him.
        I really struggle with how things turned around in just one week. If it’s really true that he just realized he didn’t want anything long term, that is a pretty horrible thing to do. But he’s not a mean or bad person so I’m at a loss.

        And also, I wasn’t really asking for a lot here, just to keep me in the loop which to me is natural when you’re in a relationship with someone. I did feel like I was an afterthought, or rather, that he knew he had decided something I wouldn’t like and kept me out of the loop on purpose until the last minute, and by that time it was too late for me to have a say. I just wonder if there was some weird boundary issue (or lack of boundary) which is why he didn’t want me included. I know you don’t know the whole story but I’d love to get your thoughts.
        I’m glad for you that you are in a good relationship with a man who seem to care about you and your future together. Thank you!

        1. Malika With an L

          Glad I could be of help!

          It’s all still fresh, it might take some for both of you to let it sink in. You wonder whether you handled it too emotionally. I wasn’t there but you seemed to react the way you did because you were upset and you felt you were an afterthought. There is no need to castigate yourself. You were in a stressful situation and most of us would have reacted emotionally too if we had no prior experience to this type of situation. You can learn from this situation and apply that lesson to the future. If he rethinks and wants to have another talk about it, you can leave the door open. He might need some time to calm down and look at the situation objectively. If he doesn’t, then you can chalk this up to experience and find someone who wants to have a relationship and have her needs met in the family setup. Loads of co-parents make great new partners, when they have worked out what they are able to give and how to combine with being a present parent and healthy co parent.

          You touched on the issue of boundaries. When you are working out a schedule with so many people involved it often happens that not all the needs of the individuals are thought of. When a family breaks up you want to work out a new way of handling co parenting. Rules and procedures are thought up that might work well when it’s just the old family unit but often there is no new partner(s) to think of. A new partner is added to the mix later on but there is often little realisation that therefore the old rules and procedures do not work. Or you run into new issues you did not think of beforehand. It was quite a while before i met his ex partner, due to my looking after one of my parents and me being away a lot. The only real bust up they had post breakup was about this, with his ex wondering whether i was avoiding her on purpose. We had a chat afterwards, and she didn’t feel ignored anymore. Since then, we get on well and everybody feels part of the family.

          Dating a co parent brings a complexity to the relationship, non parents do not bring. It requires a lot of maturity, communication and a level of give from everyone I have never experienced before. If he is the man for you, and ready for this complexity, it is totally worth it. I hope this works out in the best way for you and for him.

    2. 3.2
      Stacia

      Elle! This is EXACTLY what I just went through myself. Switching kid schedules with his ex even if we had plans. Inviting me over when he had his kids, and then telling me he needed some time with just them, so the three of them would go for a walk or play a game together while I sat on my phone feeling stupid. Taking a trip with them, and the three of them sat together in a row on the plane and I sat by myself two rows ahead. I was very inclusive when he was with my children, so I just figured at some point he’d adjust his patterns. I also asked him to be more inclusive of me and gave specific examples of what he could do (not letting his daughter squish between us on the couch, or walking with me when we were out together, instead of walking hand-in-hand with his kids and leaving me trailing behind, for example), and he would totally gaslight me and say he agreed…and then make zero effort to put it in to practice. It never occurred to me that the divorce was such a large factor. I just thought it was him. Thanks for listening to me vent! Splitting with this guy hurt like stepping on daggers, and I appreciate the perspectives on what happens with breakups like mine.

      1. 3.2.1
        Elle

        Hi Stacia, I’m sorry you went through this too. How long were you together? My bf and his kids were a little like this at the beginning too (which is normal as they didn’t know me well) but that changed fairly quickly once the kids got used to me and he showed them how he cared about me. At times I felt like they were even fighting to be with me (like holding my hand instead of dads hand or wanting to sit next to me at dinner or while watching a movie at night). It was really endearing to me. The kids really embraced me. I think it all depends on the dad’s attitude and what he chooses to convey to his kids. It probably also depends on whether the bio mom is open or not.
        I was really shocked and grief-stricken when it all came to an end a few weeks ago after an argument and him telling me he doesn’t want anything long term. It’s been no contact since then and I’m still struggling with the thought that I will never see him or his kids ever again. How horrible is that. I feel like he used me and disposed of me when I gave him too much crap about how he was prioritizing his ex/kids over me and not taking the time to communicate. And I really thought he could be the one! Ugh

        I’m trying to pick myself back up but it’s hard. I empathize with you!

        1. Stacia

          My relationship lasted a year and a half. I’m an elementary school teacher and usually kids warm to me right away, but not his. They were pretty sheltered and immature for their age, and I feel like that contributed. I gave him some suggestions on how to get them more “on board” with our relationship, but he ran hot and cold about it, and definitely sent mixed signals. Sometimes the kids would ask me for help with something, and he would get upset that they didn’t ask him, but other times if they waited to ask him, he’d tell them they should have asked me. Sometimes he accepted my influence on how to get them to grow up a little bit (I only offered suggestions when he asked, things like making them try new foods or have chores), but sometimes he’d snap at me and say that I didn’t understand the kids or the situation. How does a 15-year veteran teacher not understand kids?! Any questioning I pursued about what he wanted for us or how he wanted me to approach his kids was met with “I don’t know” or some generic response designed to end the conversation.

          My relationship ended similarly. I was going through a couple of really hard things, and I reached out to him for support, and he responded by barely speaking to me and ignoring my requests. He was busy traveling for work, so I asked if he knew if he’d be able to talk that day, and when that might be, and it would take him 4-5 hours to respond with “I don’t know”. My essential takeaway was the same–I was only worthy of the relationship when I was fun and happy, and when I had an expectation of him, he vanished. I wound up breaking up with him because he literally wouldn’t talk to me (and yes, I followed advice and spoke politely and tried to understand his perspective instead of just yelling like I wanted to!).

          His kids LOVED my kids, though. I feel you on that part–I know they are hurting with our breakup, and they miss us, but I just can’t be friends with him. I do have empathy for his situation. His ex was a SAHM and had the kids totally dependent on her. When we started dating the kids would still cry when they had to go to his house, even thought they had been apart for over a year, and would want to call their mom all the time. It actually got better once my kids and I were in the picture. They stopped wanting her all the time and seemed a lot happier to be with their dad.

          I had gone two months with no contact and was beginning to feel good, and then he sent me a “Happy Mother’s Day” text, and I went right back to feeling completely hurt and angry again. The situation we are in is a really tough and unfair one, and I expect it to take many months, possibly years, to truly recover. Being at home certainly doesn’t help! My job always makes me feel in control and confident, and not being able to go to work has definitely hurt my healing. Keep me updated on your healing journey!

  4. 4
    Erika Gloss

    I am sorry about that

  5. 5
    Elle

    Hi Stacia, we were indeed in very similar situations! And I’m sorry your bf (or ex bf) didn’t give you the attention you needed. In both your situation and mine, it sounds like the dads were still somehow dependent on their ex wifes as if they are still running the show. And that their loyalty is to that first family unit still and there is no room or want for a second family unit yet, meaning they don’t want to commit to anyone else. Thinking back I think my bf wanted things to stay exactly the same with his ex/kids but have me as a side thing, the side fun or bonus in his life but he wasn’t ready to put in the effort to meet my needs or deal with my requests. Not to the expense of upsetting his ex or usually the better excuse, do what’s right for his kids. So until they are ready for the next phase of their lives, it’s always going to be the status quo with no room for anyone new, unless it’s easy and not requiring any real effort.
    I probably could have been the one to leave too. At least you got to make that decision and have an adult conversation about it. It doesn’t make it easier but you had the power. My breakup was brutal and insensitive. And I’m left with all these questions. And the worst part is that a week prior he was complaining that I wasn’t spending enough time with him and his kids.
    I hope it doesn’t take years to heal. I’m trying to focus on myself and learn from it. I’d love to stay on touch!

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