Some lessons are learned the (very) hard way. Such is the story of my (now ex) husband, his ex-wife, and me.
When I first met Rob, he told me about his horrible ex-wife, “Tina.” She was crazy, jealous that he met me, didn’t want to work (though she did work fulltime), wanted all his money, was using the children just to get more child support, was a screamer and, well, I could go on and on. I felt so sorry for him and after we got married, I grew to really dislike Tina. After all, I believed everything Rob said about her and those first (strong) initial impressions took a long time to slowly wither away and die, but I digress.
Once Rob and I married, Tina became my mortal enemy. When Rob’s explosive personality began to appear (he hid this side of him completely when we were dating), he blamed it squarely on Tina. She taught him those communication skills. If it wasn’t for Tina, he would manage conflict better (sure, no doubt! I cannot believe I accepted that line of bullshit). When I discovered his alcoholism, Rob blamed that, too, on her. Tina was his trigger (always had been). If only he had never been married that horrible woman, I thought, Rob never had turned to alcohol to cope. Every time Rob and Tina went back to court, it was all her fault, she just wanted money and to punish him for moving on. Everything bad in our marriage was because of Tina, Tina, Tina.
A few years into our marriage, I had an epiphany: maybe everything Rob said about Tina was a lie. Or, maybe, just maybe, there was another side to this story. Maybe all this “it’s Tina’s fault” wasn’t exactly true. Instead of hating Tina, maybe I should feel sorry for her. Hmmm…
One day, Rob went on a rant about Tina. I cut him off. “That poor woman. Maybe she just did her best to cope with you. Wow, there’s a thought.” Rob looked at me with his glassy stare that meant he’d been out drinking again. And instead of more explosive screaming, he went silent.
Fast forward to the day I was undergoing all kinds of scary tests, which lead to my cancer diagnosis. I’ve written about it endlessly but in case you’ve missed it, I came home from the hospital and was in shock and frightened beyond belief. Rob came home just minutes later. Clearly he had been drinking. I was at the dining room table and told him that they thought I had cancer and I started crying. Rob got just inches from my face and started screaming at me so loudly that he was literally spitting on me. He accused me of being a fucking drama queen, lazy and just not wanting to go back to work. It was the last day we lived together. I called the police and that was that.
After calling Rob’s mother, and then my parents (who immediately started driving from their home in Salt Lake City to mine in San Diego so they could be with me at my diagnosis appointment four days later), I called… Tina. I am so grateful that she took my call and was willing to speak with me because we did not have a good relationship during my time with Rob, to put it nicely. I said, “He did this to you, didn’t he? The screaming, belittling, blaming. It’s not just me, is it?”
“No,” she said. That one word meant everything to me.
And since that phone call, she became one of my biggest allies and support when I needed it most. There were days during my horrid divorce process that I needed a gut check. When Rob blamed me for everything, like his alcoholism (“You’re my trigger!” he texted me one day as I was headed to my chemo appointment. “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be an alcoholic.”), I simply needed to text Tina and have her remind me that his alcoholism was a major reason for the destruction of their marriage, too. His alcoholism was hardly a new thing once he met me. When Rob sent me unbelievably disgusting, disturbing and heartless texts during my cancer battle (“You’re a lazy, lying thief. Go back to work!”), I needed to bounce it off with the only person who really knew my hell—Tina. She listened and commiserated as only someone who lived it, too, could do.
I feel such sorrow and disgust with myself that I ever got in the middle of the relationship between Rob and Tina. I failed to realize that every story has another side. Not every guy is going to be open and honest about a failed relationship. And, really, my job as the newbie in the whole scenario should have been to listen, observe, support my guy as best as possible, and then butt out beyond that. I’ve learned my lesson. Never again.
Here’s the deal: The ex-wife is not our enemy. She may be his enemy. What continues to happen between the two of them will, no doubt, have negative consequences within our homes and will impact our relationships. However, it goes with the territory and if it seems too much for you, then perhaps this guy isn’t the right one for you. Remember, she came before you and, likely, they have children together. There’s lots of history and we cannot possible understand it. But unless this woman is boiling the family pet bunny, slashing your tires, or stalking you in the street and threatening to slit your throat, back off, be silent, and (dare I say) be polite. You should work towards being a neutralizing force between the two of them if it’s possible. If the ex-wife appears angry and unstable, perhaps there’s a reason for it. A little compassion and understanding of the unknown just might be in order.
Case in point… I met a guy, “John”, who had an affair during his marriage. He left his wife (as she begged and pleaded for him not to) and moved in with the girlfriend, “Alice.” Over the next eight months that John and Alice lived together, his wife went to their home and knocked on doors in the middle of the night, sent emails to the girlfriend accusing her of being a home wrecker and whore, and even showed up at a restaurant where they were eating to confront them. While this behavior is clearly not good, I can’t even fathom the pain and trauma wife was under. As a result, Alice wouldn’t marry John– there was just too much baggage and drama. I give wife a big huge pass. John called her crazy and nuts; I call her traumatized.
So before we simply believe that the ex is just a freak-show, let’s acknowledge that a lot more just might be going on that we may never fully understand or appreciate. And, God forbid, should we ever find ourselves on the “outs” with our new sweetie, maybe that “freak-show” might become one of our biggest support systems. It could happen. It did for me.