Not long ago, I went to family court for a personal matter. As I sat waiting for my name to be called, a woman and, obviously, her husband were sitting several seats away from me. At first, I paid no attention to them but then it became impossible to ignore them. The wife, who appeared to be in her mid-thirties, was laughing and giggling loudly. I tried to be as inconspicuous as I could as I glanced over. I watched her body language, intrigued and horrified at the same time, as she rolled her eyes and made loud sighs. Her husband, though not as loud as she was, laughed along with her. This was family court where some very serious issues were being discussed and decided. What could possibly be so funny, I wondered. I looked around the room and, sure enough, there was a woman about the same age sitting quietly with her attorney. Every now and then, they would look back at the raucous behind them.
When it was their turn, I listened intently. And sitting next to me, the newby wife was (very loudly) opining: “She is so stupid!” she said. “Oh my gosh, so dumb. Liar.” I wanted to slap her. What kind of kudos did she think she was making with the judge, I wondered. She was making a total ass of herself (and her husband).
Before the judge, “Dick” sounded like, well, a dick. In this Mormon community that I live in, he was demanding that his ex-wife live a strict Mormon lifestyle in her home. That meant, according to Dick, that she could not have alcohol in her home, not drink coffee in front of the kids, never allow the children to miss a church service or attend another church, have daily scripture study of the Book of Mormon, and ensure that 10 percent of children’s allowance be tithed to the church. If she failed, he wanted full physical custody with their children’s mother only receiving supervised visits. He also alleged child abuse and neglect and much more.
The more Dick’s attorney spoke and the opposing counsel responded, I could not fathom being married to such a control freak. And yet his new wife was sitting next to me making an utter scene.
Finally the judge spoke up. “Excuse me, but if you cannot control yourself, I will have you removed from the courthouse,” she said. Finally, silence. But not until she rolled her eyes (I kid you not). The judge, by the way, turned down every motion made by Dick and ordered he pay his ex-wife’s (substantial) attorney fees.
I couldn’t help myself. I followed the ex-wife (let’s call her Lola) out of the courtroom. “I feel so sorry for you. I can’t imagine what you have to put up with and your ex-husband. And his wife’s behavior was totally inappropriate. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“That’s ok,” Lola said. “She’s been married to him for one year. She will soon find out exactly who he is.” We exchanged phone numbers and went out to lunch two weeks later where I got an earful. Turns out the new wife and Dick dated for all of three months before marrying. What did she really know about anything?
Last week, Lola called me. The wife, “Dana”, texted her earlier that day. She and Dick were splitting up. She apologized for her horrifically abusive behavior towards Lola and her part in making a bad situation far worse. “I believed everything awful he said about you. I was wrong.”
Since then, Lola and Dana have met up. They’re becoming “friends” because Lola knows Dick better than Dana does. And she also knows how awful their divorce will likely become.
“How many times did he promise you that he would enter therapy and get better?” Dana asked Lola.
“More times than I can count and, of course, it never happened,” Lola told her. “Watch out. He is a very sick, evil and bad person. Do not trust a thing he says or does. Watch your back. He is dangerous.”
A long family friend, Kim, experienced something similar. She married her husband and had two sons with him. Hubby was a total asshole and cheated on her from day one. Finally he got another woman pregnant and left her and moved in with the new girlfriend. Kim was devastated. Her husband was happily living with the woman of his dreams, welcoming a daughter into the picture, and she was alone. The “happy” union with girlfriend lasted a year before she got “the call.” Turns out, Asshole was cheating on her, too, and she had kicked him out. Kim and the girlfriend became fast friends, and they still are to this day, some ten years later.
Wow, imagine that, a guy not changing for his new love.
I look back on my own failed marriage. When I asked Rob why his marriage had ended, he gave me an earful. Seriously the Wicked Witch had nothing over this horrible woman, incompetent mother, and abusive wife. I hated her based on his stories. I showered my husband with all kinds of support. I edited court documents before they were filed against Witch, I went to court with Rob most every time (though I never made a peep in chambers!), gave her dirty looks when I ran into her around town, and was generally awful. She tried to warn me about Rob but I laughed at her (literally) and called her dumb (yes, I did). Rob loved the hatred I had towards her—he encouraged, laughed about it, and fed it. It was really messed up (but then, so was our entire relationship). And, as I’ve written many times before, when I finally had Rob removed from our home for the final time, she was one of the first people I called. I needed support and validation. I was at one of the lowest points of my life Who better to provide that than her? She, after all, spent 14 years with this drunk, I lasted four. As if I somehow knew more about Rob, or their marriage, than she did. How stupid was I? She actually took my call, talked to me for hours, and was kind. She is a far better person than I was. Shame, shame on me.
Here is your lesson: Do not believe everything your new guy tells you about his ex-wife. In fact, believe almost none of it. There are some exceptions—like if she is in prison, has a “true finding” with the state for child abuse or neglect, is a drug addict, or has slashed your tires. But beyond that, know that your guy’s ex knows him a lot better than you do. I mean, how long have you been on the scene versus her? Over time, you will develop your own opinions and experiences. Different relationship dynamics definitely can change couples for the better. I have to believe this. After all, I believe in love and marriage.
But before you go hating the wife and jumping in to add to the awfulness between them (if it exists), STOP yourself. It is not only the wrong thing to do, but you really don’t know what your relationship has in store for you. Will she became your friend and confidante? Quite possible yes. And it is a lot easier to reach out to that woman if you haven’t treated her horribly. I am deeply embarrassed by the way I behaved around my then-husband’s wife and am forever grateful she was there for me in my distressing time of need. I will never make that same mistake again, and neither should you.