Ex-treme situation

Joey Garcia

My husband’s ex-wife calls him at work, often several times a day. She called him at home, too, until I told her to stop. I befriended her early on in our marriage because she and my husband had remained friends after their divorce. But then one day, she entered our house when we did not answer the door (we were making love). My husband tells her everything that he and I talk about. She told me this, but I suspected it because she would often talk about things he and I shared that I had never discussed with her. He has lied to me about going to her place of employment and her home and talking to her on the phone. I asked him to go to counseling. He went twice. I don’t trust him, and I am ready for a divorce. He says he feels sorry for her because she doesn’t have many family members and is alone. Am I making too much of this?

No, your husband has inappropriate boundaries that have compromised the emotional intimacy of your marriage. In marriage, or other committed relationships, intimacy (sexual, physical, spiritual, emotional, mental or financial) belongs first in the primary relationship. When your husband confides in his former wife about his relationship with you, he is betraying your trust. When he lies to you or withholds information, he is telling you that he is not trustworthy.

If he is unhappy about elements of his marriage, he needs to talk to you, or a therapist, about that. A friend who has no agenda or romantic interest and who is devoted to telling the truth, regardless of consequences, can be an excellent sounding board. However, most people are unwilling to be that honest, because they see it as a potential threat to being liked. So, instead of pointing out a friend’s ego errors, they triangulate the relationship by taking the friend’s side regardless. This process instills a sense of righteousness in the complaining partner that keeps problems from being resolved.

Your husband’s lament that his ex has no one else would be a sign of compassion if his behavior didn’t drip with codependency. His ego clearly relishes the belief that he is needed by this woman. By refusing therapy, he is refusing to confront his lies to himself and others. If he won’t let her go, let him go. You can’t build a committed relationship without honesty and trust.

Recently, my partner said something so appallingly ethnocentric that I was stunned. He used to make such comments often (and misogynistic ones, too) when we first started dating, and I responded angrily. As time went on, he said these things less often. Now, I wonder if I have fooled myself into thinking he is evolving. I wonder if, because of the strife it causes between us, he has learned to mostly keep his opinions to himself.

Your partner spouts hate against other ethnic groups and against women, and you think he is capable of truly loving you? Or himself? Racism and sexism are born of fierce insecurity and a fear-driven habit of seeing differences rather than similarities. When your partner makes a comment such as, “[Members of some ethnic group] can’t drive!” respond by saying something about yourself like, “Gosh, I have had 10 speeding tickets and four accidents, and I’m [insert non-attacked ethnic group here]. What’s your driving record like?” He won’t like this, but it does work over time, if you stay calm. You also can attend workshops on unlearning racism (so you can be a better-informed guide), encourage international travel and attend films that reveal the impact of institutional and attitudinal racism and misogyny. And no, he has not evolved. Yet.

Meditation of the week
“There are two kinds of truth: small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another great truth,” said Niels Bohr, recipient of the 1922 Nobel Prize for physics. What small truths do you accept from your government? From yourself?

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