Q: About two and a half years after our break-up, my ex and I started to sleep together again. Trouble is, I remarried quickly and have another child with my current wife. I don’t want to re-create the same problem for my new daughter as with my first two children with my first wife so I don’t want to divorce this wife, but my heart really belongs to my first wife. After all, we were married! To add to the problem, my oldest kids (8 and 10) from my first marriage figured it out. I explained to them that what I was doing is wrong, but from there, I don’t know what to do. I know this isn’t good ex-etiquette. Do you have any suggestions?
A: You can bet it’s not good ex-etiquette! And, it’s not good parenting as well! You’re a married man and you’re trying to justify your behavior by saying it’s OK because you were once married to wife No. 1. It doesn’t matter. You are married to someone else now, and if you’re sleeping with someone other than your current wife, you are being unfaithful. To complicate the situation, your children know about your infidelity — and you have admitted to them that what you are doing is wrong. That must be doubly confusing for them because basically you told your children that it’s wrong for their mother and father to be together. It is doubtful any child will understand why. They may need help from a professional in dealing with all this, especially if you have sworn them to secrecy. The guilt they may harbor as a result might severely affect their emotional and psychological development.
The primary rule for good ex-etiquette for parents is: “Put the children first.” You are not. This is all about you. You’ve got your first wife thinking that your allegiance is to her and your current wife believing she is your one true love. Many who break up have second thoughts, but when you commit to another, you have made your decision.
Your letter appears to be asking for direction, so here goes: You can’t have both. Because you are legally married and said you do not want to divorce your second wife, the quick answer is stop sleeping with your ex. Under any other circumstance I would also suggest that you never see her again because it appears the temptation is too great, however, that is highly unlikely since you have children together. Until you can think more rationally, you may want to reduce your interaction to “only peaceful contact regarding the children.” This means communicate via email or text and only contact each other in an emergency or change in parenting schedule.
Next, I would suggest you run, not walk, to a qualified therapist to help you figure out why you want it all and would risk the welfare of your children in order to get it. Then, if you find your heart really does belong to your first wife, and this is taking into consideration that this is not some fantasy game you are both playing, but a real commitment THIS TIME, take the direction of your therapist in how to restore your relationship with your first wife. Remember ex-etiquette rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward” from this point on!
No one will emerge unscathed from all this, most of all your children. Sounds like your best bet might be to be alone for a while and figure this all out. Then, when you enter a relationship, you might actually want to stay there.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at: