Q: My man told me from the start that he would always help his ex out, but when is enough, enough? We have lived together for six years and he still talks to his ex a couple of times a week – sometimes a few times a day! When her father passed away he drove her to another state to help clean up. Supposedly she’s been seeing someone for two years. His family remains close to her, inviting her to holidays. They were married for 30 years, have two adult children, and supposedly just grew apart. He just redid her patio with the help of his son and her daughter’s boyfriend! I feel this will never end. What is good ex-etiquette?

A: I like to use “good ex-etiquette means cordial, not cuddly,” as a guide, but what you describe is a lot of interaction with an ex from anyone’s point of view – especially if you’ve been living together for six years. The problem here is that boundaries are blurred, and surprisingly enough it’s your boundaries that are the blurriest. Your guy told you from the beginning that his ex was always going to be in his life. If that was troublesome for you, you should have said something then and let him know exactly what was tolerable. That’s how you set boundaries – you let people know exactly where you stand. As it is, sounds like you have committed the same mistake so many make when they first get together – something doesn’t sit right, but they think things will “get better” with time, so they don’t say anything. Assuming can get you into trouble – “get better” to you might have meant his involvement would lessen over time, while to him it might have meant his involvement would bother you less over time. That’s why six years down the road he’s doing exactly what he said he would do and you’re asking: When is enough, enough?

Truth is, only you know the answer to that. Your guy was married for 30 years, which is probably a major portion of his life. They have children together and extended family interacted with her for 30 years as family. They see her as a friend and a family member. It’s not uncommon to have difficulty severing ties like these. The question here is, do they really have to be severed? “Altered” with better communication may be all that is needed.

Consider these two rules of good ex-etiquette – good ex-etiquette rule No. 8: Be honest and straightforward; and rule No.10: Look for the compromise. In other words, it’s time to decide what works for you and have a heart to heart. Come from a place of, “This is how I feel when …,” not “You stop doing that, or else!” As a reference, helping in a crisis is commendable. Chatting on the phone three times a week, inappropriate. Seeing the ex at holiday gatherings in a case like you described, predictable. Get used to it. They are right around the corner.

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:

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