herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

Dilemmas: Ex-partners

my husband's ex-wife has invited us over for a party but I don't feel comfortable with it

Dear Virginia, My husband was married before and had two children. He and his wife get on well, and she’s always pleasant to me.

I’ve just had a new baby and she’s married again, and she’s asked us all over for a party.

I’m starting to dread it. I just don’t know how I can cope. I feel I will be at such a disadvantage — I’m much younger than her, and feel I'm just tagging along.

I can’t sleep at night. I’m tempted to say I have to look after the baby and stay away. Yours sincerely, Barbara

Virginia says

WHAT a pity that, rather than be pleased and flattered that you've been asked over by your husband's ex, you feel grounddown and miserable. Because the truth is that there's no way you'd have been invited were you thought of as some drag on the proceedings, and it's a sign of the ex's affection for your husband's new family as a whole that you've been included.

Perhaps she also wants her own children to get to know their half-sibling, and is trying to construct an extended family in which love and harmony reign rather than bitterness and resentment.

Were you to cancel, I'm certain she'd see it as a snub, because it takes quite a lot of effort to be as inclusive and generous as she's being, so whatever you do, go, even if you arrive late or leave early.

But I'm wondering if your gloomy forebodings aren't partly a result of mild postnatal depression. There's nothing like depression to make you feel like a piece of rubbish, even though, of course, that is a completely distorted view of the truth.

Now, I wouldn't dream of saying anything like “You'll enjoy it when you get there”, even though it's probably true. Nor would I expect you to be grateful.

So I suggest you do what my grandmother used to advise when faced with a ghastly situation. She'd say: “Offer it up.” You could see it as a sacrifice on your part to make your husband feel good about his new family, your baby to feel part of a bigger whole, his ex so that she can lay the ghost of a divorce to rest, her new husband so that there are no skeletons in the new family's cupboard, and her two children to give them a chance of having a new family member to love.

Don't try to change your mind about how you feel about the party. Continue to dread the event by all means. But once you have invested this dread with some meaning, you will find that though you won't enjoy it, you may get fulfilment out of the act of bearing awkwardness, shyness and embarrassment for the sake of a greater good.

The readers say

COUNT YOURSELF LUCKY

You have just had a baby, so no wonder you are stressed out. Sleepless nights and the demands of a newborn can totally overwhelm.

Your anxiety might also be postnatally linked — if this persists, please consider seeing your GP.

You are lucky to have an ex in your life with a heart big enough to embrace her former husband's new family, and who wants all the children to have a good time with all the important adults in their lives.

CIARA, SUTTON

GO ALONG AND HAVE FUN

Don't be a goose — your husband loves you, his former wife is pleasant and wishes to be hospitable, and you and your new baby will be the centre of attention. However, you obviously feel a little vulnerable.

Why not ask the ex-wife if you might have the use of a quiet room where you could feed and change the baby, and where it could have a nap (you, too, if you need it). I feel sure that, with goodwill — and there seems to be plenty of that — you will all have a great time.

ROSEMARY, BY EMAIL

MAKE AN EFFORT

IT IS understandable that your feelings are all over the place with a new baby in the house and all the fatigue and sense of inadequacy that new motherhood brings.

However, if you cannot match the generosity of spirit your husband's ex-wife is showing, you will look like a spoiler.

Your husband's children are no doubt looking forward to seeing their father , so you should make an effort to join in.

DEIRDRE, KILLINEY

RELAX AND ENJOY IT

You are lucky your husband and his ex get along well and she has always been pleasant to you. The party is only for the evening; she may be quite happy to coo over your newborn and let you have some space.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised that the evening will go much better than you think it will. If you stay at home, you'll mope and feel left out while the rest of the extended family are all having a good time.

Go along, relax and enjoy yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help and you may find the other two children will love to have their half-sister or brother to fuss over.

LORRAINE, BY EMAIL

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