Ask Amy: Scorned husband needs a dose of cordial
Dear Amy: My wife of many years decided that she didn’t want to be married to me anymore. Turns out she had become involved with a bad influence from her past. They are now married.
During the divorce proceedings, they conspired to destroy me. She sought to remove me from our house, to terminate all of my parental rights, and lied repeatedly under oath. She even tried to get her hands on the kids’ education savings accounts, which she claimed were overfunded (even though she was already offered several million dollars from the marital estate).
Our kids are young adults now and will soon be having weddings, with grandchildren hopefully to follow.
I have never said a bad word to them about their mother and hopefully never will. Here’s my issue: I don’t want her husband at smaller family gatherings like a baptism, grandchildren’s birthday parties, etc. I can handle the large events (where there would be plenty of people and space), but not the smaller ones.
I will never shake the man’s hand or be cordial to him. I can’t imagine having to hold a conversation with this creep. Yet, I don’t want to sit home alone just because he’s there. I also don’t want other guests to feel awkward.
I realize that to give the kids an ultimatum (“him or me”) is not fair to them either.
I would very much appreciate your wise thoughts on this one. — Reluctant Ex
Dear Reluctant: Understand that if you state, “It’s him or me,” you lose, no matter what your kids decide, because you will have surrendered your power and pride to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
I often suggest “cordiality” in this space because I believe that this is a concept that Americans don’t easily grasp. Speaking very broadly, we are visceral and revealing people. (This is our charm, and also our challenge.)
Being cordial implies that you give NOTHING away. You hold it in. You restrain your feelings, voice, attitude, and body language. You leave people wondering. It is the essence of maintaining the “upper hand,” but it also allows you the internal satisfaction of behaving to a polite standard.
It sounds as if your wife did not “win” her various attempts to lie and bully you through the court system. Even though you now know what she is capable of, you have held it together for the sake of your children. You’ve been cordial. That’s what good parents do!
At smaller events, you would do well to attend with a friend or family member who can serve as a sympathetic buffer and distraction.
Someday, you might have a new partner on your arm, which could make all of this easier for you.
Dear Amy: I’m a widow. My husband died about a year ago.
My son is 37. He refuses to talk to me because of something minor. His siblings fear his behavior, so they cannot persuade him to change.
When he doesn’t like your attitude, he puts you in quarantine. He has no relationship with his two older brothers.
His wife doesn’t like to get involved because she also fears being cut off.
How can I cope with this? After all, he is my son. This is on my mind all the time, and I try to come up with different ways to deal with it.
His attitude is degrading. If I could stop thinking about it, I would be calmer. — Ruminating Widow
Dear Widow: You have experienced a huge loss. I believe that you ruminate about your son’s behavior because on some level you think that if you behave differently, he will behave differently — and you won’t experience another loss.
Given how your son handles all of his relationships, it is unlikely that he will spontaneously change. You can protect yourself by reacting honestly, proportionately, and calmly: “I believe you are hurting, and that’s why you push other people away. You’re an adult. I hope you can find a more productive way of handling disputes with people. I find your treatment of me degrading, and I’m not here for it. I will always welcome you into my life, but I also expect you to be nice to me.”
Dear Amy: You often run letters from people concerned about a family member’s drinking.
I’d like to add a suggestion. When confronting an alcoholic about concerns with their drinking — only do this when they are sober, otherwise, it’s wasted energy. — Been There
Dear Been There: Absolutely.