My husband has the code to his ex's front door lock and will often stop by to get his toddler son really early or really late after work. I recently found out that he lets himself in and goes and gets his son out of his ex's bed while she is also sleeping. I trust him, and they are both ok with it, but I don't like it at all. Seems way too intimate. His argument—and he is probably right—is that she is lazy and we would not get him near as often if he didn't do it this way. He feels trapped by her so he immediately gets angry when I say anything. Any suggestions?
So often we hear about how divorce is tough on children. But it is also a complicated situation for the divorced parents. The particular circumstances you raise, though, differ from ones I’ve heard in my own practice, but certainly have the same concerns that others raise.
Even though your husband has terminated the marital relationship with his former spouse, as it is in most cases, the partnership as parents never ends. Though he may have given up ties to his ex, one generally does not want to break their connection to their children. Sadly, and all too frequently, the child becomes the pawn for hurt and angry feelings between the divorced parents.
In general, if emotions are not held in check, the whole situation can become very difficult for the non-custodial parent: Will they get to see the child(ren)? Whose rules are followed? Does the custodial parent take liberties that shouldn’t be taken?
The matter that you have described sounds very much as if your husband feels that if he doesn’t "play along," he will not have the opportunity to see his child. As the proverbial statement goes, "He’s between a rock and a hard place."
That being said, I certainly understand your feelings. It is quite possible that your husband gets angry because at some level, he too, realizes that the way things are being handled is inappropriate. However, it’s easier to be angrier with you than with his ex, where he runs a risk of not seeing his son.
People are always more willing to listen when they feel heard. Let him know that you understand how very hard this is for him. Totally validate his perspective. Also, make sure that you let him know that you trust him. Once he feels you have compassion for his needs, ask if you can share some of your feelings. When you do, present your side in a way that is asking for help as opposed to demanding. Finally, ask him if he is willing to consider the two of you working on some possibility that would honor both his needs and yours.
Most people don’t like to feel they’re being told what to do. Therefore, when you make this suggestion, I would also recommend telling him that if you can’t come up with something that makes him comfortable, you won’t force this issue. Alternately, the timing for change might not be right and it can be addressed at a later point.
By going through these steps, you will have a chance to voice your feelings, validate his, and hopefully come up with a plan (now or later) that will be more suitable for everyone involved.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com