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The Etiquette of Dealing with the Ex
Proper ways to address the ex without blowing a gasket.

Don't let run-ins with your ex get uncomfortable, follow these tips.

Whether you have been married two months or 12 years, sooner or later an "ex" boy/girlfriend or spouse situation is bound to arise. The manner in which you handle yourself will play a vital part in the success and happiness that you currently enjoy with your spouse.

I’ve put together a quick Q & A on how to handle a number of situations that might arise or are sometimes unavoidable if the ex comes into play.

1. Hug or handshake? "My husband always hugs his ex-wife and it really burns me up."

The main thing your husband should want to consider is your feelings. While a handshake may seem stiff or informal, a cheery, "Hi, how are you" might be a good alternative to a hug. On the other hand, ask yourself how long they were married, are there children involved and what is the overall relationship the ex has with your family, including yourself.

2. Be kinder to the ex. "At every family gathering, my husband's entire clan treats his ex wife better than they treat me. Should I say something to his ex or let it go?"

It's understandable that you may feel a bit uncomfortable and, depending on the degree of their attention, you are justified to feel somewhat hurt. However, saying something to your husband's ex is not the answer. You can mention it to your husband without sounding like you're angry or jealous by saying, "When I see the attention that Jolie gets from your mom, I feel a little sad. I hope we can develop a similar relationship over time." You can say the same thing to his mother. If your tone is not condescending or defensive, it could be the start of a closer relationship between you and his family.

3. Ask for what you want. "Every time I walk into a room I find my family talking to my husband about my past life with my ex. It really upsets me."

State your request clearly but firmly to your family by saying, "I am happily married and have moved on from my past. I would appreciate it if your conversations could concentrate on the present rather than bringing up parts of my life that I would prefer left alone."

4. Make no mistake that young children's needs should come first. "My wife spends most of her evening working with her kids from her previous marriage and it leaves little time for us. Her ex also doesn't step up and do their share and it sucks up all her time."

Schedule a date or stay up later, do whatever it takes to work on your marriage, but understand that your wife is also a mother, and young children are not self-sufficient. It's important to respect a wife that gives up some of her time to ensure her kid’s needs are met. I am sure your needs are second and I bet her needs are probably last. Plan something special, get your in-laws involved and whisk your wife away for an afternoon, an evening or a weekend without the children.?

5. Photographs and memories. "I feel frustrated every time I see the wedding album from my spouse's previous marriage. Although it is in a drawer, I don't understand why he insists on keeping it."

There could be several reasons, among them a keepsake for his kids, a reminder of his friends and family at that point in his life, or it may even bring back fond memories. As long as it is not sitting front and center on your coffee table, I wouldn't worry too much about it and spend your time concentrating on making photo memories together of your own.

6. The ex’s mother is still involved. "How can I tell my ex mother in-law to stay out of my business?"

If it concerns her grandchildren, good luck. If she is just being meddlesome, simply tell her that you are a grown woman (or man) and that you appreciate her concern but you are perfectly capable of making decisions without her input or advice. She may or may not adhere to your request, but you have now set the stage for enforcing your statement by changing the subject or simply not answering the phone next time she calls. If you stick to your guns long enough you may be able to curtail her uninvited advice.

7. An ex's disrespect. "Every time my stepchildren come over they tell me how their mother always tells them lies about my husband and myself. I have tried to tell them that she is just a liar but they don't believe me."

They never will. You are not the informer, and it is best to let your husband deal with his ex-wife. If he chooses not to do so, heed his lead and do the same. The children will grow up and make their own decisions based on what they see coming from you and your husband. His ex-wife may have control now, but not forever. As they mature, the truth will come out, one way or the other.

8. Comparing ex's. "My wife always compares me to her ex-husband, and I am never the winner. He's smarter, stronger and makes more money."

Well, you must be doing something better because she is married to you and not him! Seriously, let your wife know how her comments make you feel. Eventually, she will find other things to compare you to and you may be the winner this time.

9. Details, details. "How much do I have to share with my wife about my multiple past relationships with my previous mates. She is constantly bugging me for details."

Have you given her a reason to bug you? She may be feeling insecure or she may just be inquisitive. Either way, you owe her a certain amount of respect to answer her honestly to a certain degree. However, you are not obligated to go into every tiny detail (you may not even remember every detail) unless it can affect her physical or emotional health and well-being. On the other hand, if you feel the need to be vague about even the simplest inquiry, I would have to ask…what's that about? Bottom line, if your wife is asking you all of these questions now and it is affecting your relationship, why weren't these issues a factor during the dating phase? Also, if something has happened recently to make her feel insecure, getting to the bottom of it is important and you may consider couples' counseling or other professional help.

10. Dinner, dancing and the ex. "Is it weird that my wife wants to socialize with her ex-husband and his new wife? It doesn't bother me, but our friends think it's crazy."

Do you care what your friends think, really? I would be more inclined to use my own instincts and good judgment when determining if socializing with your wife's ex is weird. I know many couples, myself included, that have wonderful relationships with their ex and new spouse and it should be scrutinized case by case. If anyone of the players is uncomfortable, the deal should be off in consideration for their feelings, but if a friendship has developed, there is nothing wrong with forgiving and moving on.

Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.protocolschooloftexas.com.

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