Boyfriend’s ex-wife keeps asking him to do things

Dear Guys,

My boyfriend’s ex-wife is CONSTANTLY dependent on him for things grade school children can figure out. She’s a smart woman; she works for the government as an analyst, but when it comes to common sense…she is really dumb. I’m not sure if this is just her “dumbing herself down” to make her ex feel as if she still needs him?? He lives with me and she’s in a different state. We both have children from our previous relationship.

I am NOT dependent in ANY way with my ex (except when it comes to the children’s needs of course) so I understand if she needs advice/help with children. I’m fine with that; I get it. But to ask HOW to paint a wall when something is in the way? Or how to change a battery in a controller?  It’s as though she goes straight to him FIRST before attempting to figure out the situation. He claims that he is obligated to make things easier for her as much as he can because he is not IN HOUSE to care for their kids. She’s constantly asking him to move back to be closer to the children. When I just tell him what I think about the situation, he gets all angry and says he should have never said anything. (Which just  means to me that he won’t tell me about any other situations that come up.) We’re talking about marriage too, but I don’t wanna marry his ex as well… so my question is, am I annoyed for no reason? Or am I right about her playing this out just because she has to contact him?  UGH.


Dear Tanya,

Thanks for your question.

When people get married, they not only marry the person, but they marry all the person’s past relationships. When a person marries at a young age, most of the time the impact of those previous relationships amounts to psychological and emotional baggage. But in second marriages, or when people get married when they’re older, it’s much more complicated because there are usually more people involved. So yes, you will be marrying the whole package. (Him, his ex, his kids, etc. He’ll be doing the same with you.)

In order for us to answer your question we need to make some assumptions about his marriage and breakup. (Please let us know if we’re way off base.) We’re assuming he left her. (The reason almost doesn’t matter.) And he feels guilty about it. And she’s using his guilt against him. It might not even be intentional on her part, more an instinct, something she knows she can do, a way to keep the connection alive, and the hope alive, that maybe, possibly, he’ll reconsider, and come back. She might not even be aware of this, but subconsciously she’s thinking and feeling it. (Our assumption of course)

Can you blame her? If you weren’t so annoyed you could probably put yourself in her shoes and understand where she’s coming from. She’s not dumb. (You know this) She wants to stay connected to her ex. She’s likely reeling from the breakup. So asking him for help is a great way to keep the connection alive.

But remember Tanya, this connection is partly alive because of your boyfriend. And so now we’ll make another assumption. You’re probably just as annoyed with him—maybe even more—than you are with her. You’re probably thinking, “Why can’t he see this like I’m seeing it? What’s his problem? Why does he let her manipulate him?” And we understand your frustration. We do. But we also think you need to do a quick 180 on this and reconsider your stance.

The way you’re approaching this is divisive. You’re unwittingly pushing your boyfriend away, and your creating a division between the two of you. He’s not going to tell you things in the future, and that’s just going to lead to more and more frustration and resentment on your part, which is going to lead to more and more arguing. We’re not saying you’re going to drive him into her arms, but you are going to drive him away from you, or at least create an emotional divide, which we know you don’t want to do.

We’re not ignoring your position. We can totally see how this could and would annoy you. But keep in mind the big picture; and keep in mind how difficult a balancing act this is for him. He’s got you on the one hand, and he’s got her, and he’s got his guilt, and he’s got his kids. We’re not letting him off easy, but you’ve got to understand that you have no control over the dynamic of their relationship. You need to either shift your position quickly, or be upset all of the time. (That doesn’t sound like much fun.)

The thing is, she’s not a threat to you. The only threat here is how you’ve positioned yourself. So our suggestion: Sit your boyfriend down, explain to him that this is hard for you, but that you also understand how difficult this is for him. Make sure this is done calmly and quietly like you’re having a nice discussion. Let him know you love him and from now on you’re going to try hard to support him. And then follow through. Actions speak much louder then words.

Then finally, try to make a paradigm shift with his ex. Stop seeing her as a threat, but as someone who’s hurt, and not sure how to move forward. If you extend an olive branch to her and treat her warmly you might be surprised at her reaction. Try to work towards diffusing the situation instead of escalating it. And you may surprise yourself. If you stick to this plan, in a few months time you may realize that this isn’t that big of a deal. And that there are much bigger and better things to focus on: Like building a life with the man you love.

We hope this helps. We’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Or ask as many follow up questions as you’d like.


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4 Comments on Boyfriend’s ex-wife keeps asking him to do things

  1. Am in a right mess….

    Been seeing a chap for five months, things have been great, he has met my family & our kids have met. Just before Christmas his ex gf got in touch (she cheated on him & he said the relationship was unhealthy in general). He then went AWOL for a few days but reappeared before Christmas & we spent the whole time together & NY. He left my house on Weds morning & went AWOL again. He has texted me today to say that he wants to try & help his ex work through her issues & this may result in them getting back together so we are over.
    I don’t understand. We had such a promising future & he has chosen to go back to his messed up ex. I know I can’t change his mind if he has made his decision but my heart is breaking. He is coming over tomorrow to talk (& I have said he can pick up his stuff). How should I play it?

    Thanks in advance guys x

  2. @Helen……..What exactly do you mean? Clearly he’s not over his ex for some reason or other even though she cheated on him. She obviously has some sort of emotional—or physical—hold on him. This is less about you and your relationship and more about his relationship with her. What we mean is, he doesn’t see this as throwing away a promising future with you, he sees it as a way to get another chance with his ex. Messed up for sure, but people don’t always make healthy decisions when it comes to love. The only way your relationship has a chance is for him to see it on his own. You trying to convince him, or begging him, or any sort of display like that isn’t going to help. The only thing you can do right now is let him get his stuff, tell him you really care for him—or that you’ll wait for him; but not forever—and let him go do his thing. (That is if you want to try waiting.) Our sense is this is going to take a long time before it’s resolved. He’s choosing an unhealthy situation over a healthy one. This is where he’s at in his life. You can’t save him, nor should you. What do you think?

  3. Thanks for the advice guys. You are right. I know I can’t make him choose & I would NEVER beg! I’m not sure I can do the waiting as I don’t think I could trust him again. I am just so hurt & frustrated at the stupid decision he is making although I understand that he has to see that for himself.
    Got texts from him last night saying he was so hurt & so confused & I wish I could make him see that some love is dysfunctional to the point of destruction & this is what him & his ex will do to each other but it will be too late for us by then.
    This hurts so much…

  4. @Helen…….We’re really sorry. Sometimes in these situations the person figures it out right away and realizes what they gave up. In that scenario you wouldn’t have to wait long. Hopefully that’s what will happen. But we can understand why you wouldn’t want to wait around long. If he can’t see what’s right in front of him, then there’s not much you can do. And frankly, we could totally see you feeling resentful after a time. Probably already do. Keep us posted and hang in there.

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