My Husband And His Ex Are Fighting Over the Kids--What Do I Do? Ask Harry and Louise

Our husband-and-wife team advise a new bride who feels stuck in the middle of her spouse’s ugly custody battle.

By: Harry Jaffe, Louise Jaffe

Dear Harry and Louise:

I'm newly married, and I love my husband very much. But I'm not happy. There is no way around it. I wake up each day wondering what will go wrong, because something usually does. You see, my husband is the father of a young daughter and son. He is still in the midst of a custody court case even though he has been divorced for a few years. His ex-wife calls nearly every day with a new complaint. The custody, the child support, and the schooling are all still in play. I have no doubts about marrying the man I love, but I was not prepared for all the tension this court case brings to my life. I voice an opinion, but then I feel like I shouldn't since they aren't my children.

This is not a guilt issue. I had nothing to do with his marriage ending, and his ex remarried a while ago. The kids don't like their mom's new husband, and they don't have a good time while they are with their mom. I need to turn my unhappiness around, or I fear that the kids won't enjoy their time in our home, either. I know it sounds selfish, but this is supposed to be a really happy time and it isn't.

Can this feeling be turned around?

Married and Miserable

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LOUISE SAYS:

There is too much on your plate. Let’s use the serenity prayer and consider what you can change. The court date is not your own. You’re a new bride who wants to support her new husband, but the court date is not yours. There is nothing you can do to make the court case go well except be a solid sounding board for your tense husband as the date looms closer. The ex-wife is not yours. There is nothing you can do to alter her poor behavior or her choice of a life partner. The children are not yours (I realize this one may hurt). There is little you can do to change the course of the way they are being raised by their parents.

So what can you do? Take care of yourself. This is not a selfish suggestion. You need to be healthy, and you need to clear some room in your head for the monumental changes you are facing as a newly minted wife and homemaker. The other part of your life that you can control will help everyone you care about in your new life: Create a warm place to come to. I believe every child and every partner craves this. Be there for the son and daughter when they need help with their homework. Get them used to having a peaceful family dinner every week. Provide them some time and space with their dad by planning a weekly night for yourself during their time at your house. Put your effort into creating the most welcoming place you can.

Notice I did not say insert yourself more into the raising of son and daughter. That time may come, but not now. Give them loads of time and patience to view you as the dependable presence in their lives. You can provide that warm place they did not even know they needed. When you go to sleep at night, you can rest assured that you’ve done what you can and released what you can’t control.

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HARRY SAYS:

I agree—you are being selfish. Time to grow up and be a woman.

Divorce can make all parties juvenile, especially the adults. Sounds to me that both your husband and his former wife are acting like children by not settling crucial matters such as custody, by allowing disputes to drag on and intrude on everyone’s lives. And though you may conclude that your husband’s ex-wife is to blame, it takes two to squabble.

I feel for the children. They are the true victims of divorce, especially when their birth parents fight over custody. Such battles damage their ability trust and form bonds throughout their lives, especially in love.

So you need to be the one adult in this Armageddon—for your new husband and for his children. Be the strong, silent one. Meditate. Accommodate. Facilitate. Above all, practice patience. This horrible time in your new family’s life will pass. The court date will come and go. The custody dispute will resolve itself. The children will grow up. The wounds of divorce will heal.

And you will have helped by being the strong adult when one was needed by everyone, and that can be the foundation for a strong family that grows from the broken one.

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LOUISE SAYS:

Much too harsh, Harry. She is not being selfish by taking time to take care of herself. Every new bride would love to have a honeymoon period, and she is missing hers.

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Boohoo to that. Life has intruded on her honeymoon period, which will have to wait. It will be sweeter once the messiness is in their rearview mirror.