Caroline West-Meads: She is determined to split us up

Ask caroline

Q. My boyfriend’s ex-wife is ruining our relationship. We have been together for two years but they divorced before we met – she left him for someone else (who was richer and more successful). My boyfriend said that it was almost a relief as he had been unhappy for a while. At first our relationship was wonderful. He is lovely, funny, kind and clever, and I get on well with his teenage children and he gets on with mine (they are in their 20s). We spent our time between each other’s houses and spoke about moving in together post-pandemic. However, a few months ago his ex-wife split up with her partner and now all hell has broken loose. She keeps telling him that she made a terrible mistake and wants him back and has insisted I can’t go to his house when their children are there. She doesn’t want them to have anything to do with me. He has told her firmly that their relationship is over, but she just replies that if she finds out through their mutual friends that I have seen him when he has the kids, she will not let them stay again. She has no right to do this but he refuses to stand up to her. He tells me that he has to go along with it or she will turn his children against him and find other ways to cause problems. He seems resigned to having to wait years until we can live together – when the children can make their own decisions. But the youngest is only 13 and I don’t want us to lead separate lives in the meantime.

A. It is so sad and selfish when people put their own hurt, anger and jealousy before their children’s needs as your boyfriend’s ex-wife is doing. It sounds as though now that things have gone wrong in her relationship she can’t bear that he is happy. It seems she is determined to split you up. Sometimes (though by no means always) people who are very kind, like your boyfriend, are not the most assertive because they put the needs of others first. His ex-wife sounds controlling and unreasonable – I expect he did not stand up to her much when they were married either. He might have even been a little afraid of her moods and volatility. It’s understandable that he is worried about her turning the children against him but he doesn’t need to keep dancing to her tune. She must be told clearly (but compassionately) that her behaviour could damage her children. He could tell her he is sorry that her new relationship is over and that he wants her to be happy but she has to accept that he has moved on since their marriage ended. He should explain that they have two beautiful children who need close bonds with both parents. Hopefully, mutual friends could back him up on this. Of course, this relies on her being reasonable, and her current form suggests she isn’t, so he could contact (01202 805020) who can help with legal advice. You shouldn’t have to hide for the next few years – but don’t let her split you up; he sounds worth keeping.

Why does his friend want to confide in me?

Q. A few weeks ago, a friend of my husband rang asking for my advice about his marriage. We’ve always got on well and have become friends in our own right. I was happy to listen and help and he asked if we could talk again. I’m fine with this but he told me not to tell my husband as their friendship is a typical blokey one and they never talk about the ‘deeper’ stuff. He thought my husband might think less of him. But now I’m in an awkward position. My husband knows he is confiding in me (but not what about) and is a bit annoyed that his friend chose me and not him. He can’t tell him that, of course, as his friend thinks that he knows nothing about it. What do I do?

A. I can see why your husband might be troubled by this, as well as a little annoyed – but the problem can be solved. Firstly, he might wonder if his friend fancies you, and although in your longer letter you say you don’t have any romantic interest in him, do guard against it from his side. Be supportive and kind, but avoid flirtation. Secondly, your husband may be a little put out by not being entrusted with his friend’s confidence. The chances are he just wants a woman’s viewpoint on the problems in his marriage. So reassure your husband that there is no threat and that it doesn’t mean his friend values him any less. Tell him his friend needs help understanding how women think. If your husband remains miffed, you could always tell your friend that he should try talking to your husband, too. Explain that he would be supportive and understanding (if you think he would, of course).