Question

I have been divorced for five years, but have never truly given up hope that the relationship might still be reconciled. However, last week my ex-husband sent me an email stating that not only had he remarried, he had actually been married for years, literally right after the divorce was final.

My adult daughters have kept this from me because their father asked them not to tell me. They have been lying to me for years. I feel as if I am in the throes of the divorce once again and I am devastated that they have had a stepmother unbeknownst to me.

What is the best way to go forward in the future with regards to the relationship to my daughters and their husbands and children? I feel foolish and stupid. I know I should choose different feelings, but it is very hard to go forward with this news even though everyone else has, and has been doing so for years.

Answer

While your ex-husband doesn’t have an obligation to tell you about his personal life, he does have an obligation to keep your children out of the middle of your post-divorce lives. It’s fine if he wants to keep his marriage secret from you. But your daughters need to be free to talk about their lives, even if that includes mentioning his new wife. Your children don’t need to manage his information and put on a performance when they’re around you. This causes tremendous pain not only for you, but for them as well. No one should be required to be a secret-keeper.

You are in great pain learning that reconciliation with your ex-husband is no longer an option. You’re right that it’s a new level of grief and loss that you didn’t anticipate. This will sting for a while as you cope with the reality of an uncertain direction for your life. Take the time you need to work through the shock and pain of this new discovery. There is nothing urgent to respond to with this discovery. Your current life isn’t going to change with this news, even though you physically feel like you were punched in the gut.

Also, please recognize that your children were put in a split loyalty situation that wasn’t fair to them. Yes, they were hiding information from you. At the same time, they were asked to choose sides. I know nothing of your relationship history with your children, but they clearly felt loyal enough to your ex-husband to keep this information from you. If there are reasons your children felt they didn’t want you to know, have the humility to ask them why they felt it was important to keep that from you. Perhaps they were worried about your mental and emotional stability. Perhaps they didn’t want more drama between their parents. Or, they were vulnerable to their dad’s preferences that put his needs above their needs to live a secret-free life.

Ultimately, I hope you can arrive at a place of compassion for the position they were put in. I recognize they’re adults and can make their own decisions. However, the pull of the parent-child relationship is powerful and can affect rational thinking in otherwise mature adults.

The truth is that if he didn’t want his marriage to be made public, his best option would have been to hide it from everyone. That way, his children wouldn’t have to be secret keepers.

How should you respond to your children? First, find out why they felt they couldn’t tell you. Let them know you want to be open to their feedback. If they don’t have any specific relationship feedback for you, then focus on their experience of having to be secret keepers. My guess is that it’s more stressful for them than you realize. Stay curious about their experience and let them know you don’t blame them for keeping you out of the loop. Let them know it caught you off guard and you are now beginning your own personal process of adapting to this new reality.

You don’t need to treat them any differently, as if they were unfaithful to you. Love them like you’ve always loved them. Recognize the position they were put in and continue connecting with them. This other woman hasn’t replaced you. She is his wife. You are their mother and grandmother. Don’t let your grief about this situation affect your ability to connect to your children.

Please don’t put them back in the middle of this and talk about how unfair this was and complain about their father. Those feelings are between you and your ex-husband. You can certainly reply to his email and let him know how this affected you. Or, you can just move forward in your life and accept that he has no respect for you.

You are not stupid or foolish. You feel foolish because you were hanging onto a dream that you recently learned wasn’t even an option that whole time. It can feel like you’ve wasted years of your life. You haven’t lost any time or any respect. They knew you didn’t know, so you’re no fool. You were fooled and that accountability rests with your ex-husband. Your children now don’t have to pretend, which will be a relief for them.

You will eventually accept this new reality. It’s okay that it hurts right now. Your children and grandchildren still need you and don’t need an interruption in connection because you feel stupid for not knowing. They’ve already accepted the reality and they will not even notice that you are gradually accepting it. You still have so much to contribute and offer your family.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT