How do I keep my ex-husband from flirting with me at special events for our children? We are both still unmarried but it is very uncomfortable to be around him when he acts this way toward me. I am also concerned about the message it sends to our children.
Unfortunately, it sounds like someone didn’t get the message that he’s now a divorced man and needs to move forward with his life. There is nothing cute about him continuing to treat you this way, even if he thinks he’s flattering you. Here are a few thoughts to consider.
First, make sure you’re not sending mixed signals to him about your relationship. Most divorced parents desire a cooperative parenting arrangement that protects the children from being caught in the middle of adult issues. As a result, one or both can unintentionally create such a relaxed and informal relationship with their ex that it appears there was never really a divorce.
For example, exes may let themselves into the other’s house unannounced and make themself at home. Or, they expect to show up at every gathering that involves the children, even when it’s not their turn for visits. This type of arrangement might work for some divorced couples, but in your case, allowing such a lax arrangement could be sending the wrong message to your ex. The more formal you can make the boundaries of your relationship with him, the less confusing the signals about your relationship.
What your ex needs is more direct and clear boundaries that consistently communicate that the only relationship you have with him is a shared parenting responsibility. You may come across as being difficult or inflexible, but it will be more likely to send a clear signal to him that you are nothing more to him now than the mother of these children.
There is nothing wrong with directly describing to him what is happening and how you are not OK with the advances. Give specifics and let him know that this is confusing and harmful to the children who more than likely would love for their parents to get back together. I don’t think it will be productive for you to try and figure out why he is doing this with you. There could be all kinds of reasons. The fact remains that this is completely inappropriate and needs to be interrupted. You don’t want to make a scene in front of your children that will cause them further distress. This is not their fault and it’s best to keep protecting them as much as possible. There are plenty of ways to set boundaries with him in public that should send the message that you’re not going to play along with his advances.
If your signals are clear and your boundaries in place, yet he continues to ignore reality and flirt with you, then you may need to consider spending less time around each other when your children have events. Again, while it’s normal to believe that you can both be at the same events in a mutual spirit of support for these children, if he continues to use this as an opportunity to make inappropriate advances, you have to simply give him fewer opportunities.
Chances are, the reason you’re not married to him anymore have something to do with the fact that he doesn’t respect you as a person. As you can see, divorce isn’t the only boundary you’ll have to set with him to preserve your dignity. You can teach him how to treat you so there is no confusion for him and your children.
Revised Sept. 12, 2012. Columnist’s addition.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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