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Evil Ex-Spouses (8/16/06)

Dear Zelda,

My ex won't leave me alone. We've been divorced for six years and she continues to call and stop by my home unannounced. Our conversations always start out friendly but they typically end in an ugly shouting match. She wants to relive our past and solve the problems that led to our divorce.  We have a grown daughter and I don't want to involve her in this problem. I've remarried and my new wife is unhappy with the recurring visits of my former wife. Do you have any suggestions?

Divorced but not Forgotten

Dear Divorced but not Forgotten,

It sounds like your ex couldn't live with you, and now she can't live without you. As I see it, her problem is that she hasn't moved on, and you continue to allow her to stay in close touch.  You are, in fact, her enabler. Perhaps she suffers from "leaver's remorse," and maybe you're just a nice guy and are afraid to hurt her, or maybe you can't let go either.
  
Whatever the motivation, you are remarried now, and you need to change the way your former wife is communicating with you. After all, you did get a divorce. At this point there is no benefit in rehashing your past problems. It isn't relevant, it doesn't add to your life, nor is it fair to your present wife. Unfortunately divorce runs deeper than the legal papers and the signatures on the dotted lines. There can be deep-seated resentments and unresolved issues on both sides. People burn bridges, grow up, fall down, get up and start over again. But it's been six years! Now it's your responsibility to establish boundaries between your new life and your ex-wife.  Write her a polite letter, even if you whisper her name in murderous effigy, and let her know that if she needs to get in touch with you, from now on she should do so in writing. Let her know she can e-mail you or send you letters. Tell her directly but respectfully that you have a new life and a new wife, and she needs to respect your space and privacy. Tell her the same thing in person the next time she shows up.

If she continues to call or come by your home after you've asked her not to, you need to file a restraining order. No one wants to do this, but you have to find a way to establish a healthy buffer zone. In the tangled web of former spouses, sometimes only the spiders can be seen. Moving on is the way to begin healing old wounds, and it's a fundamental step in the recovery process. Your ex-wife may not understand or appreciate the distance at first, but trust me, it's better for everyone. It's time to show your ex the exit!

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

I lost my very high-paying job and no sooner had the ink dried on the unemployment notice when I received a court summons from my ex trying to maintain alimony which was based on my old paycheck. Her complaint was that I lost my job but I would still have to pay her. Although it is a good feeling that she is now in the real world, I also enjoyed my paycheck or what was left of it after her share was taken out. So Zelda, what is your take on this person? This seems to be an ongoing fight as to how much she is owed.

Ex-pensive

Dear Ex-pensive,

While some lawyers are often described as "bulldogs," we bulldogs actually don't make such great lawyers. Your question is basically a legal one, and despite all the time I spend barking and drooling, I'm not actually a lawyer, so I won't pretend to know the legal answer to your question. You'll have to talk to a professional and consult the terms of your actual settlement agreement. But from a personal point of view, let me make a suggestion: while you are feeling the squeeze on your wallet and may feel like putting a hex on your ex. stop for a minute and try looking at things from another perspective.

You have an alimony agreement, and it's the law. The key to dealing with alimony is to try and keep your emotions out of it. Remind yourself that it's part of your budget just like all of your other expenses: mortgage payment, telephone bill, or the repair on your new BMW. It's not optional. It's not going to get lower because you are now unemployed (unless your agreement says differently). It's a fixed amount of money that you are obligated to pay your former wife every month. You're still going to pay the electric bill... and you still have to pay the alimony. I know that when times get tough, relationships get even tougher. You may try to talk with her about the possibility of temporarily reducing your monthly payments, but ultimately you'll still need to continue to provide whatever support is detailed in your marital settlement agreement.

If writing the monthly check is painful for you, arrange with your bank to automatically deposit the money each month in your ex-wife's bank account. While you're at it, you'll need to adjust your budget and reduce your expenses until you're employed again.

I know this may not be the advice you were hoping for, but ultimately the law is the law, and you have to follow it. The best you can do is plan well, budget accordingly, and try not to let it affect you emotionally whenever possible. There's also a popular bumper sticker you might want to tape to your mirror..."Divorce: the screwing you get for the screwing you got."

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

My former husband truly is evil, and his latest ploy was to get a little puppy for our daughter. We've been divorced a year and our daughter is four years old and lives with me. Now she wants to be with her new puppy, but her father says that she can only see the puppy at his house. He has had a series of girlfriends living with him, none whom have lasted more than a couple of months. In addition, I worry that he isn't taking proper care of this little dog. I'm in a pickle and don't know what to do. Any canine advice?

Dogged Divorcee

Dear Dogged Divorcee,

Clearly you don't feel much affection for your "truly evil ex!" But your situation concerns me because divorce should never come in the way of a dog's, or especially a daughter's, well-being. Using them as pawns in your power struggle is one of the worst and most damaging decisions you can make in a divorce. Your job now is to make sure you don't stoop to your ex's level.  

The question is, what can you do about it? The answer is, not much. Divorce can definitely be a series of dog fights, and this is one dog fight I don't think you can win. While the puppy purchase may be a petty power play on the part of your ex-husband, he technically has every right to buy a dog and keep it for himself. If you do suspect true neglect or abuse on his part, you need to contact an animal rescue organization in your area, but don't do it unless you have good evidence to back up your claim. And don't let this become just another move in your power struggle. Short of obvious neglect, for the time being, I'd recommend letting sleeping dogs lie. The most important thing is not to let his antics affect your relationship with your daughter. Tell her you'd be happy to let her bring the puppy to your house, but she'll need Dad's permission to do so.

Who knows, your "evil ex" might have purchased the puppy partly for himself. I understand you believe him to be the walking incarnation of evil, but even the walking incarnation of evil may need a little unconditional love now and again, and he may have just realized why dogs earned the title "man's best friend." Perhaps the puppy will help both your ex and your daughter overcome some of the loneliness of a broken home. Children in divorce situations often find comfort in having a canine companion to tell their problems to. It's possible that your ex is looking for some of that canine comfort himself, and is not using the puppy as "daughter-and-date bait."

Continue sharing your interest in this new puppy with your daughter. Ask her where the puppy sleeps, what it eats, if it's playful, or what she likes to do with it. Engage her about the issue, then move on and enjoy your time together as usual. Be careful to stay away from anger and pettiness. Dogs and children don't "DO" divorce. They stick with you for life, and your divorce shouldn't be this puppy's plight, nor should it be your daughter's.
Zelda