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Ask Coach Jen K. Your Own Question

Coach Jen K.
Coach Jen K., LCSW, CPC
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 1776
Experience:  Licensed Master Social Worker. Certified Coach Mom of Twins.
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Dear counselor, I need some advice on resolving an ongoing

Resolved Question:

Dear counselor,
I need some advice on resolving an ongoing issue between my partner Mat and I, about how he deals with his ex Amber the mother of his children, age 11 & 9.

Mat and I met 11 years ago at art school. We were in a relationship for 2 and a half years after finishing uni, which ended in a nasty breakup involving domestic violence and mental illness, but after a 3 year separation, we have been together again for 2 years.
We have made good progress in this time, resolving disputes in a much healthier way, but there are a few issues that cause major upset.
Our current conflict is about how he deals with his ex, which makes me feel that he puts her needs before mine, and that I am always '2nd best' to her.
The last time we were in a relationship, they were in constant conflict to the point that I became the 'middle man' in communication regarding arrangements with the children. When we split up, I lived in a women's refuge for 2 years, whilst Mat spent some time in a mental health hospital. During those 3 years apart, Amber was fully supportive from the outset, of me continuing my relationship with the children, knowing that we were close. This resulted in me staying with her/caring for the children at her home for a weekend or more every 1-2 months. During this time, we became friends, despite being quite different in personalities. Her relationship with Mat also improved over that time. When Mat and I got back together 2 years ago, relationships between everyone involved were probably at an all time high, being able to spend time together at birthdays/parties/important events: Amber and her partner Dan, Mat and I , and the children. We felt proud of ourselves for being able to create a happy harmonious atmosphere within the family, particularly for Max and Alice.
However, over the last year or so, I have felt that Mat's good intentions to sustain a positive relationship with Amber has taken priority over our relationship with each other, and has become the source of many bitter arguements. We have a routine where the children are with us every wednesday, every other weekend, half the school holidays, and on additional days as and when. The problem is that when Amber asks to change the dates/days/routine etc, that Mat says 'ok' without discussing it with me first, which means that where we have had plans, we have had to cancel them. As Mat and I currently have separate homes due to work committments (I had to move away when we split up as the women's refuge where I was staying deemed it not safe to stay in the area. I then got a job at a school that I love and intend to stay there for at least another 2 years), our routine of seeing each other is particularly important to me as the main reason we argued and split up last time is that mat was working away at the time and i could not cope with the on/off together/separation.
So for example, Amber had asked mat if we would have the kids on her birthday and into the following week so that she could go away with friends, which was fine. Then at the last minute she announced that she would be going away 2 days earlier than planned, which conflicted with our plans to see each other on the thursday. Mat agreed to this without talking to me first, and then refused to challenge her about it as he said it would cause a major arguement with her that would then affect the children.
Although I agree with him in accommodating her as much as possible to promote positive relations, I feel that where her plans have a negative impact on our relationship and our plans, that we should be able to say no. After a number of arguements and lengthy discussions about this, nearly causing us to break up last time, we came to an agreement/strategy/promise between us that when Amber asks him to change arrangements/do favours for her, that he always discusses it with me first before committing, and that where possible, we will accommodate her.
And so to our latest fallout, whereby she has taken the children on holiday to canada for three weeks, coming back on the 14th august. on saturday just gone he tells me that he is picking her and the children up from the airport (3 hr drive each way). I asked him when this was arranged, he said a week and a half ago when she was picking them up from his place, apparently her partner is now 'busy' on that day, and he just said yes, without the aforementioned strategy of discussing it with me first. He claims that he just 'forgot', and 'forgot' to mention it to me till now. I feel so angry about this, as I feel all the arguements, discussion, and promises made last time, were empty and meaninless. I feel that yet again, his desire to placate his ex is more important than the dynamics of our relationship, and don't want to spend the rest of my life as an outsider to his relationship with his ex. I suggested that he either cancel the arrangement, or that I should come too and sit in the front with him. He says i'm being unreasonable. help
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Coach Jen K. replied 2 years ago.

CoachJenK :

Hi. Welcome. I am a Licensed Master Social Worker with more than 20 years experience working with individuals and families.

CoachJenK :

I think you have all done a wonderful job in working together to suit the needs of all involved.

CoachJenK :

you have been through a lot together as a couple and as an extended family unit.

CoachJenK :

I think because you have done a wonderful job of all integrating so well with each other that he may find it easy to say yes without checking with you first, but I see it as more for the children than to placate his wife.

CoachJenK :

I don't view you as the outsider or second best at all....you sound like a terrific woman who has helped heala lot of things and bring this family together.

CoachJenK :

I can understand that it feels slighting and i do believe there is a way to talk with him about it without it erupting into big blow outs.

CoachJenK :

I might also suggest that since you have worked so hard creating such a great dynamic for all that you extend a little leeway to all. I dont believe you want the dynamic that you have worked so hard to build to fall apart over these "minor" issues.

CoachJenK :

I dont see you as unreasonable but it may just be a matter of changing your framework about it all.

CoachJenK :

tell me your thoughts so far

Customer:

thanks for the advice so far. I feel betrayed that he has let me down on a promise yet again , and doesnt seem to think it is a big deal. I have asked him to either cancel the arrangements or allow me to come with, to show that although he has made a mistake, that he puts me first before his ex. I have also sugessted that we pick up the kids together but she make her own way home from the airport. she is a grown woman, how has she not arranged travel home from a holiday? I know i sound angry but i am, it's the principle at stake here. I feel that if i just let this wash over that he can use the same excuse of 'i forgot' for the rest of our lives. I am not overly comfortable with him having a little road trip with his ex girlfriend (not wife), and kids, but had he had the courtesy to speak to me about it first i would at least have felt respected and valued and we could have worked something out. as it is i feel he has gone behind my back and excluded me from the 'family unit' and therefore needs to now rectify the situation by putting my feelings first.

CoachJenK :

I understand all of what you are saying i truly do. sometimes we create things that i call internal constructions...meaning that we give meaning to something and it remains true for us....so in this case you feel that if he does this that he puts his ex first and not you. That meaning lingers for you and causes these terrible feelings. the other way you could go on this is to say, what a wonderful Dad that he does this for his kids. Remember that he is with you and not her! I am not saying you dont discuss your feelings with him but maybe in a different way....such as...

CoachJenK :

"Honey, I love you, i think you are a terrific Dad, we have built a great relationship with all of us. I know you say you forgot to tell me, and i accept that, but when you do that I feel second best. It may sound silly to you, but that is how I feel, so please next time think of me too. Can you do that for me?"

Customer:

yes, I agree, but the problem is that we have had that conversation so many times, that i feel it has become meaningless. when he says 'sorry' but does the same thing over and over, how long do I take that for? I know that he is not the best with memory, but feel that it is his responsibility to manage that effectively and not use it as an excuse. to use an extreme example, its like me being unfaithful to him and saying 'sorry, i forgot i had a boyfriend... don't make a big deal out of it' (not that i have ever been unfaithful). I don't want to split up over this after everything we've worked for, but also don't want to have the same arguements over and over. do you think it's unreasonable for me to ask him to make a gesture in this situation that shows it was a genuine mistake and that he puts me first?

CoachJenK :

your extreme example of you being unfaithful shows me how deep this wound is for you because clearly he is not being unfaithful but that is how heavy it feels for you.

CoachJenK :

Do I think it is unreasonable to ask him for a gesture? I wouldnt say unreasonable, but maybe unnecessary because it feels more like punishment.

CoachJenK :

you are his number 1 and these things exist ALL the time when there are kids involved.

CoachJenK :

not easy for the one who always has to accommodate and I feel for you, but I dont want you to throw it away over this.

CoachJenK :

I would keep talking to him about it with love and understanding rather than arguing.

CoachJenK :

I am all for you advocating for your needs around this and yes it is tiring because it is the same old thing but I think at those moments when she asks him these things his natural reaction is to say yes first..also not uncommon

CoachJenK :

in terms of the gesture....I might say I would love to go with you and I hope you will consider that.

CoachJenK :

thoughts?

Customer:

I did sugesst that but also said that i did not want to sit in the back seat making small talk with amber....i would want to sit next to him. I realise that seems petty, but this is part of the problem. where i once was on friendly positive terms with amber, i now feel threatened and jealous of her by the way he puts her first. He insists that he wants one of the children in the front seat. I understand that but have said that therefore its either me or amber in the car, his choice. he chooses her

CoachJenK :

Your feelings are not petty i am just offering some views for you to feel secure in your position. They are not together and you are.

CoachJenK :

either way now you are going to feel slighted...if you go you feel slighted being in the back seat and if you dont go you feel slighted.

CoachJenK :

so how can we help you to let some of this go and continue working on the larger issue of his giving you the respect that you desire and deserve around this?

Customer:

then surely he should cancel? it was supposed to be amber's partner dan picking them up, but he is now 'busy'. Surely he should not be making other plans when he has arranged to be picking them up? why sould our relationship have to suffer yet again to accommodate them?

CoachJenK :

I understand that and i can only answer that by saying because they are his kids.

CoachJenK :

your feelings and your position is not uncommon and i just want you to feel secure in things no matter what he decides for his children as the two are unrelated.

Customer:

yes, they are his kids, but she is not his girlfriend any more. he has a responsibility to them and to me but not to her. as i said, we can pick up the kids together and she can make her own way home.

CoachJenK :

ah that sounds a bit harsh, no? That would have the kids feel awful.

Customer:

why cant i sit in the front seat then?!

CoachJenK :

if you were saying to me that she was on vacation without the kids and dan couldnt get her and he was going that would be a different story.

Customer:

she is so irresponsible. I'm sorry for venting but that's why i came to this page as i felt i had no one else to talk to.

CoachJenK :

You do not have to apologize at all. I truly understand what you feel and I am wanting to soothe that for you.

CoachJenK :

sometimes we all find ourselves fighting against things that end up still hurting us.

CoachJenK :

these relationships can be very complicated

CoachJenK :

but remember you built a friendship and understanding with her so let it continue to flow.

Customer:

she booked this holiday then said she couldnt afford it and mat gave her £400, when he just borrowed £500 from me for the rent! not that that's really part of the issue but it still grates...as long as he continues to placate her she will continue to take advantage

CoachJenK :

and that is above and beyond and awful for you to deal with.

CoachJenK :

If it gets too much for you then you have the option to leave this relationship.

CoachJenK :

but if you decide to stay then these issues will most likely always be there and it will be up to you to continue to advocate for what you need.

Customer:

well that's just it. how many second chances do you give? how many times do you accept sorry without any change? when do you say enough's enough?

CoachJenK :

when you cannot take it anymore...when you know that your tolerance has been used up. When you feel like you just cant do it anymore.

CoachJenK :

we all have a limit and you will know when yours has been reached.

Customer:

Its that 30 something conundrum, after 10 years on and off, I want children myself, if we end this now i feel i have wasted all these years on him and lost the opportunity to have children

CoachJenK :

You still have time to have children but I understand that pressure. You are in a tough spot for sure and the best thing is to keep advocating for what you need around it....it may just need to be that this will be the hot button issue.

Customer:

what does hot button issue mean?

CoachJenK :

it gets old but it just may be that way...this is a tough one for him clearly and whatever choice he makes "hurts" someone.

CoachJenK :

hot button meaning that it will continue to appear and continue to stir these very deep emotions for you.

CoachJenK :

but I dont see you as second best.

Customer:

so why is it always me that is the one that is hurt? that's how it feels, that he would rather fall out with me/end our relationship, than risk an arguement with her

CoachJenK :

so common when there are children involved...easier to hurt the girlfriend rather than upset that balance.

CoachJenK :

but it still doesnt mean you are second best it just may tap into something in him that he wants to be the good guy and the good dad.

Customer:

so why have a girlfriend then, thats what i don't understand. if his loyalties will always lie with his ex, why bring another person into the equation?

CoachJenK :

his loyalties lie with the children, but that doesnt mean he doesnt care and love you.

CoachJenK :

he may feel caught at times and wants to do the right thin by his kids and in these situations there is the potential for hurt feelings so my goal for you is to advocate for what you need but also gain some undrstanding for the complicated situation.

Customer:

so do you think i should just let them have this little road trip together without me and swallow the hurt yet again?

CoachJenK :

I think the best thing is to give him the road trip but never swallow how you feel. So I would let him know you are hurt by him not discussing it with you and you hope things change moving forward

CoachJenK :

and if this stuff continues then you will know when you cant take it anymore.

CoachJenK :

come to me anytime for more support.

CoachJenK :

I am here to listen and help as best I can.

CoachJenK :

can I support you further now?

Customer:

thanks for your time and advice

CoachJenK :

anytime. Please take a moment to click on the rating tab to offer a rating of my work. My goal is excellent.

Coach Jen K., LCSW, CPC
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 1776
Experience: Licensed Master Social Worker. Certified Coach Mom of Twins.
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