Q: I broke up with my ex about three years ago. He wouldn't stop cheating, and I just got tired of it. I've definitely moved on and I plan to marry within the year. Over the past few months, my ex has started texting me provocative things, tells me how much he misses me and tries to set up coffee dates with the excuse of discussing the kids. I try to play it down, but it seems to be getting worse. I'm afraid if I shut him down it will interfere with our coparenting (We have three children). Should I tell my fiancé? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: I see so many red flags — and they begin and end with your blurry boundaries. He's texting you like this because you are not making it clear that he shouldn't. He obviously likes the titillation of an affair and now that you have moved on, it looks like it is incentive for him to try with you, even though you used to be his wife. Of course, his efforts might be sincere and a last-ditch effort to get you back before you marry. Only you can make the decision if that makes any difference at all.
As far as the advances — they will stop when you make it clear to stop. Fear of setting him straight sounds like leftovers from your old relationship. When you were together and disagreed, did he withhold approval? Affection? Communication? Or, since you have children and all of you may have to interact (you, your ex and your fiancé), could it be fear that saying something may make that interaction uncomfortable? Your fiancé will obviously not appreciate your ex hitting on you. If that's the case, that's truly understandable, but it will still end when you get tough and stand your ground.
Now, here's the catch — although good ex-etiquette Rule No. 8 is "Be honest and straightforward in all your interactions," and that implies you should tell your fiance what's happening, I vote for taking care of it yourself, first. And, that means in no uncertain terms, be honest and straightforward with your ex. Let him know that you are only interested in discussing the children and nothing else. You are not swayed by the flirting and will not meet him for dates.
Some might say the easiest thing to do when you get unwanted texts is just change your phone number — but you have to have some way to contact each other when you share children. A good alternative is to have a house phone number with voice mail and keep all cell numbers private. If Dad must contact you, he can leave a message on the house phone. It is not immediate contact, but it will allow you your privacy and prevent unwanted interaction.
I hope for your children's sake this won't be necessary. "Knock it off," may be all that's needed. Be an example of what you want. If you don't want the attention, don't send the message that maybe you do. That's good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and the founder of bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at drjannblackstonegmail.com.