Q: My ex and I were together for two years. We lived with my parents and she has been working for my father managing his office. We had a horrible fight, which was all her fault and she moved out last week. My father will not fire her. I feel like he's taking her side. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: I'm sure you want me to say that your father should side with you, but there's more at stake than an argument that may be the end of your relationship. It sounds like your ex runs your father's office, and he is waiting to see where this breakup will go before deciding if firing a competent manager is the right decision. Quickly firing her could have huge consequences on the business as well as your personal lives. I suspect that the business supports all of you. Your father may have seen you argue before and is hoping that things will blow over.
Relationships rarely break up after only one fight, so whatever you were fighting about — or, more likely, the way you were fighting — was the reason for the breakup.
For example, if your ex is a "leaver," when the fight gets to a certain point, she leaves the room. When that doesn't get the reaction she wants, she jumps in the car and leaves the house. If that doesn't work, she ups the ante — she threatens to leave the relationship. If you (and that's a collective "you and her") don't have a way to stop the fight from spinning out of control, one of you has to call the other's bluff to win. That means you stay quiet and she has to leave.
What could you have done?
Figure out a more fair way to disagree before an argument takes place, then stick to your agreement. In other words, learn to fight fair. A good couple's therapist can point you in the right direction.
In terms of good ex-etiquette, I'm not sure she's really your ex at this point. If you have faced this before, one of you will apologize and start the ball rolling toward reconciliation. Your father may know that, and that's the reason he's not reacting to a week old breakup. However, family-run businesses face this all the time. Allegiances are tested.
It really depends on why there is a breakup. If there's infidelity, drugs, alcohol or violence at the root of the failure, then its doubtful dad would keep her around under those circumstances. However, if it's just because you two can't get along, then that's your issue and a completely separate business decision.
This is a danger you have to face when you own a family business, and in those cases, it may be a good idea to have some sort of agreement/contract drawn up prior to working together that lays out how business decisions will be made if there is a breakup.
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.