Q: Do you think it's normal for my husband and his ex-wife to constantly be calling and texting each other when their children are adults, ages 25 and 27? There were 179 texts in three months — all when he is at work. I checked the phone bill after his daughter's wedding. This is the second time this has happened. The first time I told him to choose her or me. Doesn't look like it worked. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: I always find it amusing when someone asks me, "Is it normal" to do anything. What is normal to one is not normal to another.
I think what you're asking is, "Is it acceptable for my husband and his ex to stay in close contact?"
Good ex-etiquette suggests yes and no.
Good ex-etiquette dictates that divorced or separated parents remain as cordial as possible after the break-up in the best interest of their children. Of course, if there is a special occasion such as a wedding, a birth, even a funeral, exes may be in contact more than usual. They have to discuss finances, attire, invitation lists, arrival times, etc. In that case, increased communication is understandable. (That's a yes.)
But 179 texts in three months? That's a lot in anyone's book. With your history, it's understandable why you might see that as a red flag.
Unfortunately, as a result of all this, you felt it necessary to give your husband an ultimatum. As you have seen, ultimatums seldom work. They're a sign of desperation and rarely get the desired results. "Okay, step over this line, and we are through." They do. "Okay, step over THIS line, and we are through." And, your husband has.
Rule No. 4 of The Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette is, "Set clear boundaries. (Know your deal breakers.)" It sounds like neither you nor your husband knows exactly where you draw the line.
Although you didn't officially say that you're afraid your husband is cheating, that's the implication. Truth is, both of your behaviors — his secret texting and your checking the phone bill — are behaviors associated with a partner cheating. They are red flags that the trust on which a successful relationship is based has been broken.
There are a couple of things that must happen in order for a relationship to continue after any sort of betrayal.
The partner who betrayed must be repentant, honest and willing to fully participate in the revival of the marriage. As healing begins, the hurt partner must witness positive changes taking place. You say you haven't. Your husband has continued to be what you think is too familiar with his ex. This just fuels your distrust, jealousy and anger.
My suggestion? Get some help.
Make an appointment with a good marriage counselor rather than white-knuckle it by yourselves. If you can fix it, try, but not using ultimatums.
Ex-Etiquette rule No. 8 is, "Be honest and straightforward." You both have to do the work.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and the founder of bonusfamilies.com. Email her at drjannblackstonegmail.com.