public shunning

A Real Man in Divorce: How My Ex-wife’s New Husband Stirs Up Discord

My ex-wife’s new husband (2-years now) does not like me. In fact, he now completely denies my presence on the planet. (SEE:Single Dad Survival Guide: “Dear Step Dad” Let’s Cooperate) It’s odd when I am dropping my 17-year-old daughter off at my old house, and there he is sitting on the tailgate of his car at the top of the driveway. My daughter waves to him. But, because he is actively shunning me, he can’t acknowledge her wave without at least acknowledging my presence. When this first began to happen, two summers ago, he had more than a few bones to pick with me. Today, there’s nothing but goodwill coming from me, along with the $900 per month, I’m still paying my ex-wife, on behalf of my daughter.

I Will Not Be Erased

Let me get this straight. This man is in my former house, with my former wife, and has unlimited access to my kids, and he’s shunning me?

A few summers ago this all came to a head in an odd scene that took me over a year to figure out. Let me recount my first understanding of this unpleasant encounter.

I was dating a new woman in a nearby city and I had left my tennis rackets at her house. I texted my ex-wife and asked if I could come by and get the racket I had loaned my daughter. After about an hour, I got a “Sure.” My ex likes to delay responding to any text. (Is it a passive aggressive move, or just a dick move, you tell me?) I texted back, “I’ll ping you guys before I come by, so I won’t be a surprise. It should be around 2 pm. Thank you.”

An hour or so later, at 1 pm, I texted my ex-wife, “Okay, I’m on my way. Thanks again.”

As I arrived at the house, I left the car running and started walking up the driveway. My girlfriend and two of her friends remained in the car. I noticed my ex-wife and her husband were working in the front garden together. (In my mind, they should’ve been in a happy mood, doing what they loved to do.) But things were different than I assumed. My ex-wife confronted me at the top of the stairs.

“She’s not here,” she said.

“It’s okay, I know where the racket is. I’ll just go get it.”

“No, you can’t go in.” This was a first. I had often (as in weekly) gone into my old house and retrieved my kid’s bags for dad weekend. Something was different.

“Can you go get the racket? She said it was in her closet.”

“No. I’m busy.”

In the moment, I was certain she was just being mean. I didn’t understand why she would prevent me from getting my racket back, even after I’d been so clear and kind in my navigating the request. I noticed she didn’t look me in the eye. I chalked it up to her being furious about something. But I couldn’t find anything in her current agenda that would be so vengeful.

Oh, wait, sure I can. I was about to pay her $40,000 tax-free cash, to catch up on back child support debt I had incurred during several unfortunate periods of unemployment. But I was paying her, next week. I told them both, I was just waiting for the accounting from the AG’s office to give me the final amount I owed. Her. (Them.) I had asked if she could put SOME PERCENTAGE of the money aside for college funds. But in this moment, nothing occurred to me about why she behaved like such an asshole to me.

The New Husband May Never Like You

The ah-ha moment came last summer when my daughter had a minor car wreck. I was the first person she called, and thus, the first person on the scene to comfort her. It was her first wreck and she needed to be held and told, “It’s okay. You’re safe. We can work it out. You’re okay.” She sobbed in my arms as she released the tension from the accident. The driver who had hit her from behind had fled the scene. And her car had pushed into the car in front of her.

The moment her stepdad arrived (she never calls him that) his rage and active negation of me was palpable to everyone involved. The young lady who had been rear-ended by my daughter was alarmed as this angry man rushed at me. “It’s not your insurance! It’s not your car!”

AH-HA. Perhaps, I reasoned later, it was not my ex-wife who was such a shitty person about the retrieval of the tennis racket. Perhaps it was this angry man, this man who gets more time with my kids than I do, (More than double my time, btw.) who demanded his new wife not let me in the house. He was drawing a boundary. He was feeling violated by my free ingress and egress of my former home, and he wanted to put the barrier up that said, “My house. My wife. My car.”

Releasing the Devil You Know

Once I understood that it was this man who was being vindictive, petty, and shameful, I could release my own pain. I could howl at the moon for how I wished things would be different, how I wished and worked towards us all being friends. And I could howl to acknowledge the loss. He had my daughter every night. He had my ex-wife. (I didn’t envy him on this one.) He had my house. And his bitter darts were fired at my out of HIS PAIN and NOT MINE. My pain was something different. And this man was not a part of my story at all. I didn’t owe him anything. And I didn’t need to care too much about if he liked me or not. He was a decent man, other than his behavior towards me. My kids seemed to like him. And he hated me.

In order for me to release this man, I had to deal with my own pain. I had to feel the pain his shunning was causing me. But then, the ninja move was to bless him and send him and his anger on his way. I did not need a relationship with this man. I didn’t need him to shake my hand at family events. I didn’t need him to be an honorable man and treat me as another human being. Nope. This man can wallow in his anger and vitriol, and NONE OF IT IS MINE. Not one bit.

Today, I release the devil I know in both him (the “step-dad” stereotype personified) and my ex-wife. I hope that their mutual anger and unresolved pain can find resolution at some point in their lives. I no longer have to give him a centimeter in my heart. Yes, I understand, that both my ex-wife and her husband will blame me for the tension and frigid acknowledgments of each other as we move into the coming years. My smile in these situations will be my armor. I don’t need anything from my ex-wife or this man who hates me. His just reward is coming from a source much higher than me. And I will reserve my judgment and “inventory taking” of him or my ex-wife from here on out.

“Bless their hearts. Both of them. May they find the peace and love to eventually heal their hearts.”

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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