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Ex Says She Wants Me Back - Agony Aunt

Ask Anne

Dear Anne

My wife left me and my 3 teenage sons almost a year ago now. She set up home with another man and we are still on amiable terms. I recently started seeing another woman. Since she found out, my wife started saying that she always wanted to come back and try again. She says she doesn't really love her new guy and that she's told him that she's given him up to June (or when they come back from holiday together) to see if their relationship will really work. In reality she always made it clear that she was never coming back to me and in honesty that signal helped me move on (although I was devastated at the time ). She seems very concerned as to how my current relationship is developing. My sons stay with her whenever they want and they get on well with her new boyfriend. There's probably a dozen points I've omitted but in this short outline do you think my wife is being genuine or is it simply a reaction to me seeing someone else and her guilt rising to the surface. The "nasty" person in me is saying she's only doing this so she can turn the table and tell everyone, "I tried, but he found someone else and he wasn't interested." Like I say we still speak and are great friends and I don't really want to risk that (as well as the fact we share 3 great kids ) by confronting her, but I find myself in an abyss and need to move on. Plus it's really not fair on my new girlfriend who is completely unaware of these issues, again for many reasons, one being I don't want her to feel threatened (and dump me when the whole thing is a charade and I don't really know if I want my wife back after what she did to me) and also I really don't want her to dislike my wife. Hope this makes some sort of sense to you. I welcome your thoughts. Thank you. Daniel

Dear Daniel

There's your wife - and don't you think you could call her your ex now that she's left you and has been living with another guy for a while? - there's your wife acting like a dog in a manger. A dog doesn't eat hay but sits on it stopping the cattle from eating what they need. It's a bit perverse, don't you think? And there's you, who've done a great job of moving on. You've managed an amicable split (though it was probably bumpy at first when she chose to devastate you by leaving you) and you've created good, shared, responsible co-parenting. You've got a new girlfriend, and great! I hope that works out for you. It may, or it may not, but only time will tell. So why is your ex suddenly doing all this wanting you back?

People don't always understand their own motivations. She may genuinely believe that because her her new relationship isn't as good as she hoped she wants you back. It doesn't mean it's fair of her, though. Both leaving you and setting up with a new guy give pretty clear messages, don't they? She could have chosen to stay with you (as she'd promised in her vows) and to work out any problems she had with you.

But she didn't do that, which doesn't speak well of her problem-solving skills or her emotional clarity. If she'd loved you well, she wouldn't have gone. But go she did because the love she offered you wasn't good, or stable, or reliable. Which again speaks about her. Do you really want to invite more of that?

Now she's going in for the Monkey Syndrome. You know, where you don't let go of one branch (or guy) until you've got another one lined up. Her real motivations may be regret, some small measure of guilt (because if she'd been guilty enough she'd have stayed with you and sorted things out in the first place), or fear of being alone. And no doubt she is genuinely fond of you because you're a nice guy. She could also be jealous now, because she sees another woman valuing what she didn't. And she could be genuinely less happy with the new guy than the unrealistic expectations she'd had. And yes, she may also be small-minded enough to want to go, "See, everyone? I'm not the bad one here; he is." But the fact remains: she left you and lived with someone else. She's responsible for being where she is and for the hurt she's caused you. The buck stops at her door. And generally leopards don't change their spots.

Should you confront her? There's not much point. She's likely to give (and even believe!) the answer that paints her in the best light, whatever her real and probably confused motivations may be. So should you welcome her back with open arms? Or should you don a suit of armour to protect you from her hurtfulness, her manipulations and selfish havering? I can't make that decision for you. But I bet you can guess what I think!

Your new lady, then. Is she likely to like your ex? She may do. She may not. They may not have that much in common, apart from you and your kids. She may be possessive and therefore territorial. She may be prejudiced against her because of all the hurt she's caused you. I don't know. But her feelings about your ex aren't your responsibility. Nor are they in your control. Liking is a bit much to ask. Hopefully she can at least be civilised to and about your ex.

I do think it's fair that if you and your new girlfriend are getting on well enough for you to think there's a chance for you both, that you at least tell her your ex wants you back. For one thing, doesn't she deserve honesty? Your confusion is bound to reflect somewhere in your behaviour and you don't want her to start thinking there's something you're hiding from her. If, when you've thought things through, you decide you're not going to open yourself up to your ex's hurtfulness again, you can also tell your girlfriend that you're glad you've moved on and want to see what they two of you can build together. That's reassuring, and she may need that reassurance. You may even choose to do your thinking first and then let her know what I hope will be good news for her.

Oh, and your kids may want you to recreate the original nuclear family, because that's what most kids want at first. But their mother will still be herself with all her shortcomings and good qualities, and it may be far kinder in the long run for both of you to form good new relationships. On-again off-again ones seldom work out well.

Over to you, Daniel. I wish you every happiness.

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