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Please Help! Fiancé's Ex-Wife Alienating His Son From Him... how can I help?


CeBon

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Any advice would be welcome! I have never done an online thread before, but am at a loss for what to do, and want the best for my fiancé and his son. This situation is very new territory for me.

 

I recently moved in with my fiancé, who has been divorced for 8 years, and it appears to be the root of increasing parental alienation (PA) problems on the part his ex-wife. (Please note I didn't say his son has Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) - many people do not realize there is a difference, but it is quite important.)

 

They have a 9 year son, and share custody, with her having physical custody. They divorced when their son was three. Their agreement states my fiancé can have him every other weekend and one day a week, but that is difficult as he is stationed 10 hours away, roundtrip. (He has been in the military 20 years, and will retire this year at the age of 38.) When at home, he works odd shifts for 12-14 hours, from 9pm to 5am usually. Additionally, for the past several months, he has been scheduled to work nearly every weekend, with maybe one available every two months. (He worked Valentine's Day!) The schedule is something she will not make special consideration for in any way. Her answer to issues that come up is always "figure it out."

 

He and his son have in fact had a wonderful relationship despite the distance - my fiancé often makes the drive just to go to a parent-teacher conference, turn around and go straight in to work as soon as he gets home. He calls his son four or five times a week, although she never answers the phone when it rings. Anytime he talked to him before this past week, he was always greeted with an enthusiastic "Hi Dad! I miss and love you too! When are you coming to see me?" etc.

 

The situation started to become an uphill battle once his ex found out I was moving in. (She has known about me for the past two years now, and has had varying responses to our developments to include both disinterest and short bursts of well-wishes.) For instance, for their son's birthday party this past year, she had at first planned the party with my fiancé. He told her our plans, and shortly thereafter she stopped giving him details despite his numerous requests. She continuously said she would "let him know" when and where, then a few weeks after our "news", sent him photos of the party in a mass email. When he told his son he would have been there if he could have been, his son said his mom already told him his dad couldn't make it because of work.

 

Very suddenly, around Valentine's Day, his ex-wife said their son doesn't want to see or talk to his father. She also began referring to him by his first name when she addressed their son; when my fiancé told her to call him "Your Dad", she said their son started it. Since then, every time my fiancé has spoken to him, (and the one day he drove over to see him and was only welcomed for an hour or so), his son has gone back and forth between calling him by his first name and "Dad", (this has never happened before), unusually looking at his mother frequently during conversation, saying he only wants to talk to him if his mom is there, and answering his father's requests such as "Do you want to come to our place this weekend" with "I have to ask my mom." He now responds to his father's "I love you and miss you" with awkwardly rehearsed sounding "Thanks. That's nice of you to say". Very odd to hear coming out of his 9 year old. This is not something he's ever said before. His body language has become uncomfortable, as though he is waiting for something bad to happen. When his father initially asked his ex-wife what was going on, she flatly cited their son's displeasure with the fact that his father spent Christmas with "some military bimbo who doesn't deserve his love, and will have left him in 6 months" (her email quote) instead of their son.

 

For the past 9 or 10 years, he has been deployed at Christmas. We have been together for a little over three years, and were both deployed to two separate locations during the our first two Christmases. This Christmas was our first physically together, and occurred at the time I was separating from the military. I had to move at that time (two days after Christmas). He told his ex-wife he would be coming to move me in with him during that time. She told him to "do what he needed to do", and they didn't talk about it again until this past week.

 

For the past couple of years, we have been carefully planning the right time to introduce me to his son, taking care to make sure he would be as comfortable as possible. The same goes for her. I wanted to make sure she knew I am committed to staying, have no intentions or desire to attempt to be confrontational with her, and I do not wish to be a parental figure or to "replace" her. I wanted her to understand somehow that I want everything to run as smoothly as possible with both parents. I know that introduction is never easy, but now we're really not sure what to do. Of importance, the ex has dated frequently since the divorce, but this will be my fiancé's first relationship his son is introduced to. We had planned the meeting the second weekend we were back, but she denied my the request to have him over the weekend, saying they had plans. to add insult to injury, during the most recent conversation they had she randomly mentioned "supervised visitation" here, which had again never been brought up until I moved in.

 

My fiancé is to a breaking point; I've never seen him so upset, and I'm not sure what can be done. He pays child support on time, makes every attempt to contact and visit his son who means the world to him, and tries repeatedly to be reasonable with her. I suggested to him that they try attending divorced parents' counseling, which he told her about. She said "send me something" and that was the end of the conversation. The most recent phone conversation with his son garnered the same responses. I have researched father's rights with custody agreements etc, and have been documenting every conversation and hostile email from her. In the mean time, it continues to worsen, and while I have made it clear to him that I am here to support him however he needs it. He is increasingly concerned that this will "scare me away", but I continue to re-assure him that he has me here, and I want him to focus on his relationship with his son. This is such a frustrating situation, and so unnecessary...

 

I suggested he ask her if she wants to meet me, and go from there. I don't know what else to do!

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He should consult a lawyer with a view to arranging an initial mediation - doing it through a lawyer get it on record that he is trying his best to resolve the situation amicably but is prepared to go to court to assert his rights if she will not cooperate. It also helps to create and officially record the paper trail that you have begun.

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If fiance wants to vent or bounce ideas off of you, I'd tell him that you're in his corner no matter what--but I'd stop short of suggesting anything or endorsing or disputing his ideas. It's an insidious way of undermining the very thing you want to strengthen, and I'll explain why below.

 

[...] I wanted her to understand somehow that I want everything to run as smoothly as possible with both parents.[...]

 

Be careful about this, because coming from you, any such input could prompt her to want the opposite. Disruption is this woman's goal, and your wishes are exactly the thing she wants to thwart. Your neutrality would be wise, giving her zero to work against.

 

I suggested to him that they try attending divorced parents' counseling, which he told her about. [...] I suggested he ask her if she wants to meet me, and go from there.

 

Staying completely out of this is not only the best thing for you, but also best for your fiance. Playing the role of a supportive sounding board is one thing, while actively offering suggestions changes 'support' into one more challenge for fiance to meet. If he attempts your suggestions, he carries the weight of operating as agent of you both as a couple, and if he disregards your suggestions, he's got that discomfort to answer for. It puts your relationship into a pressure cooker and adds unneeded stress to it.

 

The only people who should offer 'advice' to fiance are his lawyer and a family counselor or therapist, who he sees alone until advised otherwise. He might seek advice from friends, but he'll feel less pressure to perform as they suggest, and he doesn't need to shoulder any consequences of failure while living with them.

 

Think of yourself as Switzerland in this issue, and become a safe place for him to work things out rather than a coach that raises his bar. If you can go neutral, you will thank yourself later and you'll see the wisdom of this move in hindsight. If you don't go neutral, you risk embroiling yourself too deeply to see the damage you can potentially cause.

 

I hope you'll write more here if it helps, and best wishes.

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Ia agree with both of the above posters- he needs to consult a lawyer and express his concerns & get a paper trail started, but you also need to step way back. Like catfeeder said- think of yourself as a sounding board only. You should not be suggesting meeting the ex, or anythign like that. You said that your ex will retires this year- hopefully he can then move much closer to his son and all of this won't be such an issue. Good luck.

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I really appreciate the quick and helpful replies. Like I said, this is totally new territory for me. While I was prepared for a good deal of difficulty in the situation, as it has never been easy for them, it's difficult now that I'm in the middle in regards to knowing how to help rather than hinder. (I understand a bit now why he gets frustrated in not being able to help me "fix" any of my issues that arise...) The last thing I want to do in any way is make things harder for him and his son. We talked about it last night after I posted this, and I told him I felt like we were in a "screwed if you do, screwed if you don't" spot with her. He had said last week (with such good intentions) he wanted me to come with him to his son's game regardless of what she thinks. I said I thought if I went with him for any visits while the situation is like this, anything I say or do, or don't say or do, will be used against him, and certainly won't help me. I have been preparing for the past two years to meet her, and that was forbidding enough on its own without this. Please note I haven't spoken to her at all yet. And he hasn't mentioned to her anything I've said besides divorced parenting counseling. That was something I suggested only through literally days of research that indicated it can have extremely positive outcomes. Anything I've suggested certainly isn't intended to make the situation worse.

 

In addition to not wanting to make the situation worse with her, I suggested that he go alone to be there for his son. I tried to put myself in his son's shoes as a child. I considered the possibility that if one parent had me feeling the other was putting a romantic relationship over ours, if that "other person" showed up to my function, I would feel their presence validated that thought process.

 

Catfeeder - everything you said was extremely insightful, but this stuck out to me:

 

"Staying completely out of this is not only the best thing for you, but also best for your fiance. Playing the role of a supportive sounding board is one thing, while actively offering suggestions changes 'support' into one more challenge for fiance to meet. If he attempts your suggestions, he carries the weight of operating as agent of you both as a couple, and if he disregards your suggestions, he's got that discomfort to answer for. It puts your relationship into a pressure cooker and adds unneeded stress to it.

 

(I haven't figured out how to quote yet - tried, but nothing happened)

 

That completely makes sense, and opens up an additional issue I hadn't thought of before. He is certainly a "fixer" in no negative sense, and I feel bad in fact for suggesting anything that would make him feel he has something extra to accomplish. Thank you for pointing this out, because I would continue to suggest things that would have unintentionally added stress. (I am an analyst by trade, so it comes naturally to me.)

 

As far as what I still believe were good suggestions on my part: I have documented everything in chronological order, refraining from opining and putting just the facts down. I suggested last week he take it to his lawyer and see what he recommends; he has a meeting set up for next week. DN - your insight there was also extremely helpful, and helps me feel I've been doing something right!

 

It's so painful and frustrating to see him go through this and I just want the right things to happen. I've made a huge effort to be calm and supportive, and that seems to help. Any other suggestions are welcome. Thank you three for your your comments!

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