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Ask Ellie: Wife's concerns over spouse's ex point to bigger problem

Worries about a spouse’s annual message to a long-ago ex indicates personal insecurity and suppressed marriage problems.

Dear Ellie: Periodically, a letter-writer’s relationship question to this column sparks a large response of engaged feedbacks and commentaries.

Following are two such reactions among readers’ personal convictions that there’s more than meets the eye in what was expressed by a wife who has difficulty accepting her husband’s habit of annually sending “happy birthday” messages to his ex-wife of 30 years past:

Reader’s commentary (Jan. 12):

“This sounds almost exactly like one of my bosses from years back. The timeline matches, as does the length of time the husband was in the previous marriage.

“This man dated the girl in high school and through university. Both thought the next logical step was marriage. The first year everything was new — living together, travelling, having intimate dinners and larger gatherings for family and friends.

“But after that first year, they both realized they really loved each other but weren’t, and likely had never been “in love with each other.”

“An amicable separation followed, and they’ve remained friends until today.

“Each year, on the anniversary of their marriage, no matter what relationship he was in, or where he was, he sent his ex-wife (they eventually divorced so he could marry his current wife), a dozen red roses.

“They’d been happy together and he wanted that feeling to continue. The ex has been in a long-term relationship from a few years after they split. Apparently, her new partner had no issue.

“His current wife was initially a bit surprised but accepted it. They had a child together and went about their life. He continues to send his ex the anniversary roses each year.

“It’s not for everyone, but this has worked for my ex-boss and the other three people.

“I hope the letter-writer finds a way to resolve her issue.”

Reader 2: “How is it that her husband sending a birthday greeting to a former spouse hurts the wife and her marriage?

“She doesn’t mention any other behaviours that are hurting the marriage, just this one. Is the marriage otherwise functioning well enough? Is the husband attentive, caring, communicative to the wife?

“If yes, then the birthday greeting is such a non-issue! It’s a nice gesture. Without any information about the marriage itself being in trouble, why is this annual birthday call an issue? Is everyone supposed to pretend their former spouses don’t exist? No!

“Instead, if all former spouses, partners, friends and colleagues kept up a practice of good thoughts, well wishes and friendly communications, the world would be a much better place!

“I still send periodic greetings and communicate with a few former lovers. This has nothing to do with my current partnership. Both of us maintain good, healthy, friendly relationships with many of our former partners. Neither of us would dream of suggesting that this is a problem.

“Assuming there are no other issues, why not suggest the reader join in the birthday greeting? Why not ask the husband about the former spouse in a friendly way, and open up the conversation about other former friends/lovers/partners of both the husband and wife.

“If there ARE other issues, I suspect that the annual birthday greeting is far from the cause of them, and her letter to you is the wife’s way of acknowledging this.

“But if the marriage is okay, and if the wife is so proprietary that she’s suspicious about all of her husband’s interactions, she might need counseling regarding her own insecurities.”

Dear Ellie: My close friend lives in another country. We’ve kept in touch over the years, visited when possible. We’re both in our late-40s.

We’ve stayed connected as best we could, considering the distance from each other. We’ve held each other up through divorce (both of us), and parents’ deaths.

Now her suffering seems to have no end. Her last remaining parent has died. And her beloved cat died. How can I help her through this?

She’s Inconsolable

There’s a time of grief when personal contact is most needed, if at all possible and affordable. That would suggest your trying to make every effort to travel to be with her.

But if impossible, frequent contact by phone and online is still supportive and very needed. Help her through discussion to find what local support she can get, whether from her faith, or a grief counsellor, and any friends she has nearby.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Concern about a spouse’s annual message to a long-ago ex indicates personal insecurity and suppressed marriage problems.

Send relationship questions to ellie@thestar.ca