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Carolyn Hax: Ex-wife uses daughters as go-betweens in disagreements

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from Dec. 21, 2007.

Carolyn: I’ve been divorced for 10 years and have two daughters, 17 and 15. For the past year, whenever there is a subject that has the potential for a disagreement, my ex-wife has one of my daughters call me about it. I can hear the ex in the background telling my daughter what to say. When this happens I tell my daughters I don’t feel comfortable talking to them about this, and that if their mom has any questions, she really needs to contact me directly. I’ve talked to my ex many times about this, and asked her to stop. So far she has refused and denies the girls are put in the middle by her doing this. Is there anything else I can do, other than holding firm?

— J.

J.: Not much. As a strategy it may feel inadequate, but it does work, since your ex will never be able to use the kids as her mouthpiece as long as you decline to listen.

The shortcoming with this approach is that it treats only the symptom, and still leaves your kids on the phone prepped to talk about things their mother should never have shared. But since the disease won’t go away until the ex chooses to stop using her kids as a shield, it’s one you mostly can’t treat on your own.

Mostly. You can, on your end, make a conscious, sustained, herculean effort to keep your conversations with your ex from turning into disagreements. Not to suggest you aren’t already doing this; just that it’s the “anything else” you can do.

That is, besides hold your breath till your kids are 29 and 27, and able to see that you really did look out for them.

Hi, Carolyn: How do people make relationships work when one person wants more than the other? I’ve been in a relationship for almost two years with a man I love very much. The first year or so was great, but now I want more and he either doesn’t want more or can’t give more right now. We see each other only on weekends because of his schedule, and it always seems to be on his terms. He’s taking night classes toward his MBA and working full time, and I get what time is left after he’s finished with his stressful week. I feel needy and he feels guilty for not giving me what I want.

— Seattle

Seattle: So which is it? He won’t give more, or can’t? The whole answer is in that distinction.

If he can’t fit you into his life any more than he has, then please see that and stop torturing both of you with unreasonable expectations.

If he can fit you into his life more but won’t, then please see that and stop torturing both of you with unreasonable expectations.

In other words, instead of begging for what you want, make sense of what you have. Is he lovingly sharing his scarce free hours with you, or is he dismissively relegating you to his scarce free hours? Figure it out and move on, one way or the other.