Nov. 30 2011 12:00 AM

Pest wife regression & Speaking ill of the dud


Q: Two
years ago, my man left his 22-year marriage to be with me, but he told
me he loved his former wife and would always want a friendship with
her. I accepted that (I’m friends with my ex), but I’m bothered by the
amount of contact they have. They do have two adult children and own
property together. But, although she’s living with a new partner, she
sometimes wants to borrow his car, have him pick up the dogs, or drop
off some paperwork. They phone about every other day, and not a week
goes by without his stopping over —
occasionally for a family dinner. I get plenty of his time, energy and
affection, and I know their relationship isn’t romantic. The issue is
split loyalty — all
the effort he’s putting into remaining “loving friends” with a woman
who’d love to see our relationship fail. Am I being petty and jealous?
It feels like she’s clinging hard — and so is he.

—The One Who Stole Her Man

A: Once you get to a certain age,
there’s no starting a relationship with a clean slate. You meet
somebody and it’s never “Hi, here I am, just me and this little
suitcase!” — unless
his entire family disappeared into a giant sinkhole or went back in
time while on vacation and was caught in the volcanic eruption at

There is much to be said for having a
mature attitude about one’s divorce. Friends of the divorced encourage
it by emailing inspirational quotes like “When one door closes, another
door opens.” Annoyingly, in this case, that quote continues “And then
that first door opens back up and a woman leans out and asks what time
your man’ll be coming over to take the dog to the vet.” 

Jealousy is the guard dog of human
relationships, an evolutionary adaptation that helps us defend
ourselves against mate-swiping. As cognitive psychologist Dr. Nando
Pelusi and I discussed recently on my weekly radio show
(, jealousy is productive when there’s a
real threat that your partner might fall for someone else and leave you
for them. Jealousy is counterproductive when you know  he’s going to leave you for someone else — but just for a few hours a week to drop off some paperwork and deworm the dog.  

Of course, to be human is to be small
and petty. (To be successfully small and petty is to not let it show.)
Lashing out, snapping, “Excuse me, but wasn’t she supposed to get her
husband privileges revoked in the divorce?” will just make him
defensive. Instead, use your vulnerability in a powerful way. Evoke his
sympathy by saying something like “Listen, I understand that you two
have kids and property and a friendship, but I’m feeling a little
insecure about all the time and attention you’re devoting to her.”
Chances are he’ll reassure you by explaining why you have nothing to
worry about, and maybe even consider dialing it back a little. On the
bright side, you’re with a guy who isn’t one to drop-kick his
obligations the moment some husband-stealing hussy comes along. Maybe
try to laugh at how happy endings are sometimes the messiest and enough
to make you pine for a good old Jerry Springer-style breakup. At least
when one’s dumping the other’s clothes on the front lawn, pouring
gasoline on them, and lighting them on fire, the logical human response
isn’t ringing the perpetrator up and asking to borrow their car.

Q: One of my coolest girlfriends
is in love with a total dud. He gets wasted at every party, talks in
front of her about how hot other women are, and is generally pretty
disrespectful of her. I keep wanting to yank him aside and ask him
whether he knows how lucky he is. Now I’m thinking I need to yank my
friend aside and tell her she can do better.


A: It’s considered an act of
friendship to tell a girlfriend that she’s got a piece of spinach stuck
between her teeth. You’d think she’d be equally appreciative when you
point out that she’s got a soulmate stuck in some other woman’s
cleavage. But, her ego is probably all tied up in her belief that she’s
found love, and she’d probably just get combative. Instead of telling
her she’s making a mistake, try to get her to come to that conclusion
by borrowing from an addiction therapy technique called “motivational
interviewing.” Get her to talk about what she wants (all the wonderful
qualities she’s seeking in a man), and then gently ask her how that
stacks up against what she has. By drawing the discrepancies out of
her, you’re leading her to do the math: She hasn’t so much fallen in
love as she’s slipped in a pile of something somebody should’ve picked
up with a plastic bag.