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When the ex remarried she seemed to think that she was entitled to two husbands. There was the good husband who received all the "benefits". There was also the bad husband who received all the blame. Needless to say, I was the latter. After having observed this rather bigamous state of affairs for a year or two I finally informed the ex that if she needed someone to scream at, revile and expend her considerable anger on, she'd better look closer to home because I was not available and hadn't been since the divorce.

My mistake, for several years, was continuing to feel some responsibility for the ex, even though we had both remarried. It was very difficult to break a 25-year habit of always trying to fix things. That had been my assigned role all those years. It took awhile to realize that fixing things was no longer my responsibility except within the boundaries of my own marriage. When the ex's husband was killed in a car accident a little over three years after they were married, I was ready to lend assistance and this time my wife called me on it. She correctly pointed out that it was no longer my place, was no longer my responsibility and most likely wouldn't be appreciated anyway. As usual, she was quite correct.

Did I feel guilty about the divorce? Probably, even though I wasn't the one who initiated the whole process. In typical male fashion I couldn't reconcile not being a daily presence in the lives of my daughters. The ex figured that one out and tried to play on my feelings to extract more and more for me under the guise of it all being for my daughters. For awhile, it worked and I gave and gave. Then I realized that I was being manipulated and was also sending the wrong message to my children - that Dad was merely a convenient and deep pocket whose only value was that which could be preceded by a dollar sign. The bottom line was that the girls had two parents and I was not solely responsible for their well-being. Bye, bye guilt. Hello resolve. It was easy. It just took awhile to get there. Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe and really think about the message you're sending your children. That's especially important when you've remarried. Its your wife who deserves your undivided loyalty and support, not the ex.

Over the years, too many wives have voiced the legitimate complaint that their husband continues to dance to the tune of his ex's manipulation. There are only two women to whom a husband owes the duties of loyalty and obedience, and even they have to deserve it. Those women are his wife, first, and his mother, second. To permit any other woman to exercise that degree of control and influence over him is emotional adultery and nothing less.

Gentleman, there's a reason that you and the ex are no longer married. Whether you're the one who left or, as is most often the case, she is, she is no longer your wife. She is no longer your partner. She is no longer your lover. She is the ex. If you have children together she will always be their mother but that is all the status she merits and deserves. She should be respected and valued for that, just as you should be respected and valued as their father.

In this venue, most, if not all, experience certain problems and frustrations connected with the ex. Why, then, would you bow and scrape before her, to the detriment of your childrens' respect for you as a man and male role model, not to mention your wife's? Most especially, why would you permit her to dictate to you on all matters pertaining to the children to include disrupting your own family life to be at her beck-and-call, to the frustration of your wife and the detriment of your marriage?

If this describes you, you are guilty of emotional adultery. You're also giving-in to emotional blackmail and are permitting your children to be used as wedge issues and bargaining chips. Isn't it time to rear up on your hind legs, throw your head back and roar out your final independence from someone with whom you now have only indirect ties?

What your children truly deserve is happy and emotionally healthy parents, both of them, and steps as well. Your former marriage didn't work. Accept it and concentrate on your current marriage. Put your wife and your marriage first and you'll be giving your children the true gift you didn't give them while with their mother. That gift is the living and loving example of a strong marriage in which respect and mutuality are foremost, where a united front is common and consistent and happiness and contentment are evident. This is the example your children will take with them into their own adult relationships. You cant change or fix what went before so concentrate on what you have now.

The biggest question and issue of all is this: Do your dealings with the ex cause a lack of harmony in your marriage? If the answer to that is, "Yes!", then what ARE you doing.? Where do your loyalties lie and what are you going to do to take back control of your life from someone who no longer belongs in the middle of it?

Oh, yeah. If you did answer "yes" you'd better be coming home with flowers and taking your wife out for a very romantic dinner because, Buddy, you need to start courting her all over again. This time, don't stop, ever!

This essay was written by Mike (passem), a stepfather and contributor to the StepTogether Message Board.