DEAR NATALIE: My wife and I are in what is the second marriage for both of us. Thankfully, we both maintain cordial and generally excellent relationships with our former spouses. Her association with her former husband is much more active than mine with my ex-wife because unlike mine, their marriage yielded a child, a nine-year-old boy for whom there is shared custody. There are regular exchanges of my stepson at our home. My wife's former spouse plays a larger role in our lives than might otherwise be the case because he is not skilled in some aspects of single living, hence my wife assists him with some things, such as occasionally purchasing clothes for him, helping him to construct a profile to use on a dating site, and offering advice. I have been cordial and friendly to him and I greet him by name. He is polite, but perfunctory with me and has used my name just once in the year and a half that I have known him. The ex-husband currently lives about fifteen minutes from us in the same area. He will be transferred to a job out of the area in the not too distant future and will be selling his home here. My wife and I have also been considering a move from our home. My wife has proposed the possibility of us purchasing a home with a garage apartment in which her ex-husband could stay when he comes to the area to spend time with his son. She has asked me to consider this although recognizing that despite having no concern about my wife's faithfulness to me, my visceral response to the idea is a resounding "no". I would welcome your thoughts as to how to best handle this situation. --TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
DEAR TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: You have every right to feel the way that you do. I do not think it is appropriate at all for her ex to stay with you when he is in town. She may feel guilty that they are divorced and have a child, but that is no reason to create tension between herself and you. Her ex husband may be a nice person, and I’m glad that everyone gets along, but there needs to be healthy boundaries. Having him above the garage crosses the line, considering you are uncomfortable with it. Every relationship with exes is different and every marriage is different, but everyone needs to be on the same page. I would let her know exactly how you feel. You don’t have to justify feeling this way. If the shoe was on the other foot, I bet she would feel uncomfortable and even threatened, as well. When he comes to town to visit his son, he can either stay at a hotel room or find other arrangements. It’s not your job to house her ex-husband.
DEAR NATALIE: My husband and I are constantly bickering. At first, it was just the way we communicated, but it has gotten to the point that the constant little annoyances are really starting to take its toll. I feel like I have to gear up for a fight every time I walk in the door to my home. I have a stressful job and the constant nastiness between us is really causing issues. He just pushes my buttons and then I retaliate, and let’s just say, it isn’t pretty. We haven’t been romantic in months and I’m starting to worry that we are drifting apart. We’ve been together eight years and have three children. I don’t want to divorce, but we cannot continue this way. Any suggestions? --TOO MUCH BICKERING
DEAR TOO MUCH BICKERING: Get yourselves to a marriage counselor. Every relationship has its own “language”. While some couples bicker and it doesn’t harm the relationship, it sounds like its eroding into something more sinister than banter. Repairing the fight is more important than people realize. If you aren’t repairing after arguments, they begin to build, to fester and create massive amounts of resentment and tension. It sounds like you are heading down this road and in order to stop it, you need a reboot. A couple’s counselor can help give you both tools to speak more lovingly and more respectfully, even when you are arguing. Pushing each other’s buttons is not only immature, but a great way to erase trust and respect over time. It can cascade into other bad behaviors, cause you to emotionally shut down and begin living separate lives. Deal with this now, create a space for love to thrive again, and remind yourselves of why you fell in love in the first place. Remember, it took you eight years to get to this place, so don’t expect a miracle to happen overnight. Baby steps towards healing will take time, but the effort you both put in will be worth it.
Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Don’t get weighed down by worrying about making the “perfect” connection with people when you are out networking. Think about it as making friendships and connections. Sometimes you click, sometimes you don’t. Just be open-minded and friendly and see what happens.
Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)