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How do I cope with my Ex’s girlfriend attending family events?

Dear Deb:
Seeing my Ex’s new girlfriend with my kids and grandkids is killing me. Last year, he moved from our house into hers after 36 years of marriage. I’d almost gotten used to the idea of her with him, but now he wants to bring her to our family holiday party, and I’m back at square one.

Dear Struggling:
Adjusting to an Ex’s new relationship is one of the most challenging parts of divorce. This is especially true if the new beau is the person your Ex left to be with. It feels completely unfair and wrong to accept that this new person will have a place in the lives of your children and grandchildren.

What you’re feeling is valid, normal and allowed. And believe it or not, it’s an important part of your divorce recovery. You’re not back at square one, although it can feel like it. You’ve been moving along, even making progress when life circumstances spark fresh pain, grief, humiliation or anger. These feelings, triggered by holidays, family celebrations, the day the divorce is final, and, yes, being confronted with a new significant other “invading” your family space, signal that you’re in divorce recovery 2.0.

You’ve graduated to the next layer of healing, and it presents you with a golden opportunity to work through the pain and get to a deeper level of recovery.

Why do this?

It can seem like working to accept the new partner is letting them “win.” But, you’re not doing it for them—in fact, it has nothing to do with them. You’re not even doing this solely for your kids, although knowing you’re moving past anger and grief will be a great relief to them.

You’re doing it for you. When you’ve healed to the point where you’re peaceful about the past, your Ex and even your Ex’s relationship, you are free. Not only that, your focus is on your own bright future, and that’s where your energy is going. Rebuilding is the final phase of your recovery, and the lighter your heart is about the past, the more fun and joy you will have creating your new life. That’s a win for you.

You don’t have to befriend or even like your Ex’s partner, although you can if that works for you. What you’re going for is neutral cordiality and peace in your heart when you see them together at family events. You deserve to enjoy your family regardless of if they are there—and you have the power to give that to yourself.  

It doesn’t happen overnight.

Like everything about divorce recovery, this is a process. It takes intention, self-reflection, inner work and, often, outside support. It’s not easy, but you’re worth it.

  • Let yourself feel your feelings. Scream into your pillow, cry if you want to, and try journaling if you’re not already.
  • Lean on your inner circle. This is a good time to call your best friend or drop in on a divorce support group to talk it through.
  • Recognize this situation for what it is: an intense and essential recovery opportunity. Step into your power by deciding to use it to continue your healing.
  • Get help if you get stuck. Working with a coach or therapist will help you get over the hill. Books and courses on divorce recovery can give you new perspectives as well as practical tools and exercises.
  • Be gentle with yourself, and know that you will get through this.

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Deb Purdy is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter & Happier After Divorce.
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