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Ex-wife props up new wife by putting herself down

| Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, 1:33 a.m.

D ear Carolyn:

I interact with my husband’s ex-wife, “Debby,” almost weekly at the kid handoff and other kid-related events. She is honestly one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and she has handled our marriage with nothing but grace and maturity.

Yet there is something that really upsets me every time I see her. She has an almost compulsive need to put herself down when she talks to me, usually in the context of how I am better in some way. “I wish I had your sense of humor … [husband] deserves someone who laughs at his jokes!” or “I am so glad [husband] doesn’t have to look at someone with these love handles anymore!” Sometimes they are obviously meant to be funny but there is a core of truth that makes me feel really uncomfortable, really sorry for her.

I know it is never as simple as one person’s being better than another, but I am about 10 years younger than she is and don’t think she would take kindly to my giving her a condescending lecture on how the chemistry between two people is its own organism or anything like that.

What do I do, just change the subject every time she does this, in perpetuity?

— Upset

This has so many ways to go wrong, for all the reasons you’ve given and a few you haven’t.

So I think you say something only if you’re confident you can do so with compassion but without a hint of pity — and only if you’re comfortable knowing you have only one shot at it. No fixes, no do-overs.

And I think you say:

“I wish you were as kind to yourself as you have been to me.”

That’s it.

I hope you can do it. I hope she hears you.

•••

Dear Carolyn:

What age is appropriate to not invite to an adults-only wedding? There’s ongoing flak from that decision a few years back with teenagers. Thanks!

— L.

Whatever age the couple chose, that was more appropriate than the choice others are making to give “ongoing flak.”

The “appropriate” way to handle objections to an age limit: (1) Either (a) pursue a satisfying resolution by speaking up civilly, or (b) get over it privately — immersing oneself in the twin realities of its not being anyone’s business but the couple’s, and its not being any more significant than a disappointment; (2) Those who speak up but aren’t satisfied can either (a) sever the relationship with the couple, or (b) maintain the relationship and manage the dissatisfaction privately. See 1(b).

That’s it. Harping on something is not only a failure of maturity, but also a failure of common sense — trading a onetime aggravation for one that never goes away.

•••

Dear Carolyn:

My husband’s side of the family — parents, siblings and spouses — enjoys playing cards during the evening hours while on vacation for a week at the beach. One family allows their young children to stay awake, and recently has allowed them to participate in the adult card games.

This makes the games slow, frustrating, and simply not as fun. Would it be reasonable to ask that after 8 p.m. be reserved for adult games?

— Fight or Fold?

It would be reasonable to approach a reasonable family, yes.

To approach an unreasonable family would be to invite an unreasonable backlash of manufactured outrage and finger-pointing, driven by these parents’ (self-)loving misconception of everyone’s enchantment with their children as equal to their own, which would only serve to ruin the card games as thoroughly as including the spawn has.

So make your calculations accordingly and at your own risk.

If you think you can pull it off but like your chances better if you hedge, then I suggest asking for some just-adults card nights. Explain to them that your post 8 p.m. beach-week card games are your sacred opportunity to drink and swear. This is especially effective if you don’t in fact drink or swear.

If you opt to surrender to the hopelessness of it, then try to find other ways to make these gatherings fun for you again — at least till the kids are old enough either to play skillfully (7-to-10-ish) or to find playing cards with the old people just as off-putting as they once found it thrilling (11-to-13-ish). Count to 20 from there and the not-kids-anymore will be drinking and swearing with you! At least till you and your husband start to fade around 9:30 and drag yourselves off to bed.

•••

Dear Carolyn:

Wife constantly checks her phone at dinner, at games, any time we go out. Texting, etc. I would prefer an enjoyable evening alone with her, without her Facebook friends. Not an earth-shattering complaint, but any suggestions?

— J.

An earth without intimacy sounds shattered to me.

On the type of occasions where you used to focus on each other — or would like to start — ask her to put the phone away-away. Explain why exactly as you did here.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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