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Class reunion a minefield for new relationships

| Monday, Oct. 13, 2008

Question: My wife and I just went to her 20th high school reunion. It was about the most miserable four hours I have ever spent. She was married to her high school sweetheart. They had three kids and remain friendly. People who saw them chatting figured they were still married and asked about their kids, their parents, their siblings. And there I was, standing around like an idiot. My wife rarely introduced me because, she said, she "didn't want to get into it." I refused to go to the picnic the next day, which started a huge fight. What's good ex-etiquette for class reunions?

Answer: Class reunions can be especially difficult for people who are divorced and have a long history together. And it's understandable that you felt uncomfortable if your wife was not introducing you as her partner. She should have been at your side and cordially polite to her ex, not the other way around. But it was a fine line she had to walk, and it takes good balance to make it to the other side. Add the memory of some crazy high school antics and possibly a little alcohol, and it sounds as though she simply got sidetracked.

An apology and a promise to be at your side at the picnic would have eliminated the fight. Reunions are all about reminiscing, but there is a type of reminiscing that is appropriate if you have divorced a fellow classmate and your new partner is around. Laughing about staying up all night after a crazy antic is fine. Openly remembering your first time together in the back seat of that Chevy -- probably not a good idea with your new partner within earshot. Discuss ground rules before you attend. Be honest about your expectations, and try to be as sensitive to each other as possible.

Many go to class reunions without their new partners. They bring family pictures but want to reminisce without worrying about making their partners angry. This approach is great if you have a secure new partner. Wishing to go alone, however, often prompts insecurity and distrust. If you are facing this, it's a symptom, not the problem. New relationships with exes around can make even the most secure person uneasy. If you are professing feelings of love to your new partner, act accordingly.

Jann Blackstone-Ford, Psy.D., and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents."

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