Steve was experiencing some of the feelings that many men know as his former spouse announces her engagement to someone else. While some men may rejoice when their ex remarries ("The end of alimony!"), others have feelings of loss and even depression.
"While I know that the marriage is over, I just hadn't thought about how it would feel to be replaced by another man," Steve told me. "I knew that she was dating other guys, but I just never thought she would remarry and maybe feel about someone else the way she felt about me once upon a time." So, if you have some weird feelings about your ex-spouse remarrying, how can you handle it and what should you do to make this moment of truth a little more manageable?
Prepare to mourn. You may think that you went through all the mourning you would ever need when the divorce became final. And it certainly is a tough transition from married life to being a single dad, whether you have primary custody of the kids or not. But there is a new level of finality to the former relationship when the mother of your kids remarries. So be prepared to have a rough time, and take the steps needed to mourn the loss of a relationship all over again.
She has moved on - you need to as well. Having your ex remarry is the best evidence that she has moved on with her life without you. When it happens, you need to tell yourself that regardless of how you feel now or felt at the time of the divorce, it is time to move on with your life without her. Some good visualizations can be helpful here. See yourself happy and fulfilled, having fun with the kids or with friends, and see yourself without her. Try to associate some positive feelings with the remarriage rather than just the negative ones.
Get her out of your system. On a related note, as you make the decision to move on, you have to work to change your thoughts about her. Whether you ever fantasized about reconciling with her, those feelings are often behind the scenes in your mind after a divorce. Her marriage to a new guy totally deflates that fantasy, and you have to find a path in life that involves her only as the mother of your kids, not as a friend, partner, or even an enemy.
Keep your distance. Even if you have maintained a good relationship after the divorce, it is important to draw some new boundaries around her new marriage relationship. Even if you are invited to the wedding, find a good reason not to go. And don't plan to just hang out around her place waiting for the kids or whatever; the new marriage changes all of those old relationships. Keeping a distance will help you avoid many unpleasant things associated with her new family situation.
Prepare plans for the wedding day. Often, the actual wedding day can be a particularly traumatic moment. If your kids are attending, make sure arrangements are made to get them there and back. Sometimes grandparents are a good option for the kids on their mom's wedding day. Then you make some plans to stay busy and involved. Go out with some friends, or find a group to go camping or fishing with. Find a sporting event or a cultural event to attend. But don't let yourself sit around and risk down feelings.
Listen to the kids. Speaking of the children, they may have some feelings of their own about their mom's remarriage. For them, it may also burst a fantasy about mom and dad getting back together. This is a good time to do a lot of listening to their feelings. Often, in the midst of their mom's excitement and planning, the children can become an afterthought. There can also be some nervousness about now having a stepfather in their lives. So make sure you are there for them and that you are addressing their needs and concerns as well.
Put some distance between you and your former in-laws. Many dads I know who go through a divorce still maintain a good relationship with their former in-laws. Some are even invited to family events, whether or not the ex attends. After your ex's remarriage, however, those moments become much more difficult. You can even inadvertently torpedo the relationship between your ex's family and new new husband. So another good boundary line to draw is to step back from a continued relationship with your former in-laws.
Respect your ex and her husband in front of the kids. Sometimes feelings about your ex's remarriage can negatively impact the children. As we have seen in so many families involved in divorce, alienating the kids needlessly from their mother brings regrets and damages long-term relationships with the children. Certainly, if the ex and/or her new husband are abusive or drug users, you have to try to protect the kids. But if not, then show respect for your ex and her new husband. Making sure the kids have positive relationships with both parents works best for the kids and for mom and dad in the long run.
Find someone to talk to. Finally, don't try to deal with these feelings alone. Find a support group, a good friend, or a counselor or clergy to talk with. Often, verbalizing the negative or jealous or depressed feelings can help you put them in perspective. As important as a good support system is after a divorce, it is even more important when your former spouse remarries.