Divorce with Regret

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Dear Hoopers,
My ex-husband and I were married for 8 tumultuous years, which ended in a divorce that he didn’t want, 18 years ago. We have 2 children together. For years after we always ‘bothered’ each other with frivolous problems mainly I think to just stay in communication. 4 years ago he remarried a woman who was a close clone of my physical self. Now she is critically sick and he is taking care of her very well (he is very respectful when he talks about her) but he also now calls me for moral support and also sends general texts about frivolous things. But, often times he mentions how if we had stuck things out we could still be married and living a nice life now that we’re in our mid 50’s. He also keeps mentioning how he probably only has 15 to 20 years left in life. He doesn’t want to have an affair but he says things to me like he wants me to take care of myself and try to lose weight so I can be healthy. He also told me that I still belong with him because we still have an emotional bond. I still care for him deeply and regret ever divorcing him – I felt that way before he remarried. I am thinking he is letting me know that if something happens to his wife he wants us to be together again. Are my thoughts just wishful thinking or is he giving me subtle hints?
-Divorce with Regret

Dear Divorce with Regret,
I think you are right about him wanting to be back with you. He loved you 18 years ago and he still loves you today. Even after the divorce it sounds like you two were open to the possibility of staying connected through communication that was needed or maybe not so needed. Of course you share a history together and 2 wonderful children, but this connection sounds like a bit more than just respect for your past together; it sounds like unfinished business.

Despite this ongoing chemistry, you are not in a position to be together. The reality of your situation is that you two made a conscious decision to get divorced 18 years ago. Perhaps your conflict could have been worked through without a divorce, but we will never know. Time can heal many wounds and perhaps that has happened here. I would encourage you to respect your heart and respect his marriage for the foreseeable future. It sounds as though you both acknowledge the importance of respecting his wife and are committed to doing so, but know that a longing to be with him could be harmful for you and for him.

I would encourage you to respect your heart and respect his marriage for the foreseeable future.

-Dr. Ryan

He needs emotional reservoirs of care in order to support her through this difficult time and he needs his own emotional support in order to do that. Some of his support could come from you but be careful about being his primary source. Encourage him to reach out to others for his emotional self-care. Supporting your ex-husband as he copes with the day-to-day care of his dying wife is possible, but emotionally complicated to do without clear boundaries around your heart.

An empathy exercise that may be helpful for you is to put yourself in his wife’s position. How would you feel if your husband was regularly talking to his ex-wife as you are lying on your deathbed? Your response to that question should be your guide in how you proceed.
-Dr. Ryan

Dear Divorce with Regret,
What makes you think that after 8 tumultuous years of marriage that he would be any different if you remarried? The grass is often greener when not together. While the relationship you shared with your husband over 8 years was unhealthy, you still have a bond through children and history.

At this time however it is going to be important to set some clear boundaries so you can understand if this is just “wishful thinking” or if your ex-husband is just reaching out for support because you are available and familiar. How would you feel if you were in his wife’s shoes, critically ill, and your husband was texting his ex-wife about getting back together? Something to consider.

The grass is often greener when not together.


I’m not implying that remarrying your ex-husband will forever be the wrong idea, but I also know wanting something that you can’t have (in this case your husband who is married) can often seem better than when that option actually presents itself.

If his wife does pass away and you two are still interested in reuniting, I strongly suggest therapy and counseling. You called it quits once, most likely for a laundry list of reasons. To avoid history repeating itself you will both need to do some forgiving and proactive heart-related work. If you do not make this effort, it is likely that unresolved and unfinished business will resurface. Also, don’t forget that he will need some time to process the loss of his wife. He may be deeply in love with you but that won’t cover up the loss of his partner. Give him the time that he needs.