Ex-Etiquette: Too flirty with his ex?

Q. My wife and I have been married for 6 months. I’m very close to my ex — she’s the mother of our three children and the kids go back and forth between our homes. My wife was going through my phone and found some texts with my ex that she thought were too flirty and went ballistic. She said I’m too close to my ex and now really hates whenever I talk to her. It makes it very difficult to co-parent. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Since you didn’t say you weren’t flirting with your ex, I’m going to have to call you out on this one. Good co-parenting is dependent on good communication. Touching base to discuss the kids is imperative. Good co-parenting is not dependent on familiar or flirty interaction and if that’s what you’re doing, your wife is right. Some changes must be made, pronto.

Co-parents walk a fine line when their break-up was amicable. It’s easy to make a joke that a new partner might think is too familiar. It’s still inappropriate and keeping those boundaries blurry will only get you into trouble.

Those “changes made pronto” start with a “heads up” conversation with your ex. Good ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8 is, “Be honest and straightforward.” Begin the conversation with you taking responsibility, not something that starts with, “Lisa (or insert wife’s name here) doesn’t like us talking.” Because that’s not the issue. It appears she didn’t care if you talked. She just doesn’t want to flirt with your ex. Most women would agree with her, so take responsibility for bad judgment and don’t do it anymore. Keep your interaction friendly, but only about the kids.

How do you know if you’re really out of line? Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 7 is, “Use empathy when problem-solving.” Basically, that’s saying, “Put yourself in their shoes.” So, ask yourself how you would feel if you read similar texts between your wife and her ex. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, then oops. Your wife deserves an apology.

Take note: Own your mistake (because it was), apologize, and don’t do it again goes a lot further than acting like it’s no big deal and denying it meant anything. Diminishing your partner’s concerns does not set the stage for keeping things cool at home. I’m often asked, “What’s gaslighting?” That’s a pretty good example. (Making someone feel crazy when you know their concerns are legitimate.)

Co-parenting is important but demonstrating how to have a successful relationship this time around is also important. When you are obviously too familiar with mom, it gives the children (and perhaps mom) false hope for reconciliation. It’s very confusing and it asks the kids to pick sides — mom or wife.

Truth is, mom will always be mom, but your wife has an impact, as well. The kids need to feel comfortable at both homes and understand you respect their mother as their mother and your wife as your partner. Passing on that clear distinction is not only good co-parenting, but good parenting. Most of all, that’s good ex-etiquette.