I am a 46 year-old woman in her first marriage with a 60 year-old divorced man with two adult children, ages 24 and 21. We've been married for five years, and involved in a committed relationsihp four years before that time. My hustand had been married to his ex-wife, by all reports a very intellectually accomplished but critical person, for 28 years. Although they had separated in 2002, and divorced in 2004, his ex-wife has let us both know that we were selfish to marry as quickly as we did -- seven months after their divorce was finalized. Up to and following that time, his ex has made it clear that she did not feel comfortable having me present at any activities involving her sons, from the mundane to the profound, where my husband would wish to attend. This includes the boys' many sporting events (school or otherwise) other extra-curricular activities. (On these occasions, I would wait at home, or at a local Starbucks until the late evening when they finished.) I understood this at first, since she has been most consistently involved in their school lives, and did not press the matter. But soon pressure came from both the boys, who did not want to upset their mother, that I was not welcome to appear -- even for a day -- to shared (staggered) family vacations to Maine (the ex took two weeks, my husband took two weeks) even though the boys could bring their respective girfriends to the sacred family spot. This expanded to the younger boy's high school gradulation (I was advised it would cause too much hurt and ill will), and various birthday dinners for the two sons that the ex had organized. This has continued for the full five years of our marriage. Predictably, I have felt alienated by and enraged with my hustand who, it seemed, has been unable to assert himself with his ex or his sons because they have all minimized their contact with him out of anger. My husband and I have spent a few short stints in highly ineffective couples' counseling, mostly involving issues surrounding the vacation and the fact that the only vacation that would be taken all year (2 weeks in Maine) excluded me. The other looming issue has been my desire to have children of our own. Prior to our marriage, my husband had indicated that he wanted to have children with me. Over the last several years, he has reversed position citing our considerable financial problems arising from his divorce settlement and his obligation to finish paying for his two son's college educations. I should note that while we both work (we're both lawyers), I've worked part-time for over eight years while I've completed my doctoral coursework and dissertation.
After all this context, the real trigger issue was raised three weeks ago. My husband has always related to me that he does not communicate much with his ex-wife because the conversations have degenerated into her angrily blaming him for everything that went wrong in the marriage. While I've accepted this account as true, I've noted that they communicate through email and, it seems, on other occaions. Three weeks ago, his younger son had a 21st birthday, and as is customary, she planned a big party with all of his friends. While it seemed as though it was unclear whether there would be a family dinner or a party, or whether I was even invited (although my husband was invited, as always, and has recently pressured me to allow him to go to these functions without me because he is missing out on important events), I later became aware of the fact that he had spoken to his ex-wife three days before advising me of the fact that there was a birthday dinner the very next night, and that the consensus was (the boys, the ex, etc.) that I was invited. The rub: I had asked all week whether he had any communication with any party to alert us as to plans.
Yesterday, while at work, I walked into my husband's office (yes, we both work together), and seeing me, he started to put the phone down, saying "I'll speak to you later" in a warm tone usually reserved for me. When I asked him who he was speaking with, he said it was his ex-wife. She had recently had several set-backs at work and personally, and my husband stated that he was just speaking with her. This cozy, insular tone with his ex is very new and unsettling for me. While I never wanted my husband to have a raucous and vicious relationship with her, it was a simple dividing line because so much of his remaining energy has been about pursuing the forgiveness of his sons (and allaying his guilt for leaving their family and for meeting me). I should also mention that we live five blocks away from his ex-wife's house in a neighborhood that I do not like because my husband wanted to be close to the boys. The dilemma I'm having is two-fold
i) I am feeling rageful for my extreme marginalization for the sake of his core "real" family (my perception) and the lack of focus on anything that we two as a couple could work on, be it children to buying a house, to spiritual exploration; (ii) I find that I do not trust my husband, because I feel that he is unwittingly chasing his rather formidable ex-wife's approval, and now due to the current circumstances, she is in a weak position, and he can feel needed (a core need in his psyche). The already precarious imbalance in our relationship, where my husband has had a family and a 28-year marriage with a woman who is clearly unwilling to accept my existence or any reminder of my existence, is in jeorpardy of teetering over if, in my opinion, he begins to put anymore energy into exploring a "friendship" or something other with her. For years, he has indicated that he did not want a friendship with her because he was angry about all the hateful things she said about him (and me). Any thoughts about ex-etiquette, and what I could reasonably ask my husband to consider and to do in this situation?