When Divorced Mom Spreads Falsehood About Ex, Should Friends Let Him Know?

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Dear Al:

A good friend moved back to town after a painful divorce that she initiated.  She grew up here, so she wanted to move back to find the support she needs as a single mom.  The father of her children fought her in court, but she won and was able to make the move anyway.

Now that she’s here, she’s getting acquainted and reacquainted with people, and misrepresenting the truth about her former husband.  She tells people the reason for her divorce is that her husband had an affair, which is NOT TRUE (she confided in my husband and me the reasons for their divorce, and her husband used to call begging us to persuade her not to divorce him…we told him we were not going to get involved).  When I confronted her about it, she said that the woman he is now dating (years after the divorce) is from his work, so she has deduced that they must have been having an affair! She admits she has no evidence, just “a feeling…” (Huh?)

Anyway, I have always liked this guy, and I feel like he should know that his name and reputation are being pilloried around town.  My husband thinks we should avoid anything that will create any drama in our lives, and I get that.  Still, the ex-husband has no one to defend him, and I hate that the children (there are two) have a father who all the locals think is a bum.  The guy was not perfect, but a cheater he was not.

What is the best approach?

Sticking Up for Friend’s Ex

Dear Sticking:

The main question is really why she would bruit the infidelity falsehood and what it says about her character. You don’t say how long you have known this person or whether you had any contact with her when she was away from the area. Whatever the circumstances are, some other relevant questions need to be considered: Was she a childhood friend, or did you first encounter her when you and she were older? Whether you knew her in elementary school or college, did you ever notice a tendency to misrepresent conflict with other people, such as parents, teachers, administrators, close friends, or boyfriends, to avoid taking responsibility for a situation that might have proven embarrassing or painful for her?

For some reason, she now wants to punish her ex-husband. Perhaps she feels that the divorce somehow makes her look foolish for having married him in the first place. You say that she has moved back to the area where she grew up; could it be for monetary reasons? If her social or financial position has taken a nosedive, she might want to get back at him for the plunge in her standard of living.

Although you say that the divorce was “painful,” you don’t say why it was painful, only that she initiated it (the divorce). However, she might have also initiated the pain. You say that she confided the reasons to you, so consider how they relate to her blaming/shaming strategy aimed at him. If the actual reason for the break-up puts her in an unflattering light, she can duck exposure by concocting a story of a cheating husband. Maybe what caused the split was so complicated or amorphous that she feels the need to make it simple and focused with this philandering fabrication. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t justify the smear campaign.

In most cases I would agree with your husband and say to mind your own business; however, this situation is different: One, she confided the personal details to you and involved you, and, two, with her lie she is doing an injustice to a person whom you consider a friend. To your husband’s objection, point out that she created the drama, not you, and remind him of the oft-quoted aphorism of Edmund Burke about how evil triumphs when good people do nothing.

From what you say about confronting her, I doubt that you are going to get her to admit that she has done wrong, but you can let her know that you are not going to compound the wrong by colluding with her in this slanderous deception.

Although you don’t say it explicitly, I think that airing her ex’s dirty boxers when they were clean has made you lose respect for her. Tell her so, and say that if the subject comes up with other “locals,” you are going be honest about what you know. Maybe being painfully honest will help her do the same with others and, even more imperatively, with herself.

Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, an advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Send your questions to [email protected]

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  1. If a man slandered his ex the way this female friend is slandering hers, no one who knew the truth would have anything to do with him. He would be considered the sleaziest of sleaze bags, way beyond dishonest and deep into the zone of pathologically, misogynistically deceitful. We wouldn’t be trying to think u reasons that could possibly explain his fabrications; in fact, we would wonder what could be so wrong with this little man that he needed to compensate for an obviously very damaged sense of his own masculinity by degrading a woman he once loved. Why should this woman get any kind of a pass? Sticking Up should follow her instincts.

    • Very perceptive gender distinction, No Free Pass. I wonder if others share that attitude about this “very damaged”, small-minded person.

  2. I would add that when “Sticking” confronts her divorced friend about spreading vicious rumors, she should also ask her how she thinks her ex would react if he knew what sort of story she was spinning in Baltimore. Doesn’t she realize that the word will no doubt eventually get back to him? “Sticking” is even considering telling him herself. And when he does discover what’s been going on, it will make a “painful” situation even worse.

    • Good question, Paul. This woman is obviously not thinking at all while she is some kind of vindictive haze. The letter writer has the chance to clear the air by being honest with her.

  3. What do you mean by “bring true,” Planetmom? Literal truth, as in veracity, or figurative truth, as in loyalty? And to whom? True to the “good friend,” true to the ex? True to others as in debunking the lies about the ex? What?

  4. I think you have given her sound advice, Whit. I would also just add the comment that I find it really sad when a divorced parent attacks their ex, male or female. The true victims in a divorce are the children whose lives have been torn apart — the lies spread by this mother are hurting her children as much or more than they hurt her ex-husband. I would also remind her that she did choose, after all, to have children with this man, so clearly she thought well enough of him at that time. Divorce is a tragedy, and I think the parents owe it to their children to get along with each other to provide as much stability for their children as possible — I understand that it’s easier said than done, but WELL worth the effort.

    • Thank you, Millicent, for reminding us of the harm to her children of this smear campaign by a woman who is acting like a vicious child herself. The effects will be damaging and enduring.

  5. That question was from me about a dilemma that has flummoxed me for awhile. You hit the nail straight on the head when you said I lost respect for her: I absolutely did and that is the crux of the problem. The loss of respect makes me not want to be friends with this person. Your advice helped me organize my thoughts and accept that my feelings are not unfair or unfounded.

    Thank you Al. You blow away Carolyn Hax!!

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