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LifestyleColumnistsAsk Amy

Ex-wife wonders how to reach out during crisis

DEAR AMY: My ex-husband is very ill with leukemia. We have been divorced for 21 years. We are both remarried and have maintained a friendly but distant relationship since our divorce, talking a few times a year. He is the father of my two adult children (in their 30s). His current wife is a very jealous, controlling person and does not know we have remained friendly, as our contact since he married her has only been through his work phone. He is now disabled and no longer has a work phone. The last time he was hospitalized for over a month, my children were fearful that if I went to visit him at the hospital his current wife might be angry and would not keep them informed of his health issues. She is cold toward my children. His health is precarious and he could possibly end up back in the hospital. I am torn between going to visit him at the hospital and my children’s fears. Please give me your thoughts about what I should do.

— Worried Ex

DEAR WORRIED: You should call the house phone or his cellphone. If he picks up, you can have a chat with him at that time. If his wife answers the phone, you should try your best to communicate with her in a way that honestly reflects your concerns for the two of them: “I’m so sorry to learn about ‘Jim’ being ill. The kids are very worried, and I wanted to reach out to say hello and to see how he and you are doing.”

My point is that you are a human being. She is a human being. You might be the ex-wife and she might be the jealous and possessive current wife, but there are times when transparently announcing your humanity is the only way to go.

Your adult children may have to stiffen their spines to her attitude toward them in order to maintain contact with their father. If there is a helpful function they can assume — driving him to treatments, helping with yardwork or cooking a meal — it would help to keep them close.

DEAR AMY: At restaurants, my friends and I have always “shared” food — offering a taste of soup, a bit of an appetizer, entree or dessert. Now I have a significant other who was raised to consider this rude behavior, saying, “If we were supposed to eat each other’s food it would all come on one big plate.” I agree that some people believe eating off others’ plates is rude, but I don’t want to restrict our restaurant dining to Ethiopian restaurants where everything does come on one big plate. Have you any suggestions how I can urge my partner toward sharing — or is this a silly idea?

— Loose Lips

DEAR LOOSE: It is rude to stick your fork into someone else’s food, your spoon into someone’s soup and to eat off of someone else’s plate — so why would you urge someone else to adopt this practice?

I’m not judging you and your friends, who engage in consensual food-sharing, but for many people this is not only impossible to do, but unpleasant to witness. Watching others eat off of neighbors’ plates makes this occasionally squeamish diner want to guard my own plate against marauding cutlery.

Please allow your significant other to be polite without shaming him or her into behaving otherwise.

DEAR AMY: I’m responding to “Woman Who Wants It All” who asked how to time having children with her career. The wisest advice I ever received on this subject was from the Episcopal priest who was going to perform my marriage ceremony in the early 1980s. He himself was married to an ambitious lawyer who was also a mother, and he recommended that I establish myself in a job I like before getting pregnant. I followed his advice and it worked beautifully. I worked at a company for two years, and when I got pregnant I was considered a valuable employee and the company was eager to keep me after my maternity leave was over. In fact, I was able to negotiate returning to a part-time position while still staying on the career path and eventually working up to becoming a vice president. The other advantage to being invested/established in a job you love is that it makes going back to work that much easier.

— Happy I Had it All

DEAR HAPPY: Thank you for passing on this sage advice.

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