Q I have been living with a man five years. We are in our 40s. He was married young and has three grown sons. They separated 15 years ago but remain unusually close. His mother passed when we were visiting his father. (His parents are divorced.) First, I was invited to a family get-together at his mother's home, then my boyfriend called his ex and I was uninvited. My boyfriend says his ex is immediate family and I said, "No, she's not!" I was upset and hurt. Should I still attend the funeral? What do I do?
A Take a good, hard look at your choices. This guy has been divorced for 15 years, with you for the past five, and ousts you from a family gathering in favor of the ex because he regards her as family and you are not. I'd say that is a huge red flag.
Your guy is either still in love with his ex or still so emotionally intertwined with her that his priorities are out of whack. I'm not saying the man should not stay in contact with his ex - they have children together and a past that obviously included his parents. But if you are living together, good ex-etiquette dictates that you certainly are family - and if he doesn't think so, it's time to ask yourself what you are doing with him.
An important component to using good ex-etiquette is to establish clear boundaries when dealing with past and present. Past and present may coincide - it doesn't have to be either/or, but it must be clear as to where the attachments to the past end and the new allegiances begin. Referring to the rules of good ex-etiquette, it's up to the one with the ex to make those boundaries clear to everyone. That means it's up to your boyfriend to make it clear to all concerned where his priorities lie.
Normally, it's the ex on the outs, and it's a fine art to integrate the ex, the kids and the new partner into a cohesive workable unit. But in your case, your guy has made it pretty clear that his allegiance is to his ex, and what's bad ex-etiquette is that he has lived with you for five years and has given you the impression that you are his partner because his actions in a crisis say something completely different.
You should go to the funeral if you want to pay your respects, but it's not an occasion to have a showdown with your boyfriend or the ex, nor is it the proper occasion to publicly establish your place in your boyfriend's life. If that has not become evident in the past five years, it's doubtful it ever will.
Even though you have been together for quite a while, it may be time to move on.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation" and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.