Ex-etiquette: Trouble with a family business

Exes who continue to be business partners must set specific personal boundaries.

Jann Blackstone.jpg
Jann Blackstone

Q: My partner and I met a few years ago. He had been married for a few years and continues to share a business with his ex after they divorced. Over the past year his ex split from her boyfriend and it appears to me that my partner and his ex are now far too close for comfort.

He refers to her as “gorgeous” to his friends, fixes her plumbing without telling me, and invited her to the hospital when our baby boy was born.

When she bent over the bed to see our baby, he stuck his toe up her bum. He did have something to drink and said it was a joke, but I didn’t think it was very funny. I started to feel jealous when he went to work knowing they would be alone.

I told him, and it led to many screaming battles, saying I was imagining things and picking on him. What’s good ex-etiquette?


A: Well the red flags are sure waving at your house — and this kind of situation is a perfect example of how important it is to get clear about things before your start a serious relationship. Being in business with an ex is an extremely tenuous situation that can shift on a whim. Boundaries must be set and adhered to — and there is a baby involved now. You can’t play games.

That said, let’s look at some of the necessary considerations when staying in business with an ex after a breakup, particularly if either of you have begun another relationship.

First, business responsibilities should be agreed upon and put in writing so there are no questions down the road. This includes things like, who is responsible for the finances, bookkeeping, inventory, hiring and firing, etc.

Second, anticipate problems and have a plan in place for how you will solve disagreements should they arise in the future. “First we will do this, then this”… and the final step can be an agreement to employ a mediator or an attorney or a therapist as a third party — a non-bias person to help solve disagreements when business partners can’t do it themselves.

Finally, and most important for your situation, exes who continue to be business partners must set specific personal boundaries. Business is business; home is home. Your partner and his ex clearly have blurred those boundaries, and as you can see this can compromise personal relationships but also relationships with other employees. If they fight or disagree it can easily bleed over into the business and compromise decisions. If they are overly affectionate or familiar, it alienates partners.

Physical touch (like the one you describe at the hospital) is completely inappropriate and off limits. Of course, you were jealous and concerned that they are alone at work— and confronting him about it was the right move. The fact that you had to say anything is disappointing. You have a child. If you and your boyfriend are to have a future, it’s time to reel this in and get organized. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, . ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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