I've been dating a woman with a little girl for over a year now. She split with her ex right after she accidentally became pregnant. The baby was only 6-7 months old when we began dating. The two of them live with me in my house, and marriage has been discussed in depth.
The problem lies in her boundaries. Although her ex has had drug issues and has made some very bad choices and she tells me he's not marriage material, she attempts to remain friendly with him for the benefit of their daughter. He occasionally joins her on play dates to the park, things like that.
Here's the problem: Several months ago I discovered that he was texting her details about his day. Her responses were cordial, but also included the words, "hon" or "honey." I asked her about it, and at first she tried to explain it away, but after I pointed out various things, she acknowledged that she was in the wrong and knew that it hurt me, but she would be unable to say it wouldn't happen again. She claims to want to marry me and says she'll always put me first in her life. What's good ex-etiquette?
It appears your girlfriend chooses to uses these terms of endearment and she has made it very clear that she intends to continue - so the ball is actually in your court. You have to decide if her behavior is a deal breaker. I refer you to Good Ex-Etiquette for Dating rule No. 4, "Establish clear boundaries. (Know your deal breakers.)" In other words, it's not her boundaries that are in question, it's yours.
Do I think her behavior is inappropriate? Personally, I do - and it could be regarded as her playing games, which breaks another ex-etiquette rule, No. 8, "Be honest and straightforward." Technically, she's not being dishonest with you, but it certainly sounds as if she's being dishonest with her ex. Calling her child's father "honey" or "hon" implies familiarity and may give the father false hope of a reconciliation - and if the child overhears it, may also give her false hope. Good ex-etiquette dictates, "cordial, not cuddly."
Your girlfriend may have a motive in all this. It's not uncommon for people in her position to think that if they make the father or mother of their child feel special that it will prevent any problems when exchanging the child or requesting extra time. But it still remains that after you discredited her excuses as to why she was doing it, she finally owned up, said it was wrong, but couldn't guarantee she wouldn't do it again. That's concerning and indicates it's a choice, and that she's fully aware of what's she's doing.
I suggest she take a good look at her motives, and out of respect for you, her ex, and her child, stop the terms of endearment because they are misleading - unless that's the feeling she wants to convey. If that's the case, then both of you must examine why. Sounds like she's making a conscious choice: Intellectually she knows he's no good, but she can't quite get him out of her system. Those feelings could severely affect your marriage if you do actually marry. Both of you have some soul searching to do before the "I do's."
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at email@example.com .)