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Can You Be Friends With Your Husband’s Ex?

Can You Be Friends With Your Husband’s Ex?
Written by Publishing Team

Each installment of “friendship recordspresents a conversation between Atlantic‘s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and meaning of their relationship.

This week, she speaks with a woman and her husband’s ex-wife, who are close friends. They call each other “wife-in-law” and happily share the joys and challenges of being parents and grandparents together. They discuss the fun, tangled web of relationships that is their blended family and the friendship they’ve built independent of it.

The friends:

Robin Goldstein, 72, psychologist who lives in Boca Raton, Florida
Michelle Lobovits, 69, a retired nonprofit executive who lives in Boynton Beach, Florida

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Julie Beck: What did you know about each other before you met?

Michelle Lobovits: I didn’t know much. I knew Joe [my ex-husband] had a girlfriend. We first met at my son and daughter-in-law’s rehearsal dinner for their wedding 15 years ago, which happened to be the night of Tropical Storm Barry. It was a seaside location. With 40 mph winds the whole place was soaked.

Joe and I were in rehearsal [and Robin wasn’t]. So my husband, Dan, who didn’t know Robin, picked her up from Joe’s apartment to bring her.

Here is my beautiful first impression of Robin, poor Robin: My husband had an umbrella and Robin had a shower cap, and Dan was trying to guide her down that dune into that restaurant. And the umbrella flew into the ocean. She’s in this gorgeous Chanel suit, she’s going to meet the family for the first time, and every single person is completely soaked to the gills, so much so that the steel-drum guy we hired refused to plug his thing in . He said, “There’s too much water here. We are all going to be electrocuted.

Beck: Robin, what did you know about Michelle before you met her?

Robin Goldstein: Well, I’m dating this man, so I obviously asked what happened to his marriages. I don’t think he ever said anything derogatory to Michelle. I knew they were on good terms and had done a good job with the kids.

Beck: How many children are there?

Michele: Three. Kind of. So Joe was my first husband, but he had a marriage before me, with a girl. She also has a lovely mother, but our children grew up together. I say three, but two were mine.

Beck: What were your first impressions of each other at that very humid rehearsal dinner?

Michele: We were introduced, but there were 90 other people there, and it was soaking wet. I don’t think we sat down and had a conversation until the weekend of the wedding.

Michelle (left) and Robin (right) (Courtesy of Robin Goldstein)

Robin: The first time you invited us home would have been the first time you and I spoke on a more personal level.

Michele: It was probably around a holiday. Maybe Easter?

Robin: Or Rosh Hashanah.

Michele: It’s not clear, all the beginning.

Robin: We were so close to each other and it just evolved. I have always enjoyed being in her company and I have so appreciated that she organizes all these family receptions.

Beck: How did you go from this family bond to considering each other as friends?

Michele: Robin really made friends with my mother. She was still there. She was like my sister from another mother. Then she invited me to have lunch in a good restaurant. We became friends, I think, over that lunch.

Robin: I loved his parents very much. Joe had always remained on good terms with Michelle’s family.

As a psychologist, I have observed that most people form their relationships through college, work, and their neighborhood. The closer you have to people, the more intimacy is likely to develop, instead of just meeting someone you like and having to go out of your way to make a date. When you see each other constantly, it’s much easier to develop a sense of closeness.

I don’t think you and I met much until Dan was sick.

Michele: I think Dan got sick in 2010. My husband was just a doll. He was the sweetest, the nicest… No one could not love him.

Robin: They went through hell, so I did what I would do for any friend I really cared about. I stayed in touch with her, spent time with her, and gave her an outlet of someone to talk to.

After his death, I was able to hear all his amorous adventures. The year of the hundred cups of coffee.

Beck: When did you start calling yourself a “wife-in-law”?

Michele: I think I made that one up very early on.

Robin: Oh, I think I did.

Michele: You did it?

Beck: It’s the controversy: who invented it?

Has it ever been awkward for you to deal with your friendship and relationship with Joe and with the kids?

Michele: We have good limits. I think that’s part of what makes the relationship work.

Joe and I have been divorced since our children were small. He and I come from divorced families ourselves. It was really important to us, even if our marriage wasn’t going to last, that we were going to be the parents of the children and remain a family. We weren’t going to allow them to play against each other, or have a good guy and a bad guy. Commitment to children drove everything between me and Joe.

Beck: Did your other relationships seamlessly enter it? When you met your husband, Dan, Michelle, and when Robin started dating Joe?

Robin: I don’t remember feeling uncomfortable at all. It was still very comfortable.

Michele: Dan died in 2013 and in 2015 I met Mark. We then had to bring him back into the family groove. If the spouses aren’t in it, it’s really, really difficult. There’s a high level of emotional intelligence here, and love, that makes it really work.

Robin: We are all good people with a good heart. And Michelle and I aren’t talking about Joe. I could complain about how hard he works or something, but that’s the limit.

Beck: What does co-parenting, step-parenting and grandparenting look like together?

Michele: It’s good. Robin wrote to you in an email that I’m the best grandma, and it’s not true. I am the grandmother who bakes a cookie. But she’s just as good at what she does. The kids love it. She is too generous with them and she is much more observant than me. She calls me if she sees anything or if she’s worried about any of the kids.

It’s easy, it’s fun to be in this family. We have three amazing children. Our grandchildren are all healthy. We are so, so, so lucky, especially since Joe and I have like 20 marriages between us.

Robin: You can never have too many mothers or fathers. There’s no protection I feel from Michelle. I never have to worry that she thinks I’m usurping her role with the kids.


If you or someone you know should be on “The Friendship Files”, contact us at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com and tell us a bit about what makes friendship unique

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