How Women Refer to Their Exes Without Using His Name

When you’ve been hurt, referring to your ex by name can feel just too intimate.

Posted Apr 17, 2016

Words have tremendous power and the names of people to whom we are deeply emotionally connected are drenched with meaning. The terms we use to refer to a person evokes an intimate response, revealing how we feel about him. When you’ve been married to someone for years, that name is inextricably coupled with your relationship with him. The countless times you’ve said, “my husband, George” has linked that name to a deep emotional response embedded in the fertile soil of your psyche.

Vikki Stark
Source: Vikki Stark

If your marriage has gone up in flames, fuelled by grief, pain and acrimony, speaking or even hearing that simple name can become a trigger for all that was lost. Women who are very hurt or angry with their former husbands feel that using his name is too personal and intimate; they don’t want to bestow that show of respect upon the person with whom they have such a powerful aversion.

Many women have told me that they avoid speaking their former husband’s name and some have come up with creative alternatives to use when referring to him. For example, I’ve been known to refer in conversation to my ex-husband as my HATT (Husband At The Time). One woman calls hers her Wasband and another refers to him as "name deleted." (An example of how she would use that in a sentence is: "I ran into name deleted on the street the other day.”)

I asked the women in my Runaway Husbands community what they call their exes (some said they couldn’t respond because I requested that they keep it clean!). Many of them agreed that they just hate to say his name. Here are some of the clever ways they get around it:

  • I have always referred to my runaway husband as “the X." Not "my" Xjust the X. It depersonalizes it for me and I feel less emotion when I say "the" instead of "my."
  • I refer to my "ex" as my "ex-roommate” or my “former roommate.” I can’t call him his name ... it conjures up too many memories.
  • I often refer to my ex as "my children's father."
  • My kids, ages 26 and 28, and I call him "The Other."
  • He is referred to as the "X"one letter onlyhe doesn't deserve any more of the alphabet. I never say his name; the people in the office where I’ve worked for over five years have no idea he has any name other than sh*thead. I rarely even refer to him as 'he' or 'man.' I have de-personalized and de-gendered this person.
  • I referred to him as "piggy," but then I realized "piggy" sounds somewhat "aww, how cute." So I changed it to pig!
  • With my daughters, it's still "your dad" or his name, but to those who know the story, it’s “The Great Disappointment."
  • When my ex-husband suddenly (without any hints, quarrels or explanations) left me, all he took with him was a brand new Panama hat (my gift for him) and a suitcase full of clothes. Then he was gone forever and so was our marriage of 13 years. Since then I have called him “The Panama Man."
  • I call my soon-to-be ex-husband simply “that man” when I’m with family. They know who I mean.
  • And finally, a woman from Puerto Rico wrote: I call him "el difunto" (the deceased).

Clearly, there is a tremendous amount of emotion in the responses of the women who weighed in. My work involves helping women who’ve been left learn how to use the crisis of abandonment as an opportunity for growth and change. It's a long process that may take years, but they know they’ve accomplished it when their ex can go back to being referred to as just plain ole George.

I’m a psychotherapist, family therapist and the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery. Find my website here.