What do you do when you really, REALLY dislike your partner’s ex and mother of his child?
It is so hard to sit back and watch the abusive texts and downright hateful and unreasonable behavior towards someone I love and know is a really good dad. It creates a lot of interference and disruption in our life together. I get really angry and yet, I know that I’m not in the driver seat when it comes to their issues.
I’m not proud of it, but I end up reacting in a few different ways: I either share unsolicited advice on what we should do next time, or vent my hateful thoughts about his ex in a gripe session, or lastly – and this is really terrible – I feel residual resentment toward his child. I know that’s not the child’s fault and I quickly get myself in a different headspace, but I’m still not proud of it.
We are about to get married and I’m worried about this being an even more frequent part of our life together. Any advice on how to manage through?
Let’s start at the end of your note, shall we? Congratulations on your engagement. Because I’m ahead of you on this married-a-guy-with-kids road, I know you’re in for a lifetime of wild, joyful adventure. I also know you’re right: your stepchild’s mother will play a large role in your life together.
The situation you’re in is really difficult for everyone. It’s also, sadly, fairly common. So let’s get started making it better, shall we? Here’s what you do when you really, really hate your stepkid’s mother:
Put the Child First
Your stepchild can never know how you feel, even when she is 25 and sharing a margarita on the beach with you. Even when her mama hurts her and she confides in you. Even when her mother is shouting lies from the rooftops and everyone knows it.
The child you love is fully and completely half of the woman you hate.
It is hard for your stepchild to see where she ends and her mother begins. Regardless of her age or how long you’ve been around or how much she dislikes her mother currently, your stepchild will confuse your feelings about her mother with your feelings about her. Don’t allow her to see or feel any negativity.
This is a hard thing to do. Some days it will feel impossible, but it is really important.
It helps to remember your stepchild’s mother plays no role in the relationship you craft with her. Any resentment distracts you from the truth of your bond and interaction. Love that little person in spite of who her mother is. Build a bond on trust and shared fun and happy memory.
Get the Ex Out of Your Home and Head
Make your surroundings an ex-free zone. That doesn’t mean trash her pictures or insist your stepchild speak to her in the garage during the nightly phone call. That would violate the tip above. Rather, ask your ex to put his text chain with her on silent. Be somewhere else during phone conversations with her. Let your ex lead on exchanging your stepchild or the forgotten soccer cleats. Make your home a safe place.
Getting the ex out of your head is a bit tougher. When you talk about how you think your fiancée should handle the situation differently in the future, you are giving power and attention to his ex. When you gripe about her, you are giving her more power and attention. Each conversation may feel like the right use of your time and energy in the moment, but will leave you drained. Give your time and energy to better causes: plan your honeymoon, balance your checkbook, have mind-blowing sex with your man.
The truth is, this is not your circus and your partner’s ex is not your monkey. You can’t influence her. You don’t have their history. Trust your partner to manage the relationship. Allow him to be the sole point of contact, the sole decision maker, and the sole participant in his ex’s theater.
Ask for Help
Tell your soon-to-be husband you no longer want to talk about conflict with his ex. Ask him to rely on a buddy for perspective and support instead of you. The truth is, you’re not really helping him anyway. Because you’re emotionally involved, including you in the management of his ex means he then has to manage the both of you. Someone else can support him more effectively.
Seek out support for your new role. Stepmothering is tough and sometimes lonely. The good news is you’re not alone. Make real-life stepmother friends. See a counselor. Read articles, follow blogs, participate in online discussion forums – there are many women out there who are happy to help. Not sure where to start? Check out my Pinterest board. Find positive role models who’ve been there, done that and can provide a safe outlet.
Hope for Better but Accept Today’s Truth
Some stepmothers and mothers are able to forge a strong bond. Others keep the relationship friendly, professional, and somewhat distant. Still others have the situation you are in: high conflict, high animosity and low trust. Don’t try to force a relationship when things are high conflict. It won’t work. Accept where you are today.
Know though, that life is long and relationships evolve. Conflict with the ex will wax and wane. Ultimately, moving your relationship to a better space benefits everyone. Choose where you’d like to be on the mom/stepmom relationship spectrum and act accordingly. Be polite when you see the ex. Allow yourself to acknowledge signs of improvement. Be open to positive change. Don’t allow the past to poison the future.
Live your Life
Remember, you’re marrying a terrific guy. Your life together will be long and filled with joy and heartbreak, just like every other relationship. Your stepchild’s mother will be a part of your life together, but she doesn’t have to be an important or influential one.
You will never control her. She may rant and rave, tell lies and disparage your family. She may never see your side, or acknowledge the positive effect you’ve had on her child’s life. That’s okay. That is her truth and life, not yours.
His ex’s behavior doesn’t affect your real life. She is simply a pre-existing condition, an unfortunate circumstance. Hating her isn’t worth your time or energy.
Write your own story, Rachel. Make it a good one.
Sending you all the love and strength I have,