How to keep the ex-wife out of your relationship

Keep ex-wife out**Join the Stepmom Revolution!

I can’t help but be surprised at the number of stepmoms who are thinking about leaving their partners (or have left) because of his ex. It’s not that I don’t understand why these women would want to run and never look back, but it saddens me that their situations became so bad that they felt it was the only option.

So for those of you who remain but find yourself challenged by the ex on a daily basis, here are some ways to prevent her from having so much power over your life.

She can’t call the shots for your family

Mom probably hasn’t adjusted her vision to include you – in any aspect – even though the reality of the situation is that you are very present. Therefore, there will always be conflict where she’s concerned. Because you are a part of your partner’s and stepchild’s family, you and your partner have to be the one calling the shots for your family. If you let the ex dictate what should happen in your home, then you’re letting her manipulate her way into your house and relationship.  The couple is in charge of their household and must stand in their power.

Acknowledge that these are extraordinary circumstances

If you’re kicking yourself for getting so wrapped up in the negativity of the ex, quit it. Stop thinking that this should be as simple as other relationships you’ve had. It’s not like having a toxic coworker or friend that you can remove from your life if you choose. You’re not blood related to her, so there’s no positive history with her or unconditional love to fall back on. And you didn’t choose to have children with her, so you didn’t get here (directly) by your own choice. You’re faced with her because of choices made by the man you love. Yet you’re paying the price for his choices, which can feel very unjust.

It’s easy to obsess about the unfairness of it all, but that’s just one more way you’re giving her power. So give yourself a break and acknowledge that this is one of the most challenging types of dynamics you’ll ever encounter. In fact, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re still standing.

Close the door on no-win situations

Some situations are just impossible. And by impossible I mean that no matter what you do or how hard you try, there’s no appeasing the other household. You know the type of situation I’m referring to. It’s as if you’re standing there telling someone that the sky is blue and they’re yelling at you to “stop saying the sky is red!!!” It doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing rational about it. And there’s nothing you can do to change it – because it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Yet, inevitably, that will be the situation you end up spending all your time and energy on. That is a mistake. When you’re able to see that you’re backed against a wall with very little chance of resolution – shut it down by disengaging. Don’t validate her absurd accusations by responding to them. Instead, turn your attention elsewhere.

Take responsibility for letting her in

If the ex is causing conflict between you and your partner, it’s because you and/or him have let her. Think about it, regardless of what she’s doing or saying, it can only cause conflict if you choose to react to her by turning on each other, instead of supporting one another. If your partner lets her do things that are clearly disrespectful or threatening to you, or if you obsess about her, engage her when she acts out, or get angry with your partner every time he makes a choice you disagree with, then you’re giving her a power she wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s up to you and your partner to keep your relationship intact and keep her on the outside.

Additional ways to minimize her impact

  1. If you must discuss her, set aside a fixed amount of time to do this. Set a timer, and once the timer goes off, put her away. 
  2. Create boundaries around talking points. It’s vital that your partner create these boundaries. The focus should be the kids. If she tries to veer off into the personal, your partner should remind her that he’s not interested in discussing those topics. If she continues, he should leave the conversation.
  3. Retrain your brain. Get out of the habit of thinking and stressing about her. Focus on what’s going right in your life, don’t ruminate about the past. Stop reliving every awful thing she’s ever done to you. My favorite method is to add a helpful mantra as an event to the calendar on my phone and then set it to alert me 3 times a day. For example, “I am peaceful and in control of my life.” After about a month you’ll have a new habit of NOT thinking about her drama.
  4. Remember that whatever is going on with her – you can’t fix it. Even if you were correct in your assumptions and knew the perfect thing to say to her, you are the one person she is unable to hear it from.
  5. Whenever you find yourself getting upset about her, stop yourself and use that energy to do something nice for your partner. The goal is to focus more on cultivating a stronger relationship and less on things that steal your happiness.
  6. Find humor where you can. I’m the last person to think any of this stepfamily drama is funny, but after you’re repeatedly called a liar, from someone who consistently lies, even when she’s under oath, you just have to laugh at the absurdity. Find the funny in the ridiculousness of it all.

In order for your relationship to survive the difficulties of someone so intimately connected to your family, you and your partner must support each other. You must listen to each other and be kind and forgiving when missteps are made. You must maximize the strength of your marriage and minimize the ex’s effect on you. Your family is counting on you.

Interested in working with me? Click here to see how I can help.

This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of SM Magazine.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

You might also enjoy:

How much communication between your partner and his ex-wife is “too much”?

Communicating with exClients ask me all the time, how much communication between my partner and his ex is normal and necessary? Obviously this depends on the age of the kids, whether or not there are mental/physical/emotional issues that require more frequent communication, and how healthy the relationship between your partner and his ex is. Younger kids will require more frequent communications, while by the age of 16 most communication can be directly between teen and parent.

In his book “Keeping Kids Out of the Middle,” Benjamin Garber, PhD gives some excellent guidelines around communication, advising co-parents on exactly what is “too much.”

  1. It’s too much when it’s constant. Barring emergencies, most co-parents seldom need to communicate more than once a day. Many manage with a single communication each week or each parenting period, whichever is briefer.” So unless there’s a constant crisis at your home, those multiple texts a day are unnecessary.
  2. It’s too much when it’s intrusive. Co-parenting communications that edge beyond the kids’ needs, interest, successes and failures and into adult personal matters aren’t necessary.” As soon as a co-parent starts to wander into topics outside of the kids (assuming the other parent isn’t interested), it’s time to shut down communication.
  3. It’s too much when it serves to keep you artificially connected. We must never use our children and our mutual responsibility as their caregivers as an excuse to maintain adult relationships.” Some ex-wives love to use their kids as an excuse to stay connected to their ex. They’ll share inappropriate, personal details of their lives, believing that sharing a child with someone gives them lifelong rights to invade their ex’s personal space with continued, unwanted communications. They might invite them to dinner or ask them for drinks, because it’s “best for the kids.” No. What’s “best for the kids” is a conflict-free home. And that often means limited communication if you’re dealing with a difficult ex.
  4. It’s too much when it becomes harassing, abusive, intimidating or otherwise destructive.” Insults, judgements, continuously bringing up the past and past grievances, blaming and accusing – these are all destructive and may require extreme boundaries, such as a communication restraining order.

If co-parents have  a mutually respectful, friendly relationship and communicating more often works for them and their current spouses, then great! Otherwise, these guidelines are helpful in letting parents know that you don’t need to be in constant contact about the kids to be effective co-parents.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

Interested in working with me? Click here to see how I can help.

You might also enjoy:

 

Confessions of a(n) Enlightened Stepmom

Stepmom confessionUpdated 1/2016. This article was first published in 2011 for No One’s the Bitch. 

I consider myself pretty successful in my transition from single girl to stepmom and I’ve always had the best of intentions when it came to my husband’s ex-wife.

And yet, I’ve made some moves that seemed right at the time, but weren’t.

Here’s one of them:

Being right

I won’t get into the details for privacy’s sake, but basically, I was tired of feeling like my husband’s ex-wife was pointing her finger in our direction for everything gone bad in her household, so I spoke up. Rah-rah, good for me, right??

I even did it in a way that was diplomatic. I didn’t call her names or tell her what I thought of her. I simply sent her an email giving her some really great advice.

I told her the truth; that until she took responsibility for her own life she would never be happy.

Then, thinking that I could enlighten her even further, I proceeded to explain that if she continued to blame others for her situation, she’d never have a healthy relationship and her unhappiness would continue.

All the while, I’m thinking, ‘This is great advice! These are the things her friends should be telling her!’ After all, read any book by Deepak Chopra or other spiritual leaders and you’ll find the same advice. She simply had never heard such wise words and once she did, she’d see the light. It worked for me in my life, so I’d be selfish not to share such knowledge with her. Right?

Yes, I actually believed I was being helpful.

Oh, how naïve I was.…

She’s not interested in what you have to say

To put it mildly, she wasn’t “thankful” for the unsolicited advice, she wasn’t “enlightened,” and she didn’t suddenly see (what I perceived as) the error of her ways.

After a few days, I had some realizations and sent her an apologetic email. These were my thoughts:

  • Each one of us is living in our own reality. Me and my husband’s reality is VERY different from hers.
  • Nothing I could ever say or do would convince her to see the situation from our perspective.
  • She’s viewing life from her own childhood experiences, life experiences, her own values, her own lessons learned. And we’re viewing them from ours.
  • We cannot tell someone else what their truth is.
  • Even if I was spot on with her truth, the last person she’d be receptive to hearing it from is me.

No matter how right we think we are, no matter how much we think we have life figured out, even if we’re convinced we are holding the key to happiness in our hands and want to share it with the world, it’s really only the key to OUR happiness.

So before you waste one more precious moment fretting over the other woman, realize that no matter how justified you think you are, how wronged you think you’ve been, trying to change her will be the biggest waste of your time and emotional energy and will only serve to sink you deeper into her world.

Acceptance

To do this we start by trying to accept that she is who she is. It doesn’t mean we have to like her, be okay with her actions, respect her as a person, or even have contact with her. It just means we say goodbye to expending our energy on wishing she was different.

It means we take back our power by redirecting our energy onto ourselves, our marriage, and our family; where it belongs and where it will benefit us most.

In the end, we can either spend years fighting her, or we can let go, accept her and focus on the good things in life. I’m not saying it’s an easy choice, but it’s a choice that is ours to make.

Where to start

If you decide this is something you want to try, but it seems like an impossible task, start with baby steps. Think about one incident where you’ve been triggered and take some time to think about it from her perspective. What need of hers was she trying to meet by doing what she did? What was she trying to protect? What was she trying to gain? How was she trying to make herself feeling better?

Once you have a clear understanding of what might have been going on with her, release yourself from the need to correct her or defend yourself. The more you respond to her the more you validate her behavior, so focus your attention elsewhere in a positive way. Leave the house, go for a hike, laugh with a friend, do whatever it is you do to center yourself so you can behave in a way that’s true to who you are and so you can be proud of yourself.

© 2011 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

You might also like:

The High-Conflict Ex-Wife

 

crazy ex-wife**Join us for the Stepmom Sanctuary Retreat 2017! 

I talk a lot about dealing with difficult ex-wives, mainly because that’s often the #1 complaint of my clients and well, no one else is really addressing the issue. So, what exactly do I mean by difficult?

They’re the people who might claim they want peace, but then make it impossible to achieve that because they will blame you for everything. They only have one story; a story where they’re the victim and you’re the attacker. And their story only has one ending: them winning and you losing.  They’re not interested in a win-win.

Bill Eddy, author of It’s all your fault: 12 tips for managing people who blame others for everything, describes these people as HCPs (High-conflict personalities). He says they lack the skills for dealing with conflict and have no awareness how their behavior increases the conflict. He says “instead of sharing responsibility for solving problems, they repeatedly lose it and increase conflict by making it intensely personal and taking no responsibility.”

He goes on to explain “the hardest thing to get about HCPs is that they lack an awareness of how they contribute to their own problems. They honestly view others as causing the way they feel and the way they act… They feel they have to lie and manipulate because of unmanaged fears within themselves that they are not aware of.”

In my experience, they’ll always have an excuse or justification for their behavior, while attacking you for yours. They’re also skilled at projecting their own behaviors and beliefs onto you.

They don’t take personal responsibility for anything in their life. They will make you responsible for every single bad thing that has ever happened to them. They will blame you for every bad choice they’ve ever made and every bad consequence they’ve ever experienced. They will tell you their story of how it’s all your fault.

You can’t rationalize or reason with a high-conflict person. They’re not able to see their actual behavior. They’re not being mean or moody, but at this given time in their life, in these current circumstances, they’re not able to behave any differently. From what I’ve read, these people usually, but not always, have a mental disorder or at the very least, a personality disorder.

The good news is that it is possible to be the target of blame of a high-conflict person, and still remain happy and peaceful. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, because their words and actions don’t reflect the truth of you or the situation. It is simply the result of a belief they hold that’s meant to protect themselves from the painful truth about themselves. Keep reminding yourself of that. Also, it’s much easier to hold onto your sanity if you don’t allow them access to you, so protect yourself with firm boundaries and don’t let their attacks penetrate your spirit.

For excellent information and tips on how to deal with these difficult people, read:

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Join the Stepmom Revolution today!.

You might also enjoy:

From Hell to Healing: My journey with my husband’s ex-wife

Healing Stepmom crazy ex wife daphna korf daphna shyevitch

**Join us for the Stepmom Sanctuary Retreat 2017! 

I’ve been with my husband for six years, and I recently noticed that for the past few months I’d been describing those years as “hell.” “The hell we’ve endured.” “The hellish stress.” “The years of hell she’s put us through…” Because even though my marriage to my amazing husband has been wonderful, it was often overshadowed by my hellish experience with his ex-wife.

The stress with my husband’s ex-wife was present from the beginning and I was completely unprepared for what I encountered. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doomed from the start and destined for never-ending conflict with a woman I had never met.

I entered the relationship with my husband with positive preconceived notions of his ex based on what I had seen growing up in my own family; My mom and stepmom getting along fabulously. So my confusion began early on when I expected her to treat me neutrally or better – not like the enemy. It was as if, before ever meeting me, her mind created this horrible person and she placed that image, like a mask, onto me.

Years later it would become obvious that nothing I could ever do or say would change her image of me. I understand now that she probably needed that image of me in order to cover up her pain and unfinished business with herself.

Protect yourself at all costs

Looking back, the one thing I wish I would have done differently was completely deny her access to me. I should have refused all contact with her, but I kept thinking of a million different reasons to leave myself open. I’d get a glimpse of normalcy and use that to hold out hope for the future. I kept thinking that eventually she’d understand me, she just needed time. That she’d see me for who I am instead of the person she believed me to be. I tried to be compassionate and patient.

I tried explaining myself, correcting her misperceptions, etc… But all that did was keep her engaged and allow her to keep dumping her aggression onto me. I would block her from email periodically, but never consistently. And this was my mistake – allowing her back in over and over again.

When someone is aggressive towards you and is completely stuck in their own reality with no willingness or ability to see you in any other light, the only way to protect yourself is to stop giving them access to you. But so often we’re unwilling to take action that will actually keep us safe.

I don’t really believe in regrets – and so much good has come from this experience – but if I could go back to 2008 I would have stopped having contact with her after her first hostile email. Granted, there was no way I could have known what I was in store for. I just couldn’t have imagined such persistent and skewed perceptions existed in that manner.

So how do you know when you should cut off contact? Check in with your body. Assault on your psyche will take its toll. Emotional abuse is traumatic. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and can occur after being exposed to continued harassment. When an email or a text would give me anxiety for days, that was a huge red flag that something was very wrong. When the simple sound of a text message notification caused my heart to skip a beat, that was my cue that I should have been protecting myself better. Our bodies aren’t meant to be on high alert for extended periods of time.

You might think it’s impossible to block contact with someone completely when you share custody and your husband counts on your help, but it’s not. My husband had 50/50 custody, with the boys going back and forth almost every other day. But if I could have seen the future, I would have lovingly told my husband he needed to figure out how to make this work without me ever having contact with his ex. I’d be glad to drive them and help out, but in no way will I have anything to do with her. And he would have. You have to let the main players take responsibility for what’s theirs while you keep your boundaries intact. Otherwise, years down the road, you and your family will suffer.

The Healing

I was 5 years into stepfamily life when me, my husband and stepkids moved 3000 miles away from his ex and I was finally able to get some physical and emotional distance. I didn’t have to worry about seeing her car or running into her at the grocery store. No more negotiating – anything. I finally blocked her completely when the iPhone made it simple and complete: Block all numbers and email with one button.

Ten months later, although 3000 miles away, I was still feeling the effects of her assault on me. I couldn’t hear her name without feeling like I had just been punched in the gut. I found myself angrier than ever at her treatment of me over the last six years. My husband didn’t quite understand why I was still so upset when things were currently good. The ex is far away and I have no contact with her. Why couldn’t I relax and be happy? I was stuck. I realized if I can’t let go of the anger and injustice when I’m 3000 miles away and fully protected – I’ve got a problem. Some healing from the trauma needed to happen.

I was lucky enough to find a retreat center within 45 minutes of my house and very reasonably priced. So I signed up for a “healing retreat” which included 4 days of solitude for self-reflection and daily 90-minute sessions with a counselor.

There’s something very healing about stepping away from your usual environment and taking the opportunity to see things in a new light. Getting away from your home is crucial, because you’re removed from the usual triggers. You have a blank slate and time to reflect without the stress of everyday life. You’re not having to worry or provide for anyone but yourself. You can experience a sense of calm that you just can’t get at home. The bottom line is it’s extremely difficult to heal while in the environment that is causing the trauma.

The third morning of my retreat I was enjoying my coffee and reflecting on something the counselor and I had discussed – that you can’t experience the light without the dark. And it hit me: The darkness is behind me. The darkness of the past six years is over and I’m living in the light. Right now, my life is 100% awesome. I knew that I would never again allow my husband’s ex access to me and that from here on out I would be safe. So it was time for me to let go of anything I was holding onto from the past. After a 20-minute cathartic cry, I was free from the anger, resentments and pain I had been holding onto. I felt light, peaceful and open.

Now I can hear her name or talk about her without the emotional intensity I felt for so many years. I don’t feel it in my body anymore. She’s just another person. One that I won’t welcome into my home or share another family dinner with, but also one whose name or voice no longer has any physical or emotional effect on me.

You’re probably thinking that you can’t achieve this level of healing because you’re still in the thick of it. And you’d be right. As far as I can tell, you can’t heal a trauma as long as it’s ongoing. But you can find strategies and boundaries that work to minimize its effects on you. My number one recommendation is to cut all ties. Take the necessary steps to completely protect yourself from the offending behavior. If you’re not willing to do that then find other alternatives that protect you to the best of the their ability.

How did we get here?

We spend every day just trying to survive the stress, that we don’t take an inventory of what it’s really doing to our systems. Are we more depressed? Short tempered? Less fun to be around? We don’t acknowledge the seriousness of what’s happening to us. Maybe because it’s like any change that occurs over time, you can’t really see it until you wake up one day and find yourself miserable more often than not.

We justify, call her crazy or dysfunctional, but we never really open our eyes to the seriousness of the effects of being treated so disrespectfully. We’re also afraid to stand up and say no because that will make things more difficult on our partners or the kids. But we have every right to protect our well-being and we owe it to ourselves and our families to do so.

I eventually turned this experience into something positive by becoming a certified stepfamily coach and helping other stepmoms through their difficult times. So if nothing else, at least the pain of this experience was not wasted on me.

It’s not her job to care about me

Before I was freed from my anger, I was in the midst of another frustrated thought wondering how it is that she has never apologized to me or owned up to her behavior, when another realization hit me: it wasn’t actually her job to care about my feelings or treat me respectfully. Her job isn’t to ensure that I’m comfortable. That’s MY job. Her job is to take care of herself, which is exactly what she was doing. She was doing what she needed to make herself feel better. And I should have been doing the same. It was my job to make sure that I was comfortable and safe by being inaccessible to her. A job I’m finally taking seriously.

© 2014 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Register now for the upcoming online Intensive, Dealing with the Ex! 

This article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Sm Magazine

Interested in working with me? Click here to see how I can help.

You might also enjoy: