How to protect yourself from your partner’s disrespectful ex

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Disrespectful ex-wifeDear Jenna,
Dealing with my partner’s ex-wife is one of the most upsetting and aggravating aspects of being a stepmom. She calls the house at all hours, sends disparaging text messages and emails and makes harassing and insulting comments. I know I need to set some boundaries with her, but I don’t know how. Help!

I Explain:
It’s a strange phenomenon, this lack of common courtesy and basic manners when it comes to ex-wives and stepmoms. Some ex-wives feel entitled to express themselves, no matter how inappropriate or just plain mean – simply because their kids are involved. I could list many reasons for such behaviors, but in reality those reasons are irrelevant. It doesn’t actually matter why she’s behaving this way. What matters is you, how you respond and how you take care of and protect yourself.

The most effective way to protect your time, space and emotional well-being is by creating healthy boundaries. A boundary is a limit you create to identify what behavior of others is acceptable around you and what isn’t, as well as how you would respond if someone violates that limit. Boundaries help us take back control of our lives by minimizing the negative impact of others. They work because they don’t depend on the other person. They only depend on you and your consistency.

You can make requests of people, but you can’t make them comply. This is where boundaries come in. You’re basically informing the person how you’ll respond if an unwanted behavior continues.

  • “Will you please stop calling my cell phone 50 times in a row if you can’t reach one of the children? If you don’t stop, I’ll block you from
    my phone completely.”
  • “Would you mind not calling me a homewrecker, or some version of that, every time
    you see me? If you continue to insult me, I’ll rearrange my schedule as to avoid all interactions with you and you’ll have to find another person to help you with the kids.”
  • “You know what I’d really appreciate? You not walking into my home uninvited, screaming at the top of your lungs for the kids. If it continues, we’ll be keeping the door locked and you can wait outside until we send the kids out.”

What Type of Boundary Is Right for You?
In regard to the ex-wife in your life, the level of conflict and type of impact her behavior is having on you will determine what type of boundary you will want to create. For example, if you have a cordial relationship with her, but every now and then she broaches a topic you’re not comfortable with—like her opinion of your husband—then your boundary might be, “I’m not comfortable talking about my husband with you. The next time you bring him up I’m going to end the conversation/hang up/walk away, etc.” On the other hand, if every interaction with her consists of insults, harassment and disrespect, the boundary will need to be more extreme: “I don’t feel that our communication is healthy for me. From now on I won’t be responding to your texts/emails/calls. All communication can be between you and my husband.”

You can’t stop her from calling or insulting you, but you don’t have to answer and you can become inaccessible to her. In both of these situations, as with all boundaries, you’re telling her what you will do.

Stick to Your Guns
The toughest part about boundaries is being consistent. Just like trying to instill a new behavior in a child, you need to enforce the boundary every time the unwanted behavior is exhibited. If you say you’re going to walk away every time your husband’s ex-wife starts to insult him, but then you feel awkward or scared so you let her continue her attacks, all you’ve done is teach her that you’re not serious and her behavior is, in fact, acceptable. By sticking to your guns, you’re showing that you mean business. You’re teaching people how to treat you and you’re showing respect for yourself.

You can create a boundary for almost every situation that makes you uncomfortable, but it takes guts. You’re basically standing up and saying “No!” to something that doesn’t
feel good. That can be scary, especially when the other person will likely pushback. The behavior may even get worse before it gets better. But if you’re consistent with your
boundaries, what you will find is freedom. Freedom from feeling like you’re getting beaten down and walked on. Freedom from feeling like someone else is in control of your life. Freedom to live your life in peace and be in control of what you allow in your space and what you don’t. 

This article was originally published in the October issue of Sm Magazine.

© 2014 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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12 thoughts on “How to protect yourself from your partner’s disrespectful ex

  1. Every time I read one of your articles I feel validated and relieved. I’m doing the right things, my heart is in the right place, and I’m finding sanctuary in my partner. Thanks, Jen!

  2. It’s such a relief knowing I’m not alone. Sadly, I have the issue of a non-involved ex-wife/bio-mom. She’s all too quick at forfeiting her time with the kids, be it Mother’s Day or Christmas, they always come back hours earlier than expected. My husband and I always welcome them back but I can’t help but feel it isn’t fair (for us) and especially not good for the kids. They must feel some sense of rejection knowing they spend 75% of their time with us when it’s supposed to be 50/50.

    • Wow,I could have written this. My step kids mom is the same. Every year for Christmas, she takes off on some expensive trip with her rich boyfriend, and comes home and brags about it, then tells her kids she could never afford to take them on a trip. Every school holiday, she ditches them at our house (which we are fine with having them here. I use the word ditch for how she behaves in regards to the kids) , and then constantly complains that she always has the kids and we never take them and guilt trips my spouse if he tries to set boundaries or says no to her, she says “well fine. If you never want to see your kids why don’t you just pay me child support so you never have to see them and done with it!” … It’s gotten so bad that I actually took the time to count all the days they are at our house, and it turns out they are here 80% of the time. What is up with some people? I love my step kids, and hate to be rude, but some people should not be mothers…. Especially if they treat their kids like an inconvenience.

  3. Honestly, I can’t help but get a little bit annoyed by theses articles. Just yesterday a surgery was delayed 3 hours because of my husband’s ex; in the last 18 months alone she has only attended 3 doctors appointments (one of which for less than 15 minutes) out of 21, but still managed to be 45 minutes late for the operation therefore my husband and I finally just went back with their child into the pre-op room. When the bio-mom arrived she created such a scene that security had to be called and she demamded that I be removed! The 3 of us; my husband, his son and myself all had no idea what was going on in the waiting area until security came in to explain that they had been ordered to escort me to my vehicle!
    More than an hour and a half later the hospitals head of security found me crying in my car and said that the surgical nurses and anesthesiologist have been looking requesting to speak with me. Imagine bio-mom’s surprise when I was the one with the medical history and revelent information that they needed!

    • Katie, these are articles are designed to help stepmoms see where they have control and how to exert that control to protect themselves. You don’t have control over mom’s behavior. And unfortunately, many extreme exes will exert their power where they legally can – in medical and school situations. It sucks, but until the kids are of age, the legal system says mom can say who can and cannot participate in these areas.

      • Oh believe me I know … But if you guys want to be helpful then offer real help! I’ve been living in the trenches for 6 years. Her husband has already hit me with his car, she broke into our house, stolen my social security number, I’ve had to change my cell phone number a dozen times at least, it is court ordered that the child exchanges take place at a police station now because of her …
        My point is offer solutions. I can tell you that the sweetheart route saying, “Can you please not scream at me ‘I am the f&%$ing mother so when I kill you all I have to say is I was protecting my child and I’ll get away with it!’ because it really hurts my feelings and if you keep doing it I just won’t talk to you anymore.” The ex will laugh at you because that’s exactly what she wants is for you to go away.
        Like acting in nolo parentis – is good advise when the ex starts having a fit about step-mom taking the kid to dentist because dad had to work.
        Peaceable contact orders – work just like restraining orders and ppo. When the households come in contact with each other it has to up beat and friendly or it can be violated just like a ppo (including jail time and fines).
        And maybe MOST importantly you are a wife/gf/partner/whatever – Not a foster mom or a therapist! Your sole purpose in life after meeting someone that had children before meeting you is NOT to facilitate a relationship with someone that won’t even talk to you on the phone. This is the real world here and it gets pretty hard to be in love with bio-mom and spend every minute thinking of ways you talk her up and promote that relationship when you aren’t allowed to speak to her, about her, in front of her, have an opinion about her, her child, her life or living arrangements, you can’t go to the school, doctor, dentist, or soccor games and “her child” isn’t allowed to form any bonds with “that b%$#hes” family! Just enjoy the time that she tells you that you are allowed to have, doing what she tells you you are allowed to do, with the family that you wouldn’t have without her!

        • Jenna, I just got your book (Skirts at War) and read it in one evening. Great stuff and really good food for thought. Here’s my question: how do I set a boundary with the biomom when my husband won’t enforce it… meaning it is more his boundary to set (and he would rather not). An example: we have his two kids every weekend, Friday night to Sunday afternoon. About 75% of the time, something comes up at the very last minute that requires me/us to change any plans we made for the kids (from play dates, to what I’m cooking for dinner, to whether or not my husband will spend an extra hour in the car driving them up and back from the two houses). I understand that stepmomhood requires flexibility, and I’m working on that. BUT… I would like to set a boundary with her… something like, “I would request that you give us more advanced notice on any plans you might have for the kids on the weekends, as it greatly impacts our time with them.” But what’s the consequence? “If you don’t give us three days’ notice…” WHAT? We don’t have a formal custody arrangement (they have always just “worked it out,” though I can tell you I don’t feel it’s working), so it’s not like she’s violating a court order if she keeps them from us. She’ll just say “screw you… I’m keeping the kids every weekend.”

          • Hi Kirsten, wow, you read it in 1 night? That’s some heavy reading to do at once. 😉 Glad you found it so helpful though. 🙂

            The reason you’re having trouble with this boundary is because as much as you’d like to place it, as you said, it’s not yours to place. If your husband isn’t interested in placing the boundary then your job becomes to place a boundary around the RESULTS of behavior you dislike – and the boundary is to your husband, not mom, because when it comes to the kids, it’s not your place to create a boundary with mom. So in regards to the scheduling things on your time at the last minute, an example of your boundary might be “if we keep getting notified at the last minute that our plans have to change and the dinner I made will go to waste then I’m only going to be making dinner on the nights we don’t have the kids.” Make sense? If your husband decides to accept certain behaviors from mom, you can’t do anything about that. Especially if he really thinks it’s working for him. Your job is to figure out what YOU need to do for yourself in the face of this. I hope that helps!

    • I AGREE WITH YOU 100 PERCENT I AM IN THE SAME BOAT WHAT MAKES ME SO MAD IS THAT THESE BIO MOMS NEED TO UNDERSTAND IN MY CASE BIO MOM DECIDE TO NOT BE A PARENT AT ALL TO THE KIDS AND NOW THEY HAVE SOMEONE THAT IS TRYING TO BE A GOOD ROLL MODEL FOR THEM AND LOVES AND CARES FOR THEM EVERY SINGLE DAY IN EVERY WAY AND WHEN SHE BIO MOM DECIDES TO CALL OR COME AROUND SHE THINKS JUST BECAUSE SHE GAVE BIRTH TO THEM SHE HAS ALL THE SAY SO WELL I DISAGREE WITH THIS AND THERE SHOULD BE SOME LAW THAT BACKS UP THE STEP MOM AND DADS IN CASES LIKE THIS SHE DOESNT EVEN KNOW HER KIDS AND HAS NOT BEEN AROUND OR APART OF THERE LIVES FOR OVER 11 YEARS NOW AND HAVE DONE IT ALL FOR THEM FOR A LONG TIME AND I JUST FEEL LIKE ITS TIME SHE GETS IT NO ONE CAN TAKE AWAY THE FACT THAT U ARE THE KIDS MOTHER BUT THERE IS ALOT TO BE SAID FOR BEING A MOM ESPECIALLY WHEN THE OLDEST SAYS HER MOTHER IS HER BEST FRIEND WHICH IS HARD TO TAKE BEING YOUR BEST FRIEND IS ALWAYS THERE FOR U AND IN THIS CASE THIS IS NOT TRUE SHE HAS NEVER BEEN A MOM DRUGS AND LEAVING HER KIDS WAS THE NAME OF THE GAME WITH HER ALSO SHE HAS TO UNDERSTAND THAT ONCE THE KIDS ARE DOING GOOD AND MAKING POSITVE LIFE CHOICES SHE IS THE FIRST TO TRY TO MAKE THEM LIKE HER A LIER USER AND MINIPULATOR THIS IS VERY SAD SHE HAS THEM ON A EMOTIONAL UP AND DOWN CYCLE AND I FEEL THIS IS SO UN HEALTHY FOR THEM AND IT NEEDS TO STOP I FEEL SHE NEEDS TO BE HAPPY THAT HER KIDS SHE SAYS SHE LOVES SO MUCH ARE DOING SO GOOD BUT INSTEAD SHE BLAMES ME BLAMES DAD AND TRYS TO START AS MANY FIGHTS AS POSSIBLE WITH US AND IT ALWAYS OVER LITTLE THINGS AND TELLS THE KIDS ITS ALL OUR FAULTS THAT SHE CANT AFFORD ANYTHING AND SHE CANT SEE THEM ITS NOT OUR FAULT AND INSTEAD OF TELLING THE KIDS THIS WE LET IT GO WE DONT WANT TO TALK BAD ABOUT HER BUT I THINK IT IS TIME TO LET THEM KNOW THE TRUTH AND IF THIS WAS TRUE THEN WE WOULD NOT ALLOW THE KIDS TO SPEND TIME WITH HER BIO MOM FAMILY AND WE HAVE EVERY CHRISTAMS AND EVERY SUMMER SO ITS TIME THAT STEP MOM AND DAD STEP UP AND SAY NO THIS IS HOW IT IS AND THE OTHER BIO DAD OR BIO MOM THAT IS MARRIED TO THE STEPMOM OR DAD NEED TO BACK THEM UP ITS TIME AND ALSO I THINK ITS TIME THAT THE BIO MOM IN MY SITUATION LEARN TO HAVE SOME RESPECT AND STOP TALKING ME DOWN TO THE KIDS IF I WAS THAT TYPE OF PERSON SHE WOULD NOT LIKE IT DO TO I HAVE ALL THE DOCUMENTAION AND PROOF I NEED TO MAKE A VERY BLACK AND WHITE ON PAPER CONVERSTATION AND IVE HAD ENOUGH AND I THINK IS TIME SO TELL HER TO BACK OFF AND TELL HIM TO SUPPORT U AND I UNDERSTAND ALL TO WELL ABOUT THE TEARS AND I WILL PRAY FOR U HAVE A BLESSED DAY

  4. I’m so glad I’ve found this site – wish it had happened much earlier!

    For those ‘in the trenches’ (particularly the poor, frustrated woman who was hit by a car) boundary setting as described so well here does work but it takes practice. Once you get used to it, it’s quite empowering. However, you set boundaries as you feel appropriate to your particular situation – if you feel the situation is beyond talking, actions speak louder than words. We have a high conflict, almost certainly personality disordered bio mom to deal with so we have to be particularly firm. Some of our examples:

    Too much unnecessary communication by phone and text which often ended up putting the kids in the middle. Blocked her from all phones and created a Google number just for her in case of emergencies. We now communicate almost exclusively by email and when she sends unnecessary messages in any form, we ignore them. Massive reduction in hassle. When we do respond, we keep messages short, firm and deal only with required factual information and ONLY about the kids.

    Unwanted approaches in person – asked her to stop, they continued. We then informed her she would be taped during all interactions (third party state). Big reduction. This was also eventually court ordered and they’ve almost stopped completely. She still pushes the boundaries but we simply reinforce them – it becomes reflexive after a while.

    Public interactions such as school/sporting events etc – as the step parent you can avoid all of them. Simply don’t go or ask for separate appointments where applicable – that’s what my husband does and docs/school have all been fine with it. If you see her in the street/store, walk away. Hospital visits, don’t go or wait in the car/outside or walk away as soon as she turns up. Take the wind out of her sails and don’t reward bad behavior with an emotional and/or dramatic reaction – it’s what she’s looking for.

    Dictating what goes on in your home. Simply don’t allow it figuratively/psychologically and don’t let her on your property physically.

    Using the kids as mini spies – again, don’t allow it in your home. If you have to (and we did) remove cell phones and prevent communication between your home and hers when the kids are with you. If court ordered to allow phone calls at certain times, comply but get it changed as soon as possible if the ex is abusing the privilege. The kids can handle a weekend/few hours with dad/step mom without her having to intrude.

    Record every event so you can use the civil and criminal legal systems when necessary..

  5. My boyfriend left, cause we had an argument that involved hes ex wife. He has been sleeping at her house for about a week. Cause he thinks it’s ok cause hes 27 yr old son lives there with he’s mom. And he’s ex wife has been re married for yrs now.
    I’ve tryed to explain to my boyfriend that he had no right running to he’s ex wife. Just because he doesn’t have any where else to go. But he continues to believe that is ok. Again because he’s son lives with her.
    Pls help.

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