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!
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
You might also enjoy:
- Stepmoms, who is responsible for your feelings?
- Tips for divorcing a high-conflict person
- Tips on boundaries and discipline on Parents.com