Put Down Your Good Intentions and Step Away From the Ex-Wife

 

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We often talk about stepmoms overdoing it and needing to step back from all their responsibilities; needing to take a break from taking care of everything and everyone.

But sometimes it’s not the stepchildren they need to back off from.

Sometimes it’s the ex-wife.

Stepmoms usually start out innocently communicating with mom around things like schedules and logistics. If that goes well, she starts thinking “Great, mom is receptive to me. She’s accepting of me.”

She then takes mom’s receptiveness as an invitation to move into position and start taking the reigns around other aspects of co-parenting.

She also starts to think she can heal the relationship between her husband and his ex. Oops…

What starts out with good intentions on the stepmom’s part, often turns into an ugly power struggle or war between mom and stepmom.

Before she knows it, she’s crossed a boundary she couldn’t see and mom is up in arms accusing her of overstepping and trying to take over.  (Cue the barrage of nasty text messages from mom)

The stepmom is often an easy scapegoat. We’re the new kid on the block (even if we’ve been around for years). And it’s so much easier to point the finger at someone else and tell them what they’re doing wrong, than trying to see how their presence could benefit the family and wanting to find solutions.

Stepmoms, when you start getting frustrated about this, remember these four words: YOU CAN’T FIX IT.

It was broken long before you showed up.  And as much as you might love your husband and want to make things better for him, you can only do that in your household. When it comes to his ex, it’s HIS job to handle her.

There are some moms who do communicate better with their child’s stepmom and choose to deal with her rather than her ex. For those of you who can make that work, I commend you!

But for all the others…

Your husband has a choice. He either chooses to lay down some ground rules with her or he chooses to continue letting the dynamic be as it is.

Either way it’s his choice.

So what do you get for  “getting out of the way”? You get to improve your marriage. What your husband wants is to feel supported by you. By letting him deal with his ex and NOT harassing him about his decisions, or hers, you allow the space to simply support him.

And you get to go about your business focusing on all the things that bring you joy, knowing that whatever stress she brings, you’re more protected from it than you would be if you were right in the line of fire.

This will be a challenge for those of you who define yourselves as control freaks. You might feel like bursting at the seam every time something happens, but eventually you learn to enjoy not having the pressure of needing to know every gory detail of the interaction.

And you might need to fake it ’till you make it. Put notes around the house reminding you to bite your tongue.

Your husband is a big boy, let him handle things in his own way (which I guarantee will be different than the way YOU would handle them).

If it’s something that affects you, then have that conversation with him. Otherwise, learn to let go.

You’re making room for more peace in your life and at the same time showing your husband “ I trust you, I believe in you.” And more than anything, that’s what our husbands want to feel from us.

So stepmoms, do your best to remove yourself from fights that aren’t yours.

Your marriage will thank you for it!

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Dealing With Defensiveness

How many times have you attempted to address an issue with your partner only to have them skirt the issue or turn the problem around on you?

Defensiveness can be a huge relationship breaker. It prevents people from working through important issues because they’re not able to communicate their needs or  make requests.

Defenses are a means to throw you off track; to confuse you so you can’t convey your message, and in turn, the defender doesn’t have to respond.

Though defensiveness takes many forms, the way to effectively respond to it is generally the same: remain focused on your original point.

The following information comes directly from a great book on boundaries called  “Where To Draw the Line: How To Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day” by Anne Katherine, M.A.

Whether you encounter these defenses frequently or you’re the one guilty of using them, awareness is the first step to learning how to diffuse them.

Seven common defenses:

1. Anger. Sure, there are times when anger might be an appropriate response, but if it’s an initial response before the conversation even starts, it’s a defense mechanism. It can be a way of saying “Don’t go there. I’m going to try stopping you before you even start. If you confront me, I’ll be angry at you.”

Response:  Responding to the anger will lead you away from your main point. Ignore it and proceed with the conversation.

2. Missing the point. The goal of this defense is misdirection. If you’re asked to give examples of the issue at hand (which is an appropriate request), but then the person starts arguing the example, you’re now sidetracked into addressing the example, instead of the main issue.

This is what misdirection might look like: Your main issue is that you feel ignored when your stepchildren are visiting. Your spouse asks you for an example. You say “Last weekend, they walked in and didn’t say a word to me. Then you three proceeded to start a game without inviting me to join.” He responds “Well, you didn’t seem like you were interested. And you were mad at me. I wasn’t about to invite you to join us when you’re in that kind of mood.” You say “No I wasn’t. I was waiting to see if the kids were going to talk to me.” And on and on…

You’re stuck defending yourself in the example instead of addressing the fact that you felt ignored.

Response: State that you don’t want to argue the example. The example is only to illustrate your point. Get back to the original issue.

3. Accusing someone of feeling something they’re not. This defense is usually very effective at sidetracking the initiator. For example, if you’re calmly addressing the issue and the person says “you’re furious!”  it’s easy to then become angry even though you weren’t a minute ago.

If you start arguing about whether or not you’re angry, the defender wins.

Response: If you become angry, acknowledge it and return to the main issue. Say, “I’m angry now, I wasn’t a second ago. As I was saying…” and return to the original point.

Or, if you don’t become angry at their accusation, say “I’m not angry, as I was saying…”

4. Offense. The best defense is a good offense. If you find yourself struggling to respond to one attack after the next, you’ve fallen into this trap.  You’re again sidetracked, because you’re busy responding to multiple attacks. You’re just trying to keep your head above water. The other person is making you wrong, and you’re getting further and further from your original point.

5.  Multiple defenses. This might include accusing you of overreacting or acting inappropriately for a given circumstance,  and bringing up old arguments.  This is all an attempt to confuse you and make you wrong.

Another common defense is mirroring you incorrectly. For example, if someone says you’re yelling abusively when you’re actually just raising your voice in frustration.  This can make you feel wrong, and again, throw you off track.

Response to #4 and #5: “You’re responding with one defense after another. Please do your best to listen to me. If you have a problem with ____ , that is a separate issue that I’ll be happy to discuss at another time. Right now, I’m talking about  ____.”

This also might be a good time to ask for a time out. Take a few minutes to calm yourself. A few deep breaths will help you get centered so you can return to the main issue.

6. Parroting. This might look like: “You aren’t listening to me.” “You’re not listening to me!”  This is when someone takes your statement and uses it as their own. It’s another way of trying to throw the initiator off track.

(When I hear this one, it always makes me feel like I’m back in grade school.)

7. The need to have the last word. You know who you are. You just have to have the last word or you feel like you’re going to explode. For example, “Fine, just walk away like you always do.”  This one isn’t as damaging as the others, but it keeps the conflict alive.

Katherine also states, “The first time someone acts as if they are being accused, you can reiterate your own purpose, need or intention. Clarify the boundaries of your concern. For example “I’m saying this, I’m not saying that.”

Explain how you want the other person to receive you. For example, “I’m not accusing you of being bad, I am saying something important to me. You are doing something in our relationship that feels bad to me. I want you to listen to my concern.””

The more you respond to someone’s defenses, the further you get from your original point.

The key is to stay focused. If you need to, write down your main issue before you address it. Refer to it when you start getting off track or drawn in to the defenses.

Defensiveness can cause suffering for everyone, so do your best to respond appropriately and be aware when you’re the one on the defensive.

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

(Photo credit: graur codrin)

Five Ways to Make Your Marriage a Priority

It’s not just a myth that in a stepfamily the marriage needs to be the number one priority. It’s what has been proven to work hundreds of times over. Otherwise, there ends up being a second divorce, or just two miserable people tolerating each other.

Either way, it sucks for you and it sucks for the kids.

The couple is the pillar of the family unit, holding the family together. But when the children’s wants are made to be more important than the adult’s needs, chaos ensues.

Kids need structure in order to feel safe. As Ben Garber says in his book Keeping Kids Out of the Middle, think of the marriage as their safety net; something they can rely on.

Be prepared. They’re going to test that net to see how far they can stretch it. They need to know it will stretch without breaking. They need to know they can count on it to be there, to catch them when they fall.

Here are 5 practices that will help ensure you’re making your marriage the priority!

1. Explain the new “structure” of the family to the kids.

The kids are often in pain from divorce and the loss of their family, resulting in misplaced anger (usually aimed at the stepmom). It’s up to the biological father to listen to his children, empathize with them about their pain, but remind them that the new structure of the family includes the stepmom.

Let them know they’re loved and find out what needs of theirs are possibly not being met.

Make sure to have some alone time with them at every visit. And talk to them about possible solutions for what’s ailing them.

2. Stepmoms, your spouse must defend you to the kids.

The children will take their cues from dad, so he needs to be your biggest advocate. He needs to let them know that he loves you and that although they don’t have to love you, or even like you, they must behave in a respectful manner to you, as his wife.

Referring to you as his wife, as opposed to their stepmom, may be less threatening and easier for the kids to digest.

3. Be affectionate in front of the kids.

It’s healthy to hold hands, give a peck on the cheek, etc… If the previous marriage was volatile, this might be the first time they’ve ever witnessed love and affection between two healthy adults.

This is your opportunity to model a loving relationship so they have a better chance of experiencing one for themselves in the future.

And give yourselves some alone time! Do your best to create a date night (or at least a date hour). The adults in a marriage need to experience each other without the children around. It’s important to keep up the “R-rated” aspect of your relationship, so you continue to see each other as more than “parents.”

4. The couple should never undermine each other in front of the children.

Stepmoms, if your partner doesn’t agrees with something you’ve done or said to the kids, he needs to support you in front of the kids and then discuss it behind closed doors.

Otherwise, the child may see the stepparent as insignificant, and feel a sense of power over the family. He may believe he’s found a way to drive a wedge between the couple, thinking this might be his opportunity to get his parents back together. And he may think he can dictate how the family runs.

I don’t actually need to describe the hell it would be to have a child running the household, do I??

As Foster Cline recommends from the book Parenting teens with love and logic, “A good relationship between child and stepparent is healthy and worth striving for. But when disputes arise, the birth parent must unequivocally back up the stepparent as an authority in the home.”

And stepmoms, you’re not off the hook here. This rule goes both ways.

5. The child won’t respect the stepparent if the biological parent doesn’t insist on it.

By “respect” I’m referring to listening to the stepparent when she’s directing the child, not insulting or badmouthing the stepparent; showing basic manners.

If this isn’t occurring, the biological parent needs to step in. It can’t come from the stepparent, because the child most likely does not feel any loyalty or responsibility to the stepparent.

The results of a child not respecting a stepparent can be enough to damage the marriage. A stepmom may feel powerless in her own home. She will come to dread the children’s visits.

She will feel she is cooking, cleaning, nurturing this child, only to be completely disrespected. If this goes on for too long, the stepmom ends up feeling used and abused, instead of loved and supported.

She will also be angry with her husband for not protecting her or listening to her needs. She may feel so beaten down that she doesn’t think it’s worth it to stay in the marriage.

After all, the marriage is the reason she’s here!

As you can see, the dad holds a lot of responsibility for keeping the stepfamily intact. That’a pretty big burden and it’s a difficult job. But with his wife’s support he can succeed. And with her husband’s support, the stepmom will know that her marriage is strong. She will know that her efforts are worthwhile and her emotional cup will be filled.

And the whole family will benefit!

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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