It is easy to be a loving, supportive and kind partner when you are comfortable with how things are going. It’s easy to feel safe and secure when your partner is making parenting decisions that are in alignment with your values. But how supportive are you when he makes a decision with which you don’t agree?
Do you become difficult? Distant? Judgmental? Controlling? Do you feel the need to convince him he is wrong? If so, you are being what I refer to as a fair-weather partner. And it could ruin your relationship.
Why does this happen?
Most of us parent according to our values, and when our values are violated it can trigger a life-threatening feeling in us, causing us to react without thinking. When we feel like our survival is at stake, we try to convince our partner (through any means possible) that he is wrong. It can be a pretty ugly scene.
The problem with this is that your partner has his own values and is attempting to honor them. He has his own reasons for the decisions he’s making – reasons you may never understand. And if you repeatedly challenge him about his decisions, he will feel betrayed.
When a man feels betrayed, he becomes much less interested in meeting his partner’s needs.
What does your partner need?
If you want your relationship to last, your partner needs to know you are on his team even when his team appears to be losing. That’s called LOYALTY.
When you believe in him, even if he hasn’t given you much of a reason to, he often will start to become the winning guy he sees reflected in your eyes. He will trust you. And when he trusts you, he will repay you by making your relationship a priority.
He will be compelled to give you what you need. And he will come to know you as his constant champion—unlike his ex (who berates him when things don’t go her way) or the kids (who get angry when they are not getting what they want) or even his parents (who repeatedly give their unsolicited opinions). As the wife who stands by his side, helping him up when he falls, you will earn his trust and become his haven.
What do you need in return?
If you want your relationship to last, your partner needs to know you are on his team even when his team appears to be losing.
You need to make sure you are taking care of your well-being amidst the many things in your stepfamily over which you don’t have control. If a decision is being made that affects your time or energy, then your partner should definitely be discussing it with you and coming up with a solution that works for both of you.
If he chooses not to include you, then you need to create boundaries in order to protect your time and energy.
For example, if he and his ex decide (without asking for your input) that your stepchild should attend a new school and they expect you to be the one shuttling him back and forth and that doesn’t work for you, you need to let him know you won’t be available and he will need to find other means.
If he makes a decision that indirectly impacts you, like allowing his child to have unlimited screen time which causes meltdowns at bedtime, you can protect yourself by letting him be fully responsible for bedtime rituals or bowing out of attempts to soothe the child. You can be supportive while creating boundaries.
I’ve outlined four ways to begin doing that below.
It doesn’t matter if you have read all the best parenting books or have already successfully raised your own child. If you push your own agenda onto your partner, he will believe that you don’t think he’s a capable parent.
What you can do is ask your partner if he would like help brainstorming possible solutions to whatever problem he is facing. If he agrees, let him know what has worked for you or what you have learned by educating yourself. But if he doesn’t ask for your help, or if he chooses to go a different route, that’s your cue to let it go.
Give up the need to be right
Looking at decisions in terms of right and wrong will set you up for conflict and disappointment. Instead, every time you catch yourself judging your partner’s parenting as wrong, try to reframe it and tell yourself he’s just doing it differently.
Remember that just because your partner does not do things the way you would or wish he would, it does not mean he is screwing up his kids. And even if he does screw them up (because let’s face it, all parents screw up their kids a little), then that’s part of their journey.
His parenting decisions may not be “right” for you or your child, but they are right for him—even if the results turn out differently than he intended.
Be a partner first, stepmom second
Know that your main job is to tend to your relationship, not to parent your stepkids or judge and control the parenting of your partner and his ex.
When you feel an urge to control a situation that is not yours to control, ask yourself: Is it more important for us to have a happy, healthy relationship or is it more important that he raise his kids the way I believe they should be raised?
If you’re leaning toward the latter part of that question, you are going to have a difficult time being a part of a stepfamily and might want to rethink your priorities.
Accept the reality of your situation
The stepmom is the lone family member who is greatly affected by decisions in which she often has no say. This is the truth of stepfamily life and one of the reasons why being a stepmom is so difficult.
It is one thing to have to live with consequences of your own choices but quite another to have to deal with consequences from choices that others have made. Having a husband who understands this and takes his wife’s feelings into consideration is often the difference between being in a happy or a strained marriage.
At the same time, you must understand there will be times when your partner makes decisions regarding his kids that will negatively affect you. In these cases, he likely perceives that tending to his kids’ needs—in the end—should take precedence over protecting your feelings. It doesn’t mean he is a bad husband. It’s just something he has to do. It is yet another piece of the challenging stepfamily dynamic.
What does being supportive look like?
Being supportive doesn’t mean being a doormat and it doesn’t mean selling yourself out. It also doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with the decision you are supporting. It means that you are choosing to respect your partner’s decision. You can show him support by doing the following:
Once a decision is made, stop bringing it up. Let it rest.
- Don’t keep trying to get him to change his mind on an issue you disagree on.
- Don’t be angry with him. If you truly support him, there is no anger there. There is only respect for his individuality and his right to parent his kids as he sees fit.
- If his decision leads to a negative consequence, empathize versus criticize: “I’m so sorry, honey. I know this is hard. You did your best. You did what you thought was right at the time.”
- Don’t ever say, “I told you so,” or any variation of that. Throwing his failures in his face isn’t respectful or supportive. It’s childish.
- Don’t probe him about the situation. Let him come to you and share when he’s ready. By being a supportive partner, as opposed to a partner who has to have everything go her way, you are doing your part to honor your relationship and ensure its survival. You are showing up as a woman who respects her partner by being kind and loving as he grows as a parent and a person. And, most importantly, you are creating a space for both of you to make mistakes within the safety net of your relationship—a safety net that will serve as the foundation of a rock-solid romance that will last long after the last child has grown and left home.
By being a supportive partner, as opposed to a partner who has to have everything go her way, you are doing your part to honor your relationship and ensure its survival.
You are showing up as a woman who respects her partner by being kind and loving as he grows as a parent and a person. And, most importantly, you are creating a space for both of you to make mistakes within the safety net of your relationship—a safety net that will serve as the foundation of a rock-solid romance that will last long after the last child has grown and left home.
Jenna Korf is a Certified Stepfamily Foundation coach, an RCI Certified Relationship coach and co-author of the book, “Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.” She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post and has been featured as a stepfamily expert on CNN.com, parenting.com and care.com. Jenna is also a Registered Nurse, a stepmom and a stepchild. To read more from Jenna or for one-on-one coaching visit her at StepmomHelp.com.