Several stepmoms are having the exact same problem. We feel as though the ex-wife has a front row seat into our private lives and relationship. Sometimes I felt as though the ex-wife was a puppeteer pulling the strings in our lives and my husband wasn’t preventing this intrusion. I experienced feelings I’ve never felt and I knew things had to change.
My husband and I have grown immensely since day one of meeting each other. Being a divorced dad, my husband was plagued with feelings of guilt and failure. I entered the picture and realized there were many things I wasn’t comfortable with. In order to move forward and commit to one another, we had to lay some groundwork to have a successful future.
One example of my discomfort included the constant phone calls and texts from his ex-wife. We were on our way out for a date night and his ex calls; 10 minutes later I was frustrated and he remained unfazed. Having dinner, his text alerts would ding multiple times. He knee jerk responded while we were in the middle of dinner. Needless to say, my anger grew.
She’d call regularly to ask for advice, use him as a sounding board, vent about issues in her life, attack him when she didn’t agree with his decisions and seek dating advice. The way I saw it was, she wanted him to still serve in the “husband” role without the actual title. The whole “have your cake and eat it too” theory. This isn’t a fairytale divorce after all.
A second example is that his ex had open access into my husband’s home (having a code to his garage). Multiple times she would be in the house – sometimes planned and other times unplanned. This made for a very uncomfortable situation and unsafe feeling.
One night, we returned to his house following a dinner date. It was my husband’s night with his daughters. We came home to the three of them waiting in the house. Again, the discomfort, anxiety and anger grew.
A final example which led to a lot of anxiety and frustration, is the dreaded schedule change. Having designated days where I knew I would have one on one time with my husband, always gave me something to look forward to. When that time was taken away, I was left feeling sad, unimportant and helpless. I felt as though I had no control. Other people were making decisions in my life. Things had to change.
I had feelings I had never experienced before. The overwhelming anxiety became unmanageable. I was never going to accept being in a triangle relationship. I knew I had to approach the situation in order to make a positive change. In my head, I wanted to say, “man-up” and grow some balls, but I didn’t want to emasculate my husband. Therefore I researched, talked to professionals, friends, and family members and came up with a plan.
Ask your partner if you can have a few minutes of his time. If he is busy, carve out time where you know you will have his undivided attention. No kids. No phones. No TV. Just you and him, eye to eye working collaboratively. Express that you need him to listen first and then as a team you can problem solve. Men are fixers. When you approach him with anything, his brain is thinking, “I have to fix this. How can I fix this?” Give him time to just listen and then together you can come up with a game plan.
- I need you to listen first.
- You do not have to fix this right now.
- Tell him the problem first. Then express your feelings.
- The problem is your ex-wife calling/texting during our dates and time together.
- It makes me feel unimportant and upset that our quality time is being invaded.
- Can you help me with this?
- Ask him to share his perspective and feelings.
- Do you notice this happening?
- How do you feel about it?
- Do you want this to change?
- Find solutions as a team.
- Can we agree not to answer our phones or text messages when we are on a date? If it is an emergency, that is different.
- Do you have another idea?
Sometimes men are stuck in their ways. If you can allow them to see an alternative and execute it, hopefully they will see the benefits.
- Phone rings on our time together.
- My husband is used to immediately picking it up.
- We talked it out in order for him to feel comfortable in making this change.
- What happens if you don’t pick up the phone?
- What is the worst thing that can happen?
- If it is an emergency, can your ex leave a message?
- Can you postpone responding?
Sometimes our partners hold the key in making a change. They can break old habits so that we feel safe. Using an approach where you are teammates working together towards a common goal will be much more effective then attacking. It has taken us time to make growth in the art of communication. He has my back and I have his back. We are still works in progress. But now the only people pulling strings in our marriage, are us.
Nicole DiLorenzo is an educator, mentor, wife, and stepmom of two girls. Her passion of teaching has spilled into the stepfamily dynamic, wanting to help others navigate their role. She runs a blog which helps her therapeutically deal with the many blessings and challenges within the stepfamily dynamic. She enjoys yoga, dog walks, riding motorcycles, vacations, and living a balanced life. Visit www.stepmomwarrior.com for more information.