So, you’ve started dating a guy who has children with his ex. Evidently, you want your stepmum journey to be as plain sailing as possible, and this means attempting to get along with your stepchildren and even your partner’s ex.
Now, when I mention the word ‘befriend’, I don’t mean that there is a level of expectation that you need to suggest nights out or shopping trips with the ex; however, perhaps you have made several attempts to reach out to her but things seem to be going awry.
Below are 3 scenarios that indicate it may be time to call it quits (for now at least):
1. One chance, two chance, three chance, four…?
Have you found that the ex has reciprocated your advances for a rapport but that it is in actual fact generating negativity in your life?
For example, in an attempt to help your partner’s situation with his ex, you offered her your number, email address etc. to later find that she is abusing this channel of communication. The ex may apologise but with all best intentions, you find yourself making numerous excuses for her behaviour towards you and keep letting her back into your personal space. Consequently, you find yourself on a never-ending emotional roller coaster holding out hope that the ex will stop the ride at any moment.
If this is the case, you may be experiencing an ex who has high-conflict behaviours. This will likely mean that the ex is driven by drama and has no real interest in befriending you other than to create chaos in your life. There may be several motives for her behaviour towards you yet, this may be detrimental to your own happiness and sanity, as well as your relationship with your partner.
2. The ex is not ready
Are you exchanging the odd ‘hellos’ or ‘goodbyes’ and finding that you are being snubbed?
Perhaps, you are keen to impress the ex by showing her that you are taking good care of her children when they are in your care, yet you don’t understand why she does not want to see the likeable, fantastic gal that your partner sees.
Separation and divorce can be one of the most stressful experiences that occurs in a person’s life. Emotions can run high for years and people may take a long time to adjust to their new lives.
The ex may be experiencing worries that even your partner knows nothing about, such as finances, grief over the end of her relationship etc. Being reminded of a stepmum entering the picture may be something she just can’t face at this moment in time. As a result, the ex may not feel ready to build up any type of rapport with you until she starts to feel better about herself and her current circumstances.
3. It may actually be you who isn’t ready
Me? I hear you say! But, hear me out.
Do you find yourself dwelling on your partner’s relationship with his ex or comparing yourself to her every time you see her or hear her name? If so, you may be guilty of trying too hard at a time when in theory you aren’t yet ready to accept the other woman hovering in the background.
Whilst your initial intentions were harmless, befriending the ex may have stirred up emotions that you didn’t know existed until you became a stepmum. Let’s be honest, whilst you knew your partner needed to remain in regular contact with his ex when you started dating; it’s not the most ideal situation. The reality is that no one would choose it in a perfect life.
So, if having any communication with the ex makes you feel anxious, insecure or even jealous, keeping her at arm’s length may be just what is needed for the time being whilst you adjust to your stepmum role.
Okay, so what should stepmums do?
- Her issues are just that…HERS – Whether this involves high-conflict behaviour or normal emotional issues, remember that they are not personal to you as a person.
- Create healthy boundaries that protect you – Until the ex has shown signs of committing to a rapport, do not continue to leave yourself open, especially to any negative behaviour. Whichever scenario best fits your current situation, you’ll need to enforce boundaries that keep emotional and physical distance between you and the ex. This may take the form of blocking on social media/phones, not being present at collections/drop offs etc.
- Continue to grow as a stepmum and as a person – We’ve all experienced things in our lives that we wish we could have handled differently and no doubt you will encounter plenty of these in your stepmum role, too. Regardless, keep moving forward and concentrate on your own wellbeing and personal growth.
- Stop trying so hard – Let nature run its course. As with all of the above scenarios, there is one thing that both parties have on their side and that is TIME. It may take months or even years for one or both parties to get to a place in their lives where they are happy to befriend the other, even if it’s just hand gestures of ‘hello’.
- Put the shoe on the other foot – Unless you are guilty of doing things to upset the ex, try practising feelings of empathy and compassion for the ex. This doesn’t mean excusing the ex for any wrongdoings towards you but gaining a form of understanding will help you to remain at peace with yourself.
- Have a support network – having people around that just ‘get it’ will help you immensely. Whether this is seeking support from your partner, a stepparent forum, stepfamily coach etc. Knowing that others also experience the same feelings as you will also help you come to terms with this situation.
As with any relationship, it takes two willing participants for it to be successful. There is no saying if your partner’s ex will ever change her perspective of you enough to be amicable, or vice versa.
Even so, it is important to remember that not having a rapport with your partner’s ex does not mean you are failing as a stepmom. It may be that you will both come to that mutual place in the future, and this is great news if you do. However, it is possible to still lead a fulfilling life in your stepmum role without needing to form that stepmum/mum rapport. As Doris Day once sang, “Whatever will be, will be”. You can function and thrive without it. It is okay. It can be good enough.
Corinne Foote is the Founder and Editor of Stepparent Magazine and is also a certified stepfamily coach.