One of the things I see step-moms struggle with over and over is feeling jealous and insecure when it comes to the ex. We know in our heads it doesn’t make sense. We know in our hearts our men love us. We know that our men chose us day after day, but still…the tiny voice in our heads whispers terribly painful things that make us feel crazy and insecure.
It’s not attractive to feel insecure or jealous. We are ashamed of even having these feelings. Secure, confident women don’t feel like that! Women who are loved and secure in their relationships shouldn’t feel like that! I call bullsh*t. I have seen some of the most secure, confident, successful women I know brought to their knees by their feelings around not being enough in their step-mother roles.
Being grossed out by the idea of our partner having sex or being intimate with their ex is a congruent response. It’s not about us being jealous or insecure, it’s just icky thinking about the person we have sex with doing that stuff with someone else. Only in a step-family are you expected to interact on a regular basis with someone your man has been deeply intimate with. Not only are you expected to interact, but you’re also expected to feel ok about it, and ignore how uncomfortable it makes you feel. If you don’t – there is something wrong with you! You are jealous, or insecure, or lacking something in your relationship. Newsflash – almost no-one wants to be hanging out, making nice, and swapping recipes with the woman your man used to love and want to make babies with.
It’s also congruent to feel off balance when we are faced with or reminded of the experiences our man and his ex share, experiences that we are not a part of. It’s hard to see there is a wealth of shared experiences, often involving the child we love, that exclude us. That doesn’t make us jealous or insecure, it just means we find reminders of the shared experience challenging and uncomfortable. These feelings will pass more and more as our wealth of shared experiences build.
Sometimes our responses to situations are not congruent; things like feeling unloved or unworthy because of an event or conversation. If we unpack that experience, we see this single moment or incident does not invalidate the myriad of experiences we have that show us we are loved and valued. We can lose sight of that in moments of being off balance, so it’s our job to look at whether our feelings are congruent with what happened.
We need to know we will be tipped off balance from time to time, it’s life. No matter how zen or woke we are, life will come along and tip us off balance, usually when we least expect it. Being off balance actually has a very important purpose, it is a learning opportunity. It’s an invitation to unpack more of our baggage, to examine our responses and insecurities.
It’s ok to tell our men we are not feeling solid. It’s ok to say – I’m feeling wobbly, I need you to take some time to connect with me to help me feel ok. Telling your partner you are feeling insecure and jealous can immediately put him on the defensive. He can feel as if he is doing something wrong, he is not making you feel loved enough or secure enough. Ironically, this feeling of being wrong can have the exact opposite effect of what we need. He retreats, not knowing how to make us feel better. We feel rejected, and even more insecure. We double down on our ‘I’m feeling insecure I need you to show me how much you love me…’ and round and round the merry go round goes. Except no-one is feeling very merry.
Finding ways to let our partners know all is not right in our world, without them feeling shamed or blamed is key. Telling them we are feeling off balance or wobbly is a softer way to let them know we need connection. I tell my husband I need pats. It’s a running joke in our house, that started with one of his cats. He knows when I say I need pats, I’m feeling I need some coddling, I need to know he is there and he has my back. Creating a phrase that conveys this to our partner can be a great way to avoid falling down the neediness rabbit hole that ends up pushing our men away.
You’re not weak or silly for feeling unsettled in your relationship when your partner’s past is so present in your home and family. It’s not weird to feel grossed out by anything that suggests previous intimacy. It’s not wrong to feel sad that our first experience of having a child with our partner is not his first experience. What is important to realise is that for him it is a first. It is his first with you. The experiences he had with his ex will fade, and his focus will increasingly become more about you and the family you are creating together, a family that will include his children from another woman.
So it’s ok to feel those feelings. Just don’t get stuck there, seek out connection in a way that your partner can respond positively to. Join a community of women who understand. I can highly recommend Stepmom Revolution. I see women come into the group feeling so isolated and alone. The difference in their lives once they realise they are not alone and these feelings are pretty normal is almost miraculous.
This step-mom gig is not an easy one. Hang in there and know you are not alone in feeling jealous and insecure from time to time.
Anita is the Lifestyle Editor at Stepparent Magazine and is a step/mum to 7, ranging from tweens to adults. As a child of divorce and a divorced mum, she was completely unprepared for life married to a man in a high conflict relationship with his ex. This led to her current career, helping others deal with complex step-family dynamics. She lives in New Zealand but works with clients in the US and Australasia. Her passion is mentoring divorced and step-mums to step into their power and couples to navigate the challenging waters of step-family life. She is a certified step-family coach, with graduate and post-graduate qualifications in psychology.