It’s a similar refrain on
this site by now: try to get along with the ex-wife or stepmother; it’s worth
it in the long run; take an honest look at yourself to see how you’re getting
in the way — blah, blah, blah. But how do you actually GO ABOUT making this
happen? What does it look like? Why even bother? What should you expect when you make the
effort? Worst of all, what if it doesn’t
Furthermore, who in the world EVER actually gets
along with the "other woman?" Only saints and aspiring authors? Women with poor boundaries? Needy,
friendless women? Similarly-attuned,
Before we get to the
questions, here’s something to consider: what if you wasted the remaining years
of your children’s lives hating the stepmom or ex-wife — judging her, setting
her up, tearing her down — and you could have
actually gotten along with each other? What if you made an effort to connect and discovered it was actually
possible? Wouldn’t you be kicking
yourself for all the time you spent trying to prove her wrong? All the extra crap experiences you just
assumed were inevitable?
So where to begin if you’d
like thing to be better between you two? Here are a few suggestions to mix things
Just like when you weighed
whether to read this article or not to see if it might have anything to offer
you, the willingness to explore comes before anything. When you venture forward, however tentatively,
you start to get a sense of possibilities;
of different habits, techniques or perspectives available to you.
Then… it just wells up all
on its own, or it doesn’t — an actual decision: to go ahead and try to form a bridge of some sort between you two, no
matter where you are now.
Sure, it might be one of
those shaky, twisting rope bridges that make you feel like it’s going to buck
you right off. It might be a sturdy log uniting two cliffs. Whichever the case — making that initial
decision sets new energy in motion.
Before you can make that
decision in earnest though, you’re probably wondering….
What’s in it for you? What if you really just cannot stand the ex-wife or stepmom? The LAST thing you feel like doing is
reaching out to her! Cutting her any
slack, letting go of your judgments and resentments, making things too easy for
her by letting her off the hook, after all the crap she’s pulled.
Well… I hear ya.
You might also feel like
the whole prospect is just too scary and vulnerable, opens you up to
further conflict and chaos, more drama. You
may be afraid of what you stand to lose: control; the freedom to not get along if you don’t want to; the
feeling of safety and comfort from your current vantage point. You might also
wonder whether heading in this direction puts you under a certain pressure to
always make it "one big happy family" now…
And I hear you on those
fears too. Totally reasonable and
extremely common. You’re perfectly in
tune with the chorus!
It’s not like Carol (the
stepmom) and I (the mom) initially saw any benefit to getting along
either. In fact, it didn’t even seem
possible. Or desirable. We both thought, Why
in the world would I ever want to have anything to do with her?!
But let me ask you this: have
you ever had a big emotional breakthrough in a relationship with another person? Whether friend, lover, family member,
co-worker? I’m sure you had some
legitimate grievances, but at some point, you set your objections aside. That’s not to say you just blew them off or
made excuses for them. Or even passively
accepted them. But you also understood
that, eventually, there was a way to work
around your points of contention;
to loosen up and soften — and then you shook hands with the other person, metaphorically
Can you do the same thing
Like cleaning out an
overwhelming mess, sometimes you just have to start by removing the trash. What
you can you remove from your behavior, your thinking, your mental storage box —
that is actively negatively or unhelpful?
In the United States, 1,400 new stepfamilies form every day! We can’t afford to just leave
stepmother/ex-wife relationships in the gutter. With the rate of divorce twice as
high for remarried couples with children, there’s too much at stake.
In the United States, 1,400 new stepfamilies form every day! We can’t afford to just leave
So, if you’d be willing to
make the effort, even just a little bit at first, here’s what you stand to
- less stress
- the relief and freshness of collaboration
- better parenting
- happier children
- friendship (maybe, eventually)
- less anger and bitterness in your life
- a stronger, more resilient relationship
Okay… actions! What does
this look like? How do you do it?
Imagine a sequence
We recommend starting out
with baby steps — bit by bit, day by day, gesture by gesture. You might begin by simply asking her how she’s
doing on the phone, or in person, if you’d never normally do that. Offer to loan her a good book you just
finished reading or a new CD. Surprise
the hell out of her by baking her something, corny as it sounds — some cookies
or banana bread or hey, make her some home-brewed beer.
It doesn’t have to be this
big awkward deal, where your efforts are sticking out like a sore thumb. And there’s no reason to hang yourself out to
dry like laundry on a pole. Try to
choose a gesture that fits for you — the level of vulnerability; something
appropriate to her interests; something that lets you save face if she’s not
jumping for joy over your magnanimous deeds.
The whole point is to
signal a reconciliatory tone on your part, a change in status from adversaries
to possible alliances. Wouldn’t you
start wondering what was up if she took similar steps with you? It would get you thinking, huh?
If you really want to be
bold, you could ask her out to coffee. Just the two of you. Find something
that has to do with the kids that you’d like to share, like a finished report
or project. Keep it short and sweet.
If you’d like, you could
send her an email or letter, asking her if she’d like to join you in making
things better between you two. Even if
she says yes, the internets are riddled with tales of one-step-forward,
two-steps-back, so don’t expect miracles. But don’t expect a disaster either!
I KNEW this was never going to work!
What might you expect from
your efforts? They say forewarned is
forearmed and in this case, it goes both ways. For her, forewarned might mean, aha!
I have time to muster my defenses! Fine
– she wants to craft some lovey-dovey dance of friendship between us, well first I’m going to show her in exact detail how
she’s made my life miserable!
And for you, it’s good to
know in advance that it would be perfectly natural for her to react to you with
fear and anxiety, a sense of competitiveness, anger and pissiness, or like the
biggest victim in the world. Annoying,
isn’t it? Especially when you’re being
so generous and high-minded!
On the other hand, she
might actually respond to you with a tentative wariness, a cautious sense of openness
and curiosity. She might just be willing
to guardedly see what you’re all about — and there’s your chance to forge a
bridge. Talk to her about what might be
possible between you two, what a relief it would be to not be enemies
anymore. Respect the fact that you both
have different priorities, feel wounded by different experiences in the past
and may not even choose to engage with this person were you not stuck together,
as you are. You still have much to gain
if you can both agree to a truce.
And see — really, it didn’t!
So what if you reach out,
heart and soul dangling by a thread, and she basically throws it all back in
your face? There’s a psychological
technique where you imagine the worst possible scenario all the way to its
bitter end and then ask yourself: would this kill me? Could I get over this? Can I pick myself back up and move on and
eventually let this go?
Same thing here.
Let’s say you end up in an
argument. She hauls out her whole
laundry list of your offenses, your mistakes and flaming failures. She couldn’t give a damn about any stupid
truce. The words "friend" and
"(insert your name here)" will never be linked together in a million
years if she can help it. Matter of
fact, YOU are a total idiot for even trying! Probably you’re only doing so because you KNOW how wrong you are in the
first place and you feel guilty, with all the shenanigans you’ve managed.
I sigh with you as you’re
These things happen….
It is perfectly possible to pick yourself after such a dust-up, brush
yourself off and regroup. You’re going to be fine….
Take some deep breaths in
the car. Listen to music you love. Get though the immediate moments afterwards
and emphasize to yourself that she has her issues, you have yours and you’re
each responsible for handling your own garbage.
Call a supportive friend, but
make sure it’s the right one. Meaning,
someone who’s willing to listen with a neutral ear and call you on your self-righteous
shit if need be. Someone who understands your overall goals of wanting partnership
and harmony, and will wend their way through your emotions with that outcome in
Go exercise to blow off
steam and release negative energy.
Meditate, watch mindless
TV. Do whatever it takes to let go….
This is going to be the
last thing you want to hear, but at some point, you may be ready to try again.
Rinse, lather, repeat
You’re the only one who
knows whether it’s possible to establish any sense of cooperation and communication
with the other woman. But before you
bound onto the Bandwagon of Scorn, ask yourself if you’re taking the easy way
out. Most stepmoms and ex-wives hate
each other. And most women are happy to
just leave it at that, convinced it’s really the other side’s fault.
What a shame….
See if you can give it
another go — another time. Give yourself
some space to settle back into yourself; adopt the Zen discipline of a
no-gossip policy; follow up on anything you said you would.
Practice doesn’t always
make perfect. But actions taken from a place of humility and good intentions always
have their own inherent, rewarding grace….
© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved