Monday, June 29, 2009

How To Survive The Ex-Partner

As all us who live in stepfamily-land know only too well, dealing with ex partners can be one of the most difficult and daunting aspects of stepfamily life. During one of the stepmother support group meetings I used to run some years ago I asked all the stepmums who were present to share their thoughts and ideas and their tried and tested tips on how to best survive their (and their partners’) relationships with the ‘ex’. Subsequently the following was sent to me by one of our support group members who firmly believes in the sentiment expressed by the following quote:

You cannot tailor-make your situations in life, but you can tailor-make your attitudes to fit those situations.” (Zig Ziglar)

In keeping with this belief both she and her partner work very hard at living its wisdom on a daily basis. Although this hasn’t solved all their step-related problems, they certainly have a much better relationship with the ‘ex’ than most step couples I know. In sharing her suggestions with you, we hope that it will do the same for you.


  1. "Love your kids more than you hate your ‘ex’".

This piece of advice was given by a father who some years ago was interviewed on the Sunday show. Whilst this sounds rather simple, those of you whose ‘ex’ is hostile, uncooperative, vengeful and committed to making your lives a misery know that it isn’t easy at all. However, in order to achieve a reasonably harmonious home life and remembering that it’s our precious kids that are at stake, it is a piece of advice that is well worth striving for.

2. Always seek a 'win-win-win situation' for the kids, the ‘ex’ and yourself.

Never ever stage yourself against the ‘ex’ or take an adversarial stance as everyone will lose. I know that this may mean a lot of compromises, but I also know that making them will be worth it in the end.

3. Avoid suspicion, conspiracy theories or negative thoughts about the ‘ex’.

Having such thoughts will only hurt you, waste your energy and ultimately hurt the kids. Children readily repeat things that are said to them and it’s so easy to think the worst when you hear what the ‘ex' has been saying. Put a positive spin on it or simply disregard it as a misinterpretation. If your children are old enough, ask them not to tell you those things.

If the 'ex' sends the kids to you in grotty old clothes, don't decide that she's doing it on purpose and don’t waste your energy worrying about it. Chances are that the kids just dressed themselves in the first thing they found and she was too busy with something else to notice.

Even if the 'ex' does something ridiculous (for example ours has recently shown our 6 and 7 year old “Lord of the Rings” twice in spite of being explicitly asked not to), don't allow yourself to go down the track of thinking she did it to spite you, get at you etc. If you think this way, the world will seem this way and things will only get worse. In our case, we just assume that she is so selfish that when she felt like watching it , she just put it on, the kids saw it and we got to deal with the nightmares.

The truth is, she just doesn't think about anyone other than herself. Whilst this isn’t great, it is far easier for us to deal with than setting her up as our enemy who is doing these things to get at us.

4. Never ever fight with the ex in front of the kids.

If you are in a face-to-face conversation with your ‘ex’ that isn’t gong too well, just say something like "I'll talk to you later when you've calmed down" and walk away.

If it’s a phone conversation, make sure the kids are out of hearing range or ask her to call back when she is feeling better, then hang up and don't answer again until you can be fairly sure that she's calmed down.

If civil discussions are impossible, limit your contact to emails or communication books. When people write down what they are planning to say, they can hear themselves better and are less likely to write destructive or irrational stuff.

To implement these boundaries it may mean getting caller identification and not answering the door.

Taking steps that ensure that your children are not exposed to your fights is of vital importance. So, just remember to do whatever it takes because fighting in front of the kids hurts everyone.

5. Do whatever you can to build a positive relationship with the ‘ex’.

Put the past behind you! Stop obsessing about money unless you are hungry and have no roof over your head. Buy her birthday presents and occasionally do something nice for her. The nicer you are to her, the easier your life will be. Swallow your pride, be civil and kind and she will have little choice but to be nice in return...hopefully…maybe…eventually!!

6. Minimise contact.

Whilst it’s definitely helpful to be as nice, as positive and as constructive as you can muster, there is a limit to everything. Doing it too many times a week could well “do your and your partner's heads in”! In order to avoid that happening, simplify custody transfer and possession transfer arrangements so you don't have any more contact than absolutely essential.

7. Stay out of court at all costs.

Generally courts breed a huge amount of animosity in an enormously adversarial environment. It’s like they want you to hate the ‘ex’. Don't fall for it, it’s all just a ploy to make the lawyers money. Keep your head and negotiate positively for an ‘out of court’ arrangement.

8. One last tip for dealing with the ‘ex’ that has been particularly relevant in my situation and I believe could work for you as well was given to me by a family friend who has been through a rough divorce and had to take on a lot of responsibility for the children. I often remind myself of this piece of advice and believe that it keeps me sane: "Give her all the rope in the world.... and she'll hang herself"

This is not meant in a literal or a vindictive way. It is simply a coping strategy that helps me and my partner to make all the compromises that are necessary to ensure that things are as harmonious as possible.

I hope that these tips will be helpful -

XXX Anonymous stepmum

Just today someone sent me these wonderful words, penned by an unknown author. As they fit perfectly with everything our lovely stepmum has shared with you, I decided to add it in the way of summarising her suggestions.


Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

Promise yourself to talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet;

To make all those you meet feel that there is something in them;

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true;

To think only of the best and to work only for the best;

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own;

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future;

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile;

To give so much to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others;

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

(Author unknown)

More thoughts, ideas and tips on how to 'survive the ex' can be found in my Step By Step booklet - THE EX FACTOR. To read an excerpt and for purchasing, please click here.


Anonymous said...

I am really at a lost as why the bio moms are painted to be monsters or something you need to survive, maybe the kids and the ex have survive a person they never wanted or needed in their lives... like someone their dad had a affair with... just a thought before you give sainthood away to only stepmother... who matter... bio mothers matter too... we did give birth... and many of us have custody of our children and wind up being the only parent... parenting... I think it best to do your best for the children and take the high road... but you know it is a two street... this is like the age old battle of working moms vs stay at home moms... it is not a war and there is no enemy... making that the case is so very wrong...

Sonja Ridden said...

Hi Anonymous,

You are so right when you look at this picture from the perspective of a separated bio mum who is doing her darnedest best to survive all the changes, especially if they were not of HER making, her bitter loss of expectations, her disappointments, sense of betrayal and helplessness. As I not only work with second families but with couples in all sorts of crises including separation, I am fully aware of how the 'ex's repartnering looks 'from the other side of the fence'. Separation and divorce cause much grief and the truth is that nobody involved remains unscathed. Stepmothers don't belong on the pedestal but they often, though clearly not always, are just as innocent and helpless in the face of the destruction caused by the splitting of the original family unit. All of this is a problem to which, unfortunately there are no easy answers. The best anyone in such a situation can do is to remember that the most innocent of all in a marriage break-up are the children. If both parties are able to put aside the issues they have with each other for the benefit of their kids, this alone has the potential to make all the difference. Sadly, far too many people seem to be quite incapable of doing this...thus we have lots of very unhappy stepmums, lots of equally unhappy bio mums and bio fathers who feel like the 'meat in the sandwich'.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

I have to say. Taking on a man with 5 children has been really hard. Every attempt ive made to set up new traditions to benefit the kids has been seen as a dig, either by the mum (god only knows why), or by the teenage daughter who sees me as meddling in her and her dads relationship. when ive always been clear that we (my partner) and i are becomming a family unit and trying to make them feel welcome in that "family" All i seem to be getting is mud thrown at me. Im hearing that the kids are going home to mum saying disrespectful things about me - but yet to my face they are completely nice as pie. Im at a stage where im lost as to what to do. any advice is appreciated.

Sonja Ridden said...

Hi Anonymous,

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be a stepparent to 5 children - 5 extra people in your world - 5 different personalities, each with different thought, feelings, fears, anxieties, loyalties, confusions, hopes, dreams, needs etc. etc. You must be a very brave woman indeed!

Unfortunate though it is, none of us can control what others will say behind our backs, even if it’s untrue, unfair and hurtful. All WE CAN do is to retain our own integrity in the face of this challenge. This means trying to be as accommodating and kind as possible, remembering that children are immature and don’t have the life experience or understanding of adults.

My suggestion would be, if your stepchildren are as nice as pie when they are around you, that you try and accept this at face value. I’d also encourage you to remember, when this feels too difficult, that each of these children will one day grow up and then have the ability to judge for him or herself what an important part you have played in their growing years.

Often, children who were real step-horrors, turn into lovely young men and women who by that stage are incredibly grateful to their stepparent for being understanding, forgiving and for not giving up on them.

I hope this helps,
Best wishes on your step-journey -
Sonja Ridden

Anonymous said...

I would be happy to be fair and supportive to bio mum, if bio mum was sane and acting in any manner resembling normal, but in my case, experience of bio mum was totally dysfunctional and quite alarming.

Soon after I started seeing my partner, his ex-wife faxed my work a 6 page fax, which my State Manager collected off the fax machine first thing in the morning. Being anxious it hadn't faxed, she had sent it 3 times. 18 pages of insanity, addressed to me, that my boss read. She also rang me to 'follow' up, and unleashed a bizarre and frightening character assassination of him and told me I could "have the wedding rings". They had divorced 5 years earlier. I told her calmly, but with a pounding heart, that there was no need to enter into any of this, and all we needed to do was focus on the best interests of their little girl, and what arrangements would work best for her upbringing. There was no emotional content I needed to know about. She was so worked up, it was palpable over the phone, and my State Manager (a woman) actually had to try and help her calm down.

It took 18 months before I was allowed to meet his daughter, because she manipulated the child to be afraid of me, or made her believe that it was a big deal to meet me. Contrary to this, I have worked with my partner to get him financially stable, so his child support is now paid on the day ever week and we are always able to give her expensive gifts and fulfil requests for extra money, whereas before he was not.

My partner also has teenage sons to another woman, who i've had issues with too, despite trying only to better the household and provide a secure environment. I've been accused of "mistreating my boys" by her, been told by one of the sons to "*** off back to where you came from" and called a "sl**" by one of their girlfriends for asking her not to park her car on our lawn. Suffice to say, she doesn't stay at our home any more.

So intense, and I had no experience of this sort of venomous, intense meanness up until this point.

Fortunately, my partner is very supportive and stands by me 100%. Despite this, I can honestly say, the last 18 months has been so challenging, and really required a thick skin and to adjust to a very steep learning curve.

I don't think we should demonise bio mums, or put step mums on a pedastal either. But I do think all parties should make an attempt to act like adults and behave in a civilised way. After all, a step mum is just a woman who has fallen in love with a man who has children. Certainly her choice to be with him means she must take accountability for what that means to some extent but also, don't take all her dreams away from her.

Step mums are just little girls who grew up. They still have dreams of being loved, wanted, valued, and creating a home and a family that they can be proud of. How come they're not allowed to have that?

Anonymous said...

Its really annoying to see that all the concessions need to be made by the step parent. Shouldnt it be the bio parent who is the bigger person and puts (her own childrens needs /feelings ) before her own. I am a child of divorce (divorced when i was 20 and my mum tried to make me choose between her and my dad. Yes my dad had an affair (on her) but hes still my father. I have had a very rocky relationship with my mum cause of the venom she has spurted out about my father over the years. It angers me the mothers seem to think that children are or should be more loyal to them. It drove me closer to my father as he never put such demands or said anything about her at all. Im not sure why bio mums cant move on. I personally think that as a person you must be very weak or obsessed if you cant show your child how to move on healthy in your life. I am a stepmum and have been for 8 years, they had been apart for 1 year before i came on scene and she hates me like poison. My step kids are 11 and 10 and they are wonderful, trying like all children but they have defnitely enriched my life. We are a real family unit and they are always given opportunitys etc to spend time on their own with their dad etc but they never want to and always want me along as they consider me a part of the family. The bio mum nags that my man doesnt do enough or pay enough (ha never enough) but when we do have them over more she tries to control our house and what happens with them. She has abused me in front of kids at soccer matches , ignores me when I have said hi, accuses me of being insecure. Uses the kids as blackmail tools ie well if you arent going to have them when i want your not goin to see them for weeks. She even had the nerve to try to get my man to sign a piece of paper saying that the kids wouldnt be with me on their own ie on holidays or if he had to duck out . When her boyfriend of 6 months watches them all the time. She tried that and when that didnt work said they arent coming over then at all and witheld them for 6 weeks but then she wanted to go out so we were allowed to have them over. ARE YOU for real... I believe that majority of exs are obssessed with getting the father back (making him pay) for moving on and being happy, cause obviously the mothers arent. It must be the case, why else would someone put so much energy into causing problems etc with her own child. I think our society has it wrong, stop feeling sorry for the poor victim mum. Its disgusting, she is so self righteous and if we did the same as her (which we have ) its still wrong... I get to see alot of this in my current employment with the community and it disgusts me as a woman to know how horrible, venomous that we can be..

Anonymous said...

I think bio mums can apply the above 1-8 too!

Its very trying to be just the bio mum without a partner as you do feel ganged up on.

I have decided to no longer try to make things work and just not have a brain. Because no matter what; im wrong, criticised or manipulated.

Goodluck everyone! Remember kids are important... not your egos!

Anonymous said...

All of these situations seem so similar to mine. Have been looking for information like this for a long time and your tips are really good but some times hard to put into practice. The abuse i have received from my partner's ex has, i have to admit hit me for six. I have three kids of my own and my new partner has two so bringing this family together has been really challenging to say the least. His kids are not allowed to like me and have been told by their mother not to be in any photos with us all this is doing is unsettling them and doesn't benefit anyone in the end. She is using Facebook as a weapon and after all the messages i have coped from her i have deleted my account and my partner has received so many text messages discrediting him and me and just generally puts us both in a bad mood. I really don't want to play this game of hers but it can be really frustrating with someone trying to trip you up all the time. I just want to be happy and live a great life and not deal with all this negativity. Just wondered if you could give a an idea of how to move passed this should i extend the olive branch and start again with her or not bother and try and get on with things?

Sonja said...

Hi there, I am only too aware just HOW difficult it can be to put these tips into practice. It pays to remember, though, that they were offered by women who are in the same situation as you and I can assure you, because I know all of these women, that they too have been through the step-mill in one form or another. Each and every one of them has to deal with very difficult circumstances.

The one thing we all have in common, whether we are stepmums or not, is that none of us can control another person’s behaviour. This is very frustrating in any case and is even more frustrating when it’s a person whose behaviour has such a negative impact on us.

I can’t advise whether you ought to extend the olive branch or not as I have no idea of how useful this might be. What I do know, however, is that if you are to live a happy and peaceful life you cannot make how YOU feel dependent on the ex’s behaviour. I know only too well that this is a lot easier said than done but I also know that unless you manage to detach emotionally, it basically gives her permission to sit in the driver seat of your life: She behaves badly, you feel bad – she behaves well, you feel fine. That’s no way to live! All you can realistically do is to focus on doing YOUR BEST and to TRUST that at the end of the day the example you set with YOUR behaviour and the atmosphere created by YOUR positivity, will win out over everything else.

Good luck - Sonja

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your advise how right you are. I need to get back in the drivers seat of my life and stop letting her actions control my emotions. Being positive does win out in the end so that's the road i'm going to take. As for extending the olive branch i think it might be too far beyond starting again with her. Thanks again xo

Anonymous said...

Having never been in a relationship with someone with children before and having none of my own (I'm 38) it's been a real learning curve. I can not understand why a loving caring parent with the best interest of their children in mind would want to vilify the new partner to the children.

No matter how much the biomum wants to control the situation the step mum is going to have a strong influence simply by close association on the children, especially if the kids are little.

Wouldn't it be smarter to befriend the new partner rather than risk having a true evil step mother that doesn't interact with the children doesn't want the children in her home simply so they don't have to deal with the mother.

Ultimately it's the kids that are hurt and grow up as dysfunctional adults.

I'm not sure why this is the step parents responsiblity to point this out.

skitchin00 said...

Wow reading all of your comments has really given me hope. There are times when my life is a nightmare

skitchin00 said...

I couldn't agree more! My mom gets along very well with my dads wife and always has, I love all three of them for that. It has never been awkward for me, I have never been in the middle of a vicious tug of war. I give them all the ut-most respect for that.
I am now playing the role of step mom, and while with one bio mum it's been a joy, the other is miserable and does all that she can to make life an undesirabke task.
Still I treat the children with kindness, and try to reason with the evil bio mum. It has been a pleasure to have these little blessings in my life. I wish the bio mum could just let go, move on and find happiness. Really who is she hurting?

Anonymous said...

It is hard when your seeing someone who has kids particularly when you recieve negative hatemail from the ex to try & split your r'ship up. Its harder when the child makes comments about how the father does not need a girlfriend but needs his daughter. Sometimes I think why should I take on the hassle. My partners child is a very difficult child as she is very abrupt & its a challange to teach her write from wrong when her moms says things like im ugly, fat & their dad left bcos of me.which is not can a person defend themself when the mother is teaching the child wrong things & the child sides with the mother even over the father.

Anonymous said...

I am a stepmother who has been married to my husband for 2 years n since we have had 2 babies of our own, but that doesn't stop bio mum trying to control every aspect of our lives. She seems to think she can pick and choose the days we have their daughter, eventhough it was agreed upon we have her friday to sunday, if she feels like it she will just change the days. Recently she rang from a party to tell their daughter my husband was the reason she wasn't at the party and kept saying ' daddy is selfish isn't he' how out of order is that? The worst though is she ran away with their daughter the night before our wedding even though she had told her she can be a bridesmaid and even let us take her for hair trials and get the full outfit! What hurts the most is she still tries to tell me he still loves and is sleeping with her, and comes to my works to give me verbal abuse and slander! I know he isn't sleeping with her, but she just won't move on, she won't be happy till we are as miserable as her and that is how I am beginning to feel, but I don't want to, I don't want all this to affect the babies that were born into a loving relationship and still have both bio parents.

Anonymous said...

ok I need advice please!
I have been with this guy for 11 years. He was in a marriage before with two daughters. Now 15 and 12. The mother of the children then left the kids with us for a few years with seeing them once a month if that. Then she remarried. wanted nothing to do with the girls until she met another man she go involved with. No serious until the Girls father my husband told there mother he loves me and want nothing to do with her she is not attracted ti her at all any more. Then she takes the girls. She tried to say the father and i abused the girls in more than one way. which therapist said the girls were being coached to say everything they said. After she didn't get the girls like shes wanted my husband got in to some trouble went to jail. So for six months the mother keeps calling me telling me to get out I will never amount to anything and my husband will never be anything and so on. When her telling the girls we both are worthless and what ever negative things she can about us. Ok fast forward a bit. The girls never answer when we call or send messages anything . Until we go to court because they want there step father to adopt them because they have been brainwashed so bad that there father is nothing good. which we have a son together who is amazing and i am a teacher. Every parent loves me so apparently I love kids! But back to the story what to do to get the girls to know who their real father is? We have not seen them in 3 years.

Anonymous said...

I can't do it! I am the bad guy in every darn comment or blink. The ex lives in the home still and never refi or sold 9 yrs ago. Kids are grown up but 2 still live there too. My husband and I attempt to mail, email, talk to lawyer on the plan of house do to not being able to purchase our own. Instead ex calls police and reports harrassment, I had hit her with my car , used her social for credit report or foodstamps info, tried to get fired due to accusations of me messing with her car loan, police report on putting house for sale. These are obsurd!!!! She is nuts!!!!!! I can not handle this still. Every lie I can prove on paper. Her police report has divorce decree in her words that's are not true about house info or the Damn line of credit with checking acct still open after 9 yrs that my husband called bank and demanded it to be closed. She hates being shown wrong or what she is doing is wrong. Police found nothing to charge me with. Where is my rights?!!!

Unknown said...

Are you a stepmom?? I believe the site is made specifically for stepmom's, all the challenges they face personally in their situations, and is not to belittle or demean the challenges BM's have to face. That would be a site/support group for BM's, which I'm sure is out there for you, if that's what you need. It does help, however, to try and put ourselves in one another's shoes, scope out the other side, and try to better understand where each are coming from, rather than devaluing one another's experience.

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