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.
HOW TO SURVIVE THE ‘EX’:
- "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.
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.