As one of the most common feelings experienced by step-folk is anger, in this week’s tip I am sharing what I have learnt about this throughout my time as a stepmum.
Honestly speaking, I have found that since entering the stepfamily arena my angry outbursts have become far too common. Prior to meeting my husband everything in my life was, to a degree, orchestrated - BY ME! I lived alone, invested as many hours as I chose in a career that I loved and had an extremely hectic social life. Other than my family I only had ME to consider and although keen to marry my husband and take on his two children, I wasn’t prepared for the additional baggage that was part of the deal. For a long time I felt 4th in line with the kids coming 1st, the ‘ex’ a close 2nd, my husband 3rd and me an obvious last!
In the early days I was very jealous. As it was his ‘ex’ who had ended the marriage, I constantly lived with the insecurity that he might go back to her. So, life as I had known it was over, and what I had previously considered to be stressful I now thought of as having been sheer bliss. I experienced huge mood swings. When I felt up, wow! was I up but when I felt down, oh boy! was I down – and everyone else was dragged down with me. My mood swings depended, of course, on how often the ‘ex’ called and, more importantly, on what she wanted. Her name managed to weasel its way into every conversation, regardless of whether it involved her or not. She had become an addiction for both of us - one so dangerous and destructive it seemed to have taken on a life all of its own. There were many times when both of us considered calling it quits as neither wanted to spend every waking moment arguing but didn’t know how to stop. After extensive counselling we devised new and constructive ways t o manage the ongoing intrusion into our otherwise peaceful existence.
We created an imaginary box which became the new home for my husband’s ex-wife. When we found ourselves unnecessarily talking about her, the other had permission to ’shove her’ into it. For those occasions when we needed to discuss things that concerned her, we made an agreement to set a timer. This time restriction forced us both to focus on the main issues at hand and stopped us from wasting valuable time bitching about everything else. We found that things immediately began to improve after we’d introduced these two new ideas and were finally able to see our relationship heading in the right direction. With several boundaries now in place (having developed productive ways of handling difficult situations and limiting the involvement his ‘ex’ had on our own family unit) we were now able to truly commence living our lives as husband and wife.
Using these simple tools has given me back some control. Regaining control has allowed me to recognise that my role in this family is just as important as everyone else’s and, finally, I even reached the conclusion that no matter how hard the ‘ex’ tries, she’ll never win!
I often remember one of my mother’s sayings: “Anger you do not wish to own, causes depression”. To me this said that I ultimately needed to work out what I was angry about, that I needed to own that anger and then do something positive with it. I didn’t want to spend my entire marriage existing in a dark and dreary hole. There is so much to be happy about and I believe that each one of us stepmums is entitled to every bit of honeymoon we can get.
* Anger is a painful, horrible and debilitating emotion that has the power to do me, and my family life, a great deal more harm than it will do to the one I’m angry about – the ‘ex’.
* It isn’t worth getting sick over, losing any sleep over or losing my marriage over.
* Seeking help when it’s needed is a lot smarter than risking my health, my sanity or my marriage.
* A few great tools (like the imaginary box and a time keeper clock) can make a whole lot of difference.
Anger is a common emotion experienced by step-parents, and can be caused by any one of a thousand things. We often find ourselves seething at the children’s absent biological parent. Their immaturity, hostility or unreliability can be the cause of much frustration in matters of visitation, finance and discipline as well as in many other areas..........
......Remember that anger is a normal emotion. It is not unique to you and it is no indication that your feelings are wrong, bad or unacceptable. The most important issue relating to anger is how you handle it. While it is a normal emotion that should neither be rationalised nor denied, do not allow your anger to control you. Anger that controls can turn into uncontrollable anger. Uncontrollable anger is dangerous – it hurts others and it hurts you. Uncontrollable anger or rage damages people, relationships and you - if you experience this kind of anger or rage, professional help is ‘a must’!
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The following tip is taken from Sonja's Step By Step booklet called "The Ex-Factor"
Tip 5 – take back your control
If you tend to feel frustrated, off balance, out of sorts and generally out of control whenever you touch bases with your ex, chances are you have given over to them more than a reasonable share of control. If so, it’s time you identified the things over which you do have control and the things over which you don’t. To gain a clear image of these important realities it is helpful to make 2 written lists. Whilst these lists will look different for different people, the ‘I do have control over’ …..list will generally contain everything that takes place inside your home, whilst the ‘I don’t have control over’…list will contain most of the things that occur outside your home.
Logically we all know that attempting to control the things we really have no control over is a futile exercise that does little more than leave us terribly frustrated. However, we often knock ourselves out in the pursuit of those futile attempts.
Having fallen into this trap myself, as well as having counselled more clients on this issue than I could even begin to count, let me encourage you to make the Serenity Prayer your daily mantra. It states:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Whilst I fully understand your urges to take charge of the many situations that leave you feeling powerless and helpless, I can only tell you with absolute authority that unless you learn to appropriate the Serenity concept, you doom yourself to years of resentment and anger, both of which are feelings that neither help you, your children or your situation.
For more information on this booklet, click here
Stay tuned for the next installment on MARCHing to the Stepfamily Tune, which will be posted next week.