Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How To Avoid Arguments With The Ex

I read somewhere that the Ex is the person a stepparent loves to hate. Given the complex nature of stepfamily relationships this is not surprising. Whilst some ex-partners are the accepting and supportive type, the majority of them do not fit this category. As most couples in step-situations just want to put the past behind and  simply get on with making a new life for themselves and their families, learning how to avoid arguments with the Ex is high on the list of their priorities.

Liz, who was a much valued site assistant in the heydays of TheStepStop, shared in this post (which by now is a few years old, but equally pertinent today as it was then) how she and her husband succeeded in minimising areas of potential conflict with the ex-partner. Thanks Liz for your valuable, tried and tested ideas and suggestions!


After reading an article posted on the homepage of The Step Stop, I felt prompted to share with you some suggestions of ways in which my husband and I have been able to minimize the arguments between us and the formidable “Ex”. 

Minimize face to face contact with the Ex. 

Don’t allow drop off time after contact weekends and holidays to be an excuse to start (or participate) in WW3.  If you feel there is a need to update the Ex on matters that occurred during the kid’s time with you and you are aware that this won’t be welcomed, you could perhaps write her a note or call her on the following day. We know that my husband’s Ex isn’t comfortable speaking to him face to face, so rather than antagonising the situation he has realised that, if it can wait it is better to find a more appropriate time.  Of course, if it were urgent or more serious we would have notified her at the time of the incident rather than waiting till the end of contact.

As our children who are 9 and 11don’t need us to walk them to the front door any longer we prefer to say our good-byes at the car. We always watch to make sure they are safely inside before we leave and have found it a great way to end the weekend on a pleasant note.

If parking outside the Ex’s house is way too close for your comfort, park in front of the neighbour’s house instead. The Ex will be less likely to embarrass him or herself on someone else’s property.  If things are really insane, say ‘bye’ to the kids in the car first or perhaps organise a neutral handover spot.  

Caller ID – no need to answer the phone – be prepared! 

Caller ID has proven to be an invaluable investment in our home as this service enables me to see whether it’s the Ex who is calling. I can’t count how many times she has called our home during the day knowing that my husband is at work, using the opportunity to try and discuss certain issues with me.  I used to make myself available in the past, however, after several accusing and upsetting conversations I now have taken back my control and am able to decide for myself if I do or don’t want to speak with her.

Invest in caller ID. 

Don’t get caught in the middle

Earlier on in our relationship the Ex, unwilling to talk with my husband, preferred to use me as her messenger.  It became clear very soon that she felt she was under no obligation to discuss anything with my husband and only ever did so at her own discretion. After years of trying to rectify the situation I came to the conclusion that my attempts were futile and I was only giving her more opportunities to cause me pain and unnecessary stress. I have since taken a huge step backward and discuss the kids only with my husband.  If the Ex calls wanting to discuss something that clearly should involve my husband, I politely inform her that he is the one she needs to talk with.  I refuse to ask him questions on her behalf, explaining that the only message I will relay is the fact that she called and would like him to call her back.

After putting this into practice for some time now I feel like I can breathe again.  I know that the day-to-day responsibilities of the kids belong to the Ex and my husband and although I’m supportive and interested, I no longer feel as though I’m bearing the scars of daily warfare.  I think the most therapeutic aspect of this is knowing that the Ex now realises that I am no longer feeding her power and that she can no longer consume every waking moment of my life.

Don’t be the go-between and don’t get caught in the middle.

Don’t lower yourself to the Ex’s Standards 

Regardless of how rude the Ex may be, always demonstrate how polite you are.  Confidently greet him or her with a simple ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ and use their Christian name. It clearly shows how unperturbed you are by their presence and role-models wonderful behaviour and values to the children.  It doesn’t take them long to work out who the rude family members are. If they should ask you why their mum doesn’t say ‘hi’ or ‘bye’ to you or their dad, simply explain that you don’t know but that they could always ask them.

Take the high road and always remain polite!

Don’t be alone with the Ex!

Due to the fact that I work for myself I have many opportunities to be part of the events that are held at the children’s school.  I used to only go if my husband came along, but as the kids have grown they have asked me several times to be there even if their dad was unable to come. When possible, I take my mum along or meet up with an old school friend whose daughter goes to the same school, but on occasion it’s been just me and the Ex. 

It’s only been in recent years that she has bothered to go to these events. Up until then it was me who supported the kids from the sidelines.  I respect her position and am mature enough to step back, allowing her the front seat, preferring to sit far enough way so we aren’t breathing down each others necks.  If I feel myself becoming irritated by her glares I either change my position so I cannot see her, or if things are really distressing I explain to the kids that I have another appointment.

Don’t allow yourself to get worried about her thoughts of winning, the only thing that matters is how you feel and if that’s not working, just remove yourself from the situation!

Telephone contact with the kids.

It’s easier all round if my husband is the one who makes the initial telephone contact with the kids. This is one less opportunity for me to have to speak with his Ex or the boys’ stepfather who is equally as arrogant. I always have a chat to the kids but my time is in the middle with my husband starting and finishing all conversations.  Normally if the Ex has something to say she’ll make a point of answering the call or waiting until the kids are ready to hang up. It’s perfect this way as I never have to have the pleasure.

Use wisdom in the way you maintain contact with your stepchildren.

Take back your control 

If during a conversation with the Ex he or she becomes aggressive or raises their voice, speak calmly, advising them that unless they change their tone you can no longer continue the conversation.  If their tone doesn’t change after your warning, advise them that you are hanging up.  If the ex calls back, explain that you and your husband are happy to listen to what them providing they do not yell and they are polite.  Once it took several times before the Ex realized that unless she was prepared to calm down and talk sensibly with my husband, he would answer the call, go through these motions and then hang up – a bit like teaching a child really.

Do what it takes to ensure the Ex understands your boundaries.

Let go of all expectations 

Don’t expect anything from the Ex and you won’t be disappointed!  How many times have I sat there in tears or so angry with the frustration of knowing how unnecessary and unwarranted the Ex’s behaviour or attitude is.  Once you resign yourself to the fact that she is an unhappy, miserable and selfish individual and nothing you do or say will change that, you won’t be surprised by her abrasive tone and her opinions.

Easier said than done?!  Yes, initially it’s hard to break the addiction of having to be involved, especially if up until now you have always been at the front line where all the action takes place.  I used to feel that, to have my voice heard, I had to be involved and if I wasn’t, my role as a parental figure wouldn’t be validated.  Only now with years of putting into practice the above tips and suggestions I’ve come to realise that, whether I’m in the foreground or backstage, my role is just as important. Through these changes I’ve improved my health, my marriage and the relationship with my stepkids. I’ve finally recognised my needs - I’m putting myself first and that makes me a better wife, mother and overall a happier person.

Remember that your first responsibility is the responsibility you have to yourself. Unless you are happy, you can’t be a happy partner or an effective stepparent. Be sure to fill your own tank first by making empowering changes in your way of thinking and to your behaviour…and most importantly don’t give up. If something isn’t working, find a way to make it work.

Don’t give up
Cheers Liz
(aka wallyburger)


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! It's nice to have more things to try. Sometimes I feel like I'm fresh out of ideas and it's very disheartening. I want to do everything in my power to keep my family happy and healhy. Thanks again for the insight.

Sonja said...

I am glad that this article has been helpful to you. It was penned by a fabulous stepmum who used to work closely with me when we still had a massive stepfamily website and when I was still running stepmum support groups all over Sydney. Out of the insights gleaned during that time I wrote a booklet called "The Ex-Factor", which contains lots of other ideas as to how to best manage the relationship with the ex. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please go to right-hand panel and click on the listing for The Ex-Factor not far underneath the image of my book. Best wishes for a successful step-journey - Sonja