Setting boundaries with your spouse’s irrational ex can be daunting but, it can also save your marriage and your sanity.
Kimberly had a difficult divorce. She split from her husband after finding out he had an emotional affair with a co-worker. It had been a long two years. Their three children had difficulty adjusting to their new home and a new school. But her kids had moved forward and Kimberly felt that the worst was behind her.
She had worked with a divorce coach to help her set career goals and help her achieve clarity on the next chapter of her life as a single mom. She had set some goals for herself and accomplished one of her lifetime goals, completing a triathlon. It was during this training that she met an older, handsome, athletic man named Charles. He too was divorced and had experienced betrayal. They fell in love and planned to marry the following year.
However, she was questioning the relationship because his ex was making their life hell. Charles’ ex-wife was intrusive and manipulative. She tried repeatedly to splinter the relationship between Charles and his son by saying hurtful things about him in front of their son or making snide comments about his parenting.
She sent texts that were nasty when she did communicate. Drop-offs and pickups were becoming more and more dreaded because Charles’ ex-wife always wanted to confront them in front of his son about the parenting agreement, her alimony, or whatever she was upset about that day. Charles’ ex-wife seemed to hold resentment about the fact that there was to be a new mother figure in her son’s life.
Charles’ son had told Kimberly several comments that his mom had made about her. She was surprised that she was hurt by these remarks. She had only met this woman twice and yet she seemed to hate her! In addition, the children all sensed the animosity, and the tension in the house was growing among everyone.
How could she and Charles build a future together when his ex was hellbent on destroying their family?
When it comes to families blending together, there are many issues to deal with. When you are the new woman and you enter a family that has split, it’s important to set up boundaries.
Here are 6 tips for keeping the relationship among everyone respectful, even though not everyone may be on the same page.
Understand your own triggers.
When you find that she is really pushing your buttons- ask yourself why. What is it that is bothering you about what she says? You can work with a divorce coach or therapist to get to the underlying root of your feelings so you can move forward. When you understand what is behind your emotions, you can start to control them.
Develop strategies to stay in control of your emotions.
When you’ve identified your triggers, you can identify ways to handle your emotions. Meditation, exercise, and keeping a wholesome lifestyle will help you handle the stress that accompanies dealing with high-conflict people. Find healthy outlets, such as supportive friends or join a support group for families of divorce or stepmoms.
Communicate positively with (and around) your children.
Never badmouth your spouse’s ex near or around the children-even if you feel you might be justified. These are people that your children love. They will internalize any negative comments. Foster lots of open communication so that they will come to you to openly discuss their feelings. Ignore those comments that are harmful. Focus on the children and their well-being.
Technology is your friend.
If communication is difficult, there are many devices and apps that make it easy to keep the communication respectful. Family Wall is an app that allows you to post dates, reminders, schedules, and even pictures that relate to the children. It allows you to share information in a confidential platform. If you can’t physically be around his ex without it becoming confrontational, communicate only through texts, emails, or apps. Plus, you’ll have a record of the conversations.
Keep all communication concise and objective.
When communicating with a difficult ex-spouse, here are a few things to keep in mind to maintain respectful interactions. First, keep it short. Leave out unnecessary information. Stick to the facts and keep the tone cordial. Keep your opinions and emotions out of all interactions. Use texts and emails whenever possible so that there is a written record of what was said and agreed upon. When you have to deal with a challenging person face-to-face, it may be a good idea to have a “script” in your head prepared ahead of time. If the other person tries to engage in a disrespectful manner, simply restate your scripted message in a calm tone and walk away.
Attend family therapy or counseling.
As you’re setting up a new family structure, consider setting up family counseling sessions. It’s important to have a neutral party that will help you discuss intense feelings and issues in a constructive way. It’s important to include the children in the process so that they feel they have a voice through this.
So much is out of their control and they may feel overwhelmed if there are hostilities between the adults that they love. Choose a counselor that has a background working with blended families. One piece of advice that I give to my clients as they begin their journey together is to write out a mission statement together that will keep the family working towards the same goal.
After six months of family counseling, the tension had lessened and there was more laughter around the house. The children were getting along better. Kim continued working with her life coach to help her as she adjusted to her new role as a stepmom. She and Charles began discussing the plans for their wedding and were feeling secure in their commitment to each other.