Monday, January 31, 2011

STEPparenting LETTER: Invisible to the Ex??

In a new post to our newsletter members, I answered a member's question who felt like he was "Invisible to the Ex?? or: What Am I, Chopped Liver?"
Here's what I wrote:

A new member to the group (Welcome!!) writes:

"How do you handle it when your spouse's ex won't even look at you, acknowledge you or talk to you in anyway?"

Well, I know how many of our members would answer this question ... With cart wheels! or champaign! or some sort of celebration. Frankly, I hear much more about ex-es who acknowledge our members TOO much, from direct insults, to cutting them down to the kids, to snide remarks over the phone. But there are plenty with this same problem who feel the icy glare or the cold shoulder that says, "you're not worthy of my time or any of my attention."

And, while you didn't exactly marry your sweetheart to get close to her ex-spouse, those blank stares can leave you feelings pretty worthless and low!

A couple questions I'd ask the writer are, how long have you been married to your current spouse? and has the ex always been like this or is this something new?

First, if you've been married less than a year of two, it's fairly normal to still get a cold shoulder from your "new ex." It takes most folk a little while to get past the fact that the person they were once married to is now married to someone else. Although their own marriage relationship may be completely over (or it may not be TOTALLY over in their mind), the historical fact that they once were part of your new spouse is enough to keep those confusing thoughts alive. It can take two or even three or four years for an ex to accept the fact that their once-and-only has moved on.

One thing I've noticed is that when an ex becomes involved in a new relationship themselves, they can suddenly become much more accepting of their ex's progress. Something about jealousy or maybe even competition makes it more understandable when they've both moved on. So you might find yourself hoping that ex finds love for themselves!

However, if you were on decent terms with the ex, and that relationship has suddenly turned sour, ask yourself if you've done something to offend them. Not that you probably have, but that's just the easiest place to start. Think back honestly and see if you were out of sorts at some point and maybe snapped at them unintentionally. You may simply need to apologize to mend the fence.

Or they may have ended a relationship, as I was talking about before, and that makes them envious of your happiness with their ex. In that case, and if you can find out for sure that's what happened, sympathy might patch up the break.

Whatever the cause, it is always (always!) in your best interest to do all you reasonably can to maintain a good working relationship with your spouse's ex, as well as your own. These people may seem like the enemy or an outsider, but they are vital parts of your life. And they will be as long as your spouse and they have children alive together ... and grandchildren.

My whole stepfamily gave a sigh of relief when I made nice with my wife's ex-husband. When he and I could speak civilly over the phone, or shake hands at custody exchanges, everyone's life was made easier. Tensions between ex-es and spouses can lead to bitterness and battles you don't want to get into. If they are your enemy, they can infect vacation plans, date nights, child visits, child support exchanges, and ... well, pretty much every aspect of your new marriage.

Is that fair? Not really. Is it normal? Very much. Whenever you marry someone who has children with someone else, you should fully expect that child's other parent to take a strong interest in you and your part in helping raise their child. The huge importance of building a secure relationship between divorced moms and dads is why I wrote Guiding Your Children through Your Divorce . This is a vital foundation upon which your whole future will rest. It pays you to get it right!

And nothing can give a stepchild more reason to accept you into their heart than seeing both parents also accepting you.

STEPcoach Bob Collins

P.S. Feel free to write with your own stepparenting questions and I'll answer them here! You find many answers in our primary guidebook, Improving Your Stepfamily in 12 Steps , in our online bookstore .

Saturday, January 29, 2011

5 Surprising Ways to Improve Your Marriage in 2011


For me, 2010 was a year of personal discovery.
Mr. Right and my two step kids came along for the ride.
We accomplished some awesome personal goals. We found and donated a meteorite. We dealt with heartache on a level you may never understand if you are not divorced or raising kids from a previous marriage.
At times, we felt anger, fear and resentment toward each other.
But not more than we felt happiness, love and contentment.
The scales tipped in our favor.
With the end of year near, I wanted to share some things that improved my marriage in 2010. When I sat down to write this post, I realized the improvements didn’t directly involve Mr. Right. While things like date nights, having sex and communication no doubt improve a marriage, the things that really made a difference were much more unique.
All of the ideas on this list helped us grow – both as a couple – and as individuals.
Today, we are deeper in love.
And here’s a bold statement, but a true one:
We are happier today than we were on our wedding day.
Why? Because we’ve each made an effort to take the bad in life and improve it. Which has affected everything –  our marriage, our kids, ourselves.
Here are five surprising ways to improve your marriage and inspire those around you:

Get out of debt.

This year, we finally did it. With the final car payment made, we demolished our $42,000 debt snowball. Besides our mortgage, we are completely debt free; for the first time since we met, we have money in savings. That’s an amazing feeling.
Don’t be deceived – the process to get out of debt wasn’t easy. At times, we argued. The kids asked, “Are we poor now?” There were months we totally blew our budget.
The good news is – it’s possible. Even if you’re a twit about money, like me. Learn more by reading:
The Married Money Management series by Dustin @Engaged Marriage.
Get Out of Debt with the Debt Snowball Plan by Dave Ramsey.

Quit your day job.

Before you jump to conclusions about this tip, hear me out.
This June, I quit my day job. Up until then, our family lived within a whir of constant chaos. We were stressed out, burned out, used up.  We were doing a lot of things, but nothing very well.
By getting out of debt, we were able to downsize our lifestyle to live on one income. This let me opt out of the rat race to be at home. Now, I work on freelance projects while the kids are at school.
When they come home, I switch into mortar mode – taking care of the homework, teacher’s notes, dinner and cleaning up before Mr. Right even walks through the door.
It’s improved our life in a major way. We’re all a lot less stressed.
Here’s the post that made me believe I could quit.

Try minimalism.

Getting out of debt and living a downsized lifestyle are related to minimalism. If you’ve never learned about it but want to try, my advice is to start small.
For instance, I’m just wrapping up a minimalist clothing experiment myself. The idea was to wear only 33 items for 3 months. My take on it?
I like it.
A lot.
I’ll never go back to my bloated closet again. Sometime in January, I’m giving away most of the clothes I now realize I don’t need or use.
If you want to learn more about how to minimize areas of your life, read:
The Dress with Less Challenge by Courtney Carver
A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home by Leo Babauta
101 Physical Things That Can Be Reduced In Your Home by Joshua Becker

Each week, go on a digital sabbatical.

Instead of spending the weekend trolling Facebook, zoned out to another reality TV show or Tweeting – turn it all off and actually live your life. Be present with your kids. Talk to your spouse. Hear your own thoughts. Disconnect from distraction at least once a week and notice how peace descends.

Shrug off the burden of doing it all.

This world is filled with pressure.
Pressure to be skinny, pressure to get kids involved, pressure to be happy.
I felt it all the time before some of the changes above. I pushed myself to be productive. My house was spotless. My schedule, tightly packed.
I was also stressed to the max, irritable and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Now, I’m still productive. I still take on a lot. Instead, I get to choose what to carry. I’ve shrugged off the world’s burden of doing it all.
My message to you is simple, just like the title of this blog.
If you want a better marriage, do things that improve your life and future. If you’re unhappy, get off the couch and do something about it. I’m not saying that to be mean or arrogant, though it might sound that way. I’m telling you this because years ago, a certain girl I know really needed to hear it. Maybe you need to hear it now.
New year, new you?
You decide.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Melissa is a step mom, wife, editor, columnist and laundry fairy who decided to focus on amazing work this year by doing what she loves: writing. She hopes to inspire others through her blog, Peace & Projects, by sharing what makes her tick: fitness, organizing, simplifying, loving, learning and getting stuff done. She and Mr. Right are dedicated to making their blended family work for almost eight years now. So are: Little Boy, Little Girl and The Dog. Read her full bio here.

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