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 .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been married over 5 years now, and I wish my husband's ex would give me the cold shoulder instead of what she is doing. It would be so nice if she didn't follow me around, park herself in my corner of the world, and make nonsensical and rude remarks about me or my husband. She's remarried. I thought she'd be happy and find something else to do!

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