How an Ex-wife and Stepmom Stopped Hating Each Other – Our Story

It’s all well and good to read here about our wonderful, happy blended family, or about other harmonious ex-wife/stepmother teams at equally brilliant, literate, incisive sites.

But what if you really are struggling mightily with the stepmother or ex-wife in your life? What if you honestly, truly just CAN’T STAND the woman!

Is “hate” too tepid a term to describe your feelings towards her? Does the mere mention of her name give you an instant headache, or knots in your gut?

What if you find yourself going down your list of grievances against her on a daily basis, and adding more by the week? Do you rail against her ad nauseam to anyone that will listen (including, oops — the kids)? Do you avoid her as much as possible? Does a simple phone exchange or brush by the front door raise your blood pressure for hours?

If so, you’re not alone.

So great, the large wooden boat is cram-packed out there – alone at sea, bobbing in the dark and the rain. Now what do you do?

Well, two things here….

1. I can talk a bit about how Carol and I went from actively disliking each other (aren’t you happy to hear that!) to becoming close friends and…
2. I can also cover a few things I’ve learned over the years in pondering this subject.

A little story….

The very first time I met Carol was in my driveway.

It was a beautiful Spring day, but despite the searing-blue, cloudless skies and California-like temperature, I believe I had already been sweating bullets for hours in preparation for their visit: their being my ex-husband, David, and his new girlfriend. And not just his new girlfriend, but his new girlfriend FOURTEEN YEARS my junior. (Do not spend time looking closely in the mirror before a visit like this. Just sayin’….) I was also internally rolling my eyes at the fact that David just had bought a motorcycle (long since sold) and bolted outside out of superstrung nerves when I heard them pull up.

Ech. There’s nothing like pure jealousy to rival the feeling of poison helplessly coursing through your veins.

Carol was pretty, in shape, and I’d already seen her art, so I knew she was talented and creative. She swung a muscular leg over the back of the motorcycle, dismounting like a gymnast, and removed her helmet, shaking out beautiful, light-brown curls. I hated her already. I felt something melting in the pit of my stomach which should have been accompanied by the smell of electrical wires about to catch fire. I wanted to turn around and go home, but — oh.

I already was. There was nowhere to run.

The rest of the visit was a blur (one of those out-of-body experiences that’s akin to addressing thousands from notes you can’t read, or bumping into a movie star in a bathroom or elevator), but I do know that I now had a target to attach my venom to — a real-live person whose voice I could remember and whom I could now imagine addressing my children. MY children!

Yes, the territorial aspects kicked in right away, true-to-form.

This would have been helpful if I were a mother tiger in the jungle and needed to protect my cubs from being carried away by a baboon or radioactive chimpanzee, but, in this case, my instincts were simply triggered in a hopeless someone’s-going-to-win-and-someone’s-going-to-lose-and-that-ain’t-gonna-be-me kind of way.

What followed were about two years of tension. And sometimes “tension” was putting it extremely mildly.

I’d say the whole thing culminated when I slammed the phone down on my ex-husband after he’d calmly told me he thought the kids should live with him because “Carol could do a much better job taking care of them, since I always seemed so stressed out from work” and proceeded to wail on the floor, curled up in a fetal position in front of the fireplace, imagining lengthy, costly court battles which I would ultimately lose. (And before you hold that against him, know that he’s since apologized profusely for one of the stupidest, most thoughtless things he’s ever said.)

At first, there didn’t seem to be any reason to try and make things any better with each other. If we could just minimize contact with each other for… oh… the next twelve years or so, we’d be just fine.

But it became harder and harder to “minimize contact” as Carol and David got married and their lives intertwined. There were school events, family events, holidays to negotiate.

Along the way, I hated thinking about how much more organized Carol seemed to be, how much more disciplined she was with her art. I hated knowing that there were probably plenty of cozy evenings between David and Carol, dissecting my behavior and what had went wrong with our marriage.

I hated thinking about her interacting with the girls. I was totally oblivious about what went on between them and this drove me crazy. Who was this woman anyway? She was a perfect stranger having tons of experiences with my own children and I knew nothing about her! It was like having hired a babysitter by pulling out a name from a hat and sending the whole lot off to Disneyland without having even met her. (I knew the stepmoms out there will cringe, reading that, but that’s what it felt like at the time….)

So what finally changed? Why did ANYTHING change?

Well, I finally got tired of all the animosity. And so did Carol.

Simple as that.

Okay, so that was the beginning of things changing between us, but it started there.

You can say our changes were selfishly motivated, and that’s partially right, but I also worried about the effect my ill will was having on the girls (our daughters are 12 and 16 now, and David and Carol also have a 3 year old son – what I’m describing took place about five years ago). Sure, I was proud of the fact that I was keeping my mouth shut when it came to saying anything “bad” about Carol, but I was also never saying anything positive or warm about her.

…As if my children wouldn’t notice!

So, in some comical, frozen-arms-forward, blindfolded manner, I took a few lurching steps her way, in the hopes of thawing our relationship and creating at least a more well-oiled “business machine”. We were the two hands-on parents and we were stuck with consistent, regular contact, for better or worse.

I have to admit, it’s not like Carol reciprocated right away. She didn’t jump for joy at my efforts to reach out, but neither did she bite my head off. (Maybe it was a bit like putting your hand into a snake’s cage, with the pet store owner assuring you the snake had been recently defanged and was “perfectly harmless”.)

I’d say there was a period of about a year, to a year and a half, when we both started taking baby steps towards each other. Oddly, David was the channel through which we both sometimes broadcast our good intentions. He also ended up in the middle of a few misunderstandings, when one or both of us had our feelings hurt through some perceived slight, playing the peacemaker. That must have been strange….

It wasn’t easy to keep shooting for harmony. Sometimes, we’d both feel really exposed and vulnerable. And weird too. People would ask us why we were letting the other person “get away with things”, like they were uncomfortable with us getting along; anticipating the drama.

We both definitely felt like we were in uncharted territory.

One thing that really helped was knowing that the other person was trying too. It made us both bite our tongues a bit more. We couldn’t so easily badmouth the other person if we were going to be interacting with them again soon, like that same day or the next. Plus, there was less to feel guilty about if you hadn’t just said something nasty about them!

There wasn’t any one special memory for either one of us when we both realized, “We’re friends!,” but somehow… eventually… we were.

We had done it.

And we both realized how rare and fragile that friendship was, initially, and took pains to protect it.

Over time, as women do, we tentatively confided in each other and tried to prove to each other that the other’s trust wasn’t misplaced. We turned to each other for help with parenting problems and then, with problems in general. Closeness grew. And when we hit rough spots in the road, we did our best to talk about them directly, instead of venting elsewhere. Now I don’t think there’s anything we couldn’t talk through….

And neither of us has that sense of the other one trying to undermine us, like we used to. We’re working together as a team. We talk about common goals, we admit shortcomings where appropriate. Neither one has a long, secret list of grievances on a rice paper scroll we’re regularly adding to in spidery handwriting, in hopes of one day finally proving to the world that this other woman is really and truly a bitch who’s made our life absolutely miserable.

But we know we’re lucky. And we’re grateful.

For lots of folks out there, they’re just counting the seconds, hours, weeks, months and years until the other woman is out of their life, like we were, and that day Can’t. Come. Soon. Enough.

So what if this is where you find yourself?

On Monday, I’ll finish this essay by combining the trajectory of our story with an outline of things I’ve learned from books and deliberate study. This will be more a more prescriptive post, but I’ll reference aspects of our story to help it all make sense. You may be pulling your hair out NOW with angst, but there IS a way to create peace in the middle of chaos.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine  All Rights Reserved

 

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Comments

  1. Ok- awaiting new post. We all need to hear more. Please hurry.

  2. I liked reading your perspective on this. Very very neat.
    I’m a stepmom who also gets along with my stepkids mom. But like you, it wasn’t always like that.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. What a very honest story from an ex-wife! I, too, believe that uncertainty, insecurity, ignorance (I mean just not knowing) and a bit of jealously has a lot to do with the demise of the relationship between my husband’s ex-wife and I. I really believe, however, that a second mom and ex-wife can get along (my ex’s wife and I do), but BOTH have to be willing participants in order for this to happen. In my case, it’s been nearly 8 years and it’s only gotten worse. My husband has suffered from parental alienation, we’re constantly in court battles over something and all communication has been reduced to nothing short of morse code. There has been so much cruelty and animosity for the past 8 years that I’m not sure if I could trust her enough to repair our relationship. It’s one thing to think certain things without acting on them, but it’s another to actually act on those impulses. Some things you just can’t take back and no amount of apologizing will make it okay. Do I understand her position as the ex-wife? Of course I do, I, too, am an ex. Do I forgive her for her past, present and future actions? Yes, because I wouldn’t be able to continue my role as a mom, to her child, if I didn’t. But, will I ever forget what she has put my family and I through and for this long? Probably not.
    My point is, is that it’s much easier to resolve conflict in order to have a friendship with the ex or second wife in your life if neither has completely “crossed the line.” And, at this point, I can’t focus on it any longer. What’s MORE important is nurturing and maintaining my marriage, not trying to get his ex-wife to be my friend.
    With that said, I am so happy for the women who are able to be friends in the blended family. It has been so beneficial to my son that his second mom and I are friends. But, I just don’t think it’s possible for EVERY second mom and ex-wife to do so.
    I love your blog!
    Happy New Year!
    ~Kela
    http://www.blendingin.wordpress.com
    My Blended Family Soap Opera

  4. tearsa o'malley says:

    I agree. It would be wonderful to get along with my husband’s ex-girlfriend (they never married, despite two kids because of her personality problems), but what do you do when the ex acts completely psychotic? I made efforts early on to have a civil, if not friendly relationship with her, but she is completely unwilling. Even though my husband and his ex split because of long-standing problems in their relationship (cheating on her part, lies, parenting issues, etc…) she completely blames me because he left her and refuses to face that their relationship ended for reasons completely unrelated to me. Years later, she still calls me a “home-wrecker”, “slut” and more names that I can’t repeat here. She spent the first year of our marriage engaging in completely inappropriate behavior, including harassing me verbally, by email and through my husband and the kids and has even stalked me online. She did her best to sabotage our relationship, even resorting to pathetic seduction attempts and transparent manipulation to try to turn him against me (fortunately he completely sees through her and it has just lowered his opinion of her to the point where there is no chance of any sort of friendship between them) She has finally left me alone for the most part (other than nasty comments when she sees me) because I have called her on her inappropriate behavior and have made it clear what our family boundaries are, but there is no way that we will ever be on good terms. I tried my best, but at this point, after all her behavior, I have zero respect for her and don’t trust her at all. In addition to this, she has put her kids in the middle of this and has tried to use them as bargaining chips to get what she wants. The fact that she would use her kids, who she claims to love, to attempt revenge on me and her ex, has made me have complete contempt for her. Her behavior has been classified as falling under the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder by multiple psychologists and I just don’t see how it is possible to work things out with a person like this? I tried really hard and even put up with nasty behavior from her in an effort to keep the peace, but at this point my husband and I have absolutely no desire to have anything to do with her. We limit our contact to strictly kid related things and refuse to engage in non-kid related dialogue with her. It’s great that there are people who can work these things out, but there are a lot of us who just can’t. I find this site depressing, because I wish that things had been work out-able, but in many situations, like mine, it just can’t happen and it would be nice if there was representation for that too. It takes two sane and well-intentioned people to get along and in a lot of cases, the ex is just not willing. Bummer, but true.

  5. I am a stepmom who has always loved my step-daughter from the very beginning. She is 11 now and she now “hates” me thanks to her crazy, controlling mother. The mother will not go to work to earn money and mooches off my husband and me. We pay a lot in child support. The ex-wife continually does things to interfere with our marriage. We are only married 2 years and these are very trying times. The girl will not speak to me, not answer text messages on the phone that her dad and I bought and support each month, and does not want to come over anymore. Her mother has done a great job of “Parental Alienation”. It hurts my husband. The ex-wife keeps telling my husband that he lost his daughter because he married me. I have always been good to the little girl and have helped the exwife as well. This is getting to be very stressful and unfair.

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  1. [...] may have read in Friday’s post about how Carol (the stepmom) and I (the ex-wife) went from cringing in each other’s company [...]

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