How do you reach out to the stepmother or ex-wife in your life?

It’s a similar refrain on
this site by now: try to get along with the ex-wife or stepmother; it’s worth
it in the long run; take an honest look at yourself to see how you’re getting
in the way — blah, blah, blah. But how do you actually GO ABOUT making this
happen? What does it look like? Why even bother? What should you expect when you make the
effort? Worst of all, what if it doesn’t

Furthermore, who in the world EVER actually gets
along with the "other woman?" Only saints and aspiring authors? Women with poor boundaries? Needy,
friendless women? Similarly-attuned,
psychotic women?

Before we get to the
questions, here’s something to consider: what if you wasted the remaining years
of your children’s lives hating the stepmom or ex-wife — judging her, setting
her up, tearing her down — and you could have
actually gotten along with each other? What if you made an effort to connect and discovered it was actually
possible? Wouldn’t you be kicking
yourself for all the time you spent trying to prove her wrong? All the extra crap experiences you just
assumed were inevitable?

So where to begin if you’d
like thing to be better between you two? Here are a few suggestions to mix things


Just like when you weighed
whether to read this article or not to see if it might have anything to offer
you, the willingness to explore comes before anything. When you venture forward, however tentatively,
you start to get a sense of possibilities;
of different habits, techniques or perspectives available to you.

Then… it just wells up all
on its own, or it doesn’t — an actual decision: to go ahead and try to form a bridge of some sort between you two, no
matter where you are now.

Sure, it might be one of
those shaky, twisting rope bridges that make you feel like it’s going to buck
you right off. It might be a sturdy log uniting two cliffs. Whichever the case — making that initial
decision sets new energy in motion.

Before you can make that
decision in earnest though, you’re probably wondering….


What’s in it for you? What if you really just cannot stand the ex-wife or stepmom? The LAST thing you feel like doing is
reaching out to her! Cutting her any
slack, letting go of your judgments and resentments, making things too easy for
her by letting her off the hook, after all the crap she’s pulled.

Well… I hear ya.

You might also feel like
the whole prospect is just too scary and vulnerable, opens you up to
further conflict and chaos, more drama. You
may be afraid of what you stand to lose: control; the freedom to not get along if you don’t want to; the
feeling of safety and comfort from your current vantage point. You might also
wonder whether heading in this direction puts you under a certain pressure to
always make it "one big happy family" now…

And I hear you on those
fears too. Totally reasonable and
extremely common. You’re perfectly in
tune with the chorus!

It’s not like Carol (the
stepmom) and I (the mom) initially saw any benefit to getting along
either. In fact, it didn’t even seem
possible. Or desirable. We both thought, Why
in the world would I ever want to have anything to do with her?!

But let me ask you this: have
you ever had a big emotional breakthrough in a relationship with another person? Whether friend, lover, family member,
co-worker? I’m sure you had some
legitimate grievances, but at some point, you set your objections aside. That’s not to say you just blew them off or
made excuses for them. Or even passively
accepted them. But you also understood
that, eventually, there was a way to work
your points of contention;
to loosen up and soften — and then you shook hands with the other person, metaphorically
or literally.

Can you do the same thing



In increments?

Like cleaning out an
overwhelming mess, sometimes you just have to start by removing the trash. What
you can you remove from your behavior, your thinking, your mental storage box —
that is actively negatively or unhelpful?

In the United States, 1,400 new stepfamilies form every day! We can’t afford to just leave
stepmother/ex-wife relationships in the gutter. With the rate of divorce twice as
for remarried couples with children, there’s too much at stake.

So, if you’d be willing to
make the effort, even just a little bit at first, here’s what you stand to

  • less stress
  • the relief and freshness of collaboration
  • better parenting
  • happier children
  • friendship (maybe, eventually)
  • less anger and bitterness in your life
  • a stronger, more resilient relationship

Okay… actions! What does
this look like? How do you do it?

Imagine a sequence

We recommend starting out
with baby steps — bit by bit, day by day, gesture by gesture. You might begin by simply asking her how she’s
doing on the phone, or in person, if you’d never normally do that. Offer to loan her a good book you just
finished reading or a new CD. Surprise
the hell out of her by baking her something, corny as it sounds — some cookies
or banana bread or hey, make her some home-brewed beer.


It doesn’t have to be this
big awkward deal, where your efforts are sticking out like a sore thumb. And there’s no reason to hang yourself out to
dry like laundry on a pole. Try to
choose a gesture that fits for you — the level of vulnerability; something
appropriate to her interests; something that lets you save face if she’s not
jumping for joy over your magnanimous deeds.

The whole point is to
signal a reconciliatory tone on your part, a change in status from adversaries
to possible alliances. Wouldn’t you
start wondering what was up if she took similar steps with you? It would get you thinking, huh?

If you really want to be
bold, you could ask her out to coffee. Just the two of you. Find something
that has to do with the kids that you’d like to share, like a finished report
or project. Keep it short and sweet.

If you’d like, you could
send her an email or letter, asking her if she’d like to join you in making
things better between you two.  Even if
she says yes, the internets are riddled with tales of one-step-forward,
two-steps-back, so don’t expect miracles. But don’t expect a disaster either!

I KNEW this was never going to work!

What might you expect from
your efforts? They say forewarned is
forearmed and in this case, it goes both ways. For her, forewarned might mean, aha!
I have time to muster my defenses! Fine
– she wants to craft some lovey-dovey dance of friendship between us, well
first I’m going to show her in exact detail how
she’s made my life miserable!

And for you, it’s good to
know in advance that it would be perfectly natural for her to react to you with
fear and anxiety, a sense of competitiveness, anger and pissiness, or like the
biggest victim in the world. Annoying,
isn’t it? Especially when you’re being
so generous and high-minded!

On the other hand, she
might actually respond to you with a tentative wariness, a cautious sense of openness
and curiosity. She might just be willing
to guardedly see what you’re all about — and there’s your chance to forge a
bridge. Talk to her about what might be
possible between you two, what a relief it would be to not be enemies
anymore. Respect the fact that you both
have different priorities, feel wounded by different experiences in the past
and may not even choose to engage with this person were you not stuck together,
as you are. You still have much to gain
if you can both agree to a truce.

And see really, it didn’t!

So what if you reach out,
heart and soul dangling by a thread, and she basically throws it all back in
your face? There’s a psychological
technique where you imagine the worst possible scenario all the way to its
bitter end and then ask yourself: would this kill me? Could I get over this? Can I pick myself back up and move on and
eventually let this go?

Same thing here.

Let’s say you end up in an
argument. She hauls out her whole
laundry list of your offenses, your mistakes and flaming failures. She couldn’t give a damn about any stupid
truce. The words "friend" and
"(insert your name here)" will never be linked together in a million
years if she can help it. Matter of
fact, YOU are a total idiot for even trying! Probably you’re only doing so because you KNOW how wrong you are in the
first place and you feel guilty, with all the shenanigans you’ve managed.


I sigh with you as you’re

These things happen….


It is perfectly possible to pick yourself after such a dust-up, brush
yourself off and regroup. You’re going to be fine….

Take some deep breaths in
the car. Listen to music you love. Get though the immediate moments afterwards
and emphasize to yourself that she has her issues, you have yours and you’re
each responsible for handling your own garbage.

Call a supportive friend, but
make sure it’s the right one. Meaning,
someone who’s willing to listen with a neutral ear and call you on your self-righteous
shit if need be. Someone who understands your overall goals of wanting partnership
and harmony, and will wend their way through your emotions with that outcome in

Go exercise to blow off
steam and release negative energy.

Meditate, watch mindless
TV. Do whatever it takes to let go….

This is going to be the
last thing you want to hear, but at some point, you may be ready to try again.

Rinse, lather, repeat

You’re the only one who
knows whether it’s possible to establish any sense of cooperation and communication
with the other woman. But before you
bound onto the Bandwagon of Scorn, ask yourself if you’re taking the easy way
out. Most stepmoms and ex-wives hate
each other. And most women are happy to
just leave it at that, convinced it’s really the other side’s fault.

What a shame….

…Because women are masters
of emotional gymnastics. We’re the
trapeze artists of transformation. The
gurus of group hugs after a nasty verbal marathon that leaves most people
bewildered and drained.

See if you can give it
another go — another time. Give yourself
some space to settle back into yourself; adopt the Zen discipline of a
no-gossip policy; follow up on anything you said you would.

Practice doesn’t always
make perfect. But actions taken from a place of humility and good intentions always
have their own inherent, rewarding grace….

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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  1. Jennifer,
    I really like what you are saying in this post. Making an effort is half the battle. And like any other relationship worth having,forging a connection with the BM will take work. And I must admit that it is interesting and liberating getting to know her. Belive me, I am sure that anyone who knows her or I, would have NEVER thought us capable of anything other than animosity. It’s nice to prove people wrong in a positive manner.
    Tomorrow I am going to visit Eliza sans Ethan. I have been quite anxious, considering that we have never had a one-on-one conversation before. But I am really dedicated to making this work because I know it is worth it. Besides, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

  2. I spent time reflecting after making my original post and a question came to mind–do you think it is necessary to talk about the past with the BM? Or can you just proceed forward with the present? Just curious.

  3. Morocco, that’s so cool that your perspective on this is “interesting and liberating”, you know?! Isn’t it nice to be surprised by life and not have it all figured out? : ) I wish you luck in your visit and I can understand your anxiety. Maybe though, it gives you a certain kind of freedom to just have it be YOU TWO, without any other focus. And I would think it would be nice for her to not only have the company, but see you making such an effort to reach out to her. Good for you!! Will you let us know how it goes?
    And as far as talking about the past, or not, I think you could probably just play it by ear and see what flows naturally. Here’s an idea: spend a few moments before you get together thinking about what you KNOW about her – who she is, what matters to her, what’s on her mind right now – and relate to her from that basis. Asking questions, listening to her answers. That gives you a place to start from that has everything to do with a connection now…. and makes it unnecessary to use the past as a stepping off point.
    So glad to see things moving forward!
    Hugs to you,

  4. Thanks for the advice, I will definetely let you guys know how it goes! I like the approach you suggested and I thought of this as well. I do want to let the converstaion flow naturally. I think our relationship is getting stronger with each interaction we have, so if we do foray into the past, I think we will survive. Understandably she has a lot on her mind and I do want to be supportive. Jennifer, I feel both excited and nervous. But I will have time on the two-hour drive there to get prepared.

  5. Hi Jennifer,
    The visit went well. In fact, the two hours sped by. Although we covered a myriad of topics, there was so much that we did not get to cover. I was not ready to leave when our time was up. She seemed lonely and depressed, understandably. We were both nervous. When she came out and we hugged and I asked how she had been doing. Then I told her I was there to discuss anything that she wanted. I had already written and gained her permission to do so; but I could still see a tiny bit of disbelief in her eyes as she replied “Just how the boys’ are doing.” So I began talking about Ethan and Evan which caused her to recount the night of the murder again. I listened.
    The conversation soon shifted to me. Eliza loved the Closer to my Children journal I sent her the week prior. She also shared how in the beginning as I was reaching out to her she wondered what my motive was. I told her that was a normal feeling because I still felt the same about her sometimes. She also confided that she doesn’t understand how it could be that someone who used to be her “rival” a person she hated so much, could end up being the one offering her so much support and encouragement. Eliza shared that I had written her more than anyone. She said she couldn’t explain why she had this “undefined love” for me. Tears came to my eyes at this point while she was openly crying. She said she felt so bad for the way she has treated me. I told her the story of my stepfather and how I DID NOT like him in the beginning. I had just graduated high school when my mother met him. However, when they announced five years later that they were getting married, I felt like my life was ruined. Flash forward twelve years later and I love him to pieces.
    On the way home I struggled with her sincerity. I wondered if she was simply saying the “right” things to make me feel good. We had both shared stories that could be “used” against us later down the line. Although I think this vulnerability is essential to develop trust, I still do not want to be betrayed or mocked if it turns out she had a different motive. I know she has trust issues as well. She even mentioned a few times that she does not trust people.
    But I think for the most part she was being sincere. By the virtue of her telling me how unsupportive her family has been and how she hates her sister for her involvement with the crime, was a lot for her to admit. Eliza usually likes to present the perfect picture to me. It has taken her a while to reach this point. She was in denial for a very long time regarding her situation. I think she is finally beginning to accept her reality. And I guess just by the very fact that she was able to express her gratitude, wariness, and problems to me in person, signifies something. We ate, talked, laughed, and cried. Had the setting been different, it could have been any conversation with one of my girlfriends. I know we still have a lot of work to do because whatever this “thing” is, it is still very fragile. It just felt sooo good to have made some progress. It also felt great to be of encouragement to someone. I do look forward to our next visit.

  6. Morocco, this is really beautiful and moving. I love reading about transformations like this!! Compassion and understanding in action, even if you still came away from it all questioning her motives (seems like a natural part of making a shift in your head). Congratulations to you both!

  7. I have been reading quite a few of your blogs and I think they are great. Everything I have ever thought or felt was expressed in them.
    It has been 6 years since me & son’s stepmom have been going at it and I am drained. So tired of all the drama.
    I am recently married and soon will adding to our family with my hubby and I would like all this drama to be over with before that happens. It is bad enough 2 children (Our son and their son) have to be in the middle of this, I don’t want to add anymore.
    I know how to end it on my end and will seriously do what I need to do regardless of what they do 🙂

  8. Great article Jennifer!
    I find myself in this exact situation at the moment and it is very awkward to feel this strain in my life. Whenever I pick my kids up from my exH’s house, I see them both smirking at me and whispering but I have no idea what it’s about. This then adds more fuel to the problem as well as the fact that exH no longer wants to communicate with me with regards to our children as we used to do prior to this woman coming on the scene. I am so longing for peace here!
    I highly doubt this woman wants to get along with me and have heard through the grapevine that she is jealous. Ei yi yi.
    What do I do? It’s been a year since they have moved in together and she is in the stepmother role. She won’t talk to me if she can help it and we’ve barely said more than hello. At the kid’s sporting events, she stands at one end of the field and I’m at the other! What should those first words be on my end (I need baby steps here,lol). If we do end up talking and maybe go out for coffee one day, what topics do I avoid?
    thank you.

  9. Thanks, I’m going to try. Usually it ends badly, but you know that doesn’t mean I have to give up. I think it would be good for all of us if we got along, I’m just scared that she wants to hate me, but then again I should judge her like that. I’ll try and report back. Maybe my SS and I will make her cookies or draw her a picture before we drop him off next week.

  10. I envy you that the ex was even willing to try, when you are detested, there is no contact, just hatred, there isn’t even anywhere to start!

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