How I survived this stepfamily “stuff” – Part 1

The discord in our families is reflective of the discord in ourselves. So when we heal ourselves, we will heal our families.

That’s what Jen and I came up with while we were discussing why we’re compelled to do this work.

Why we spend hours a week interacting with you on Facebook and in the Member’s Community.

Why we choose to coach women through this difficult time. Why we are so determined to help you improve your lives.

As someone who’s never been comfortable being uncomfortable, I faced my demons early on.

I set out to become whole, meaning, I wanted to be responsible for my own happiness.

And I succeeded, before ever meeting my husband.

I believe that’s why I was able to survive this journey and remain true to myself – and I’m compelled to help others do the same.

That’s why I do this work.

Being part of a divorce-connected family can push you to the brink of insanity. It can touch on your every insecurity.  And it will test everything you’ve learned from every self-help book you’ve ever read and every hour you’ve spent in therapy.

So what does it take to make it through this journey with your self intact?

What do you need to be able to shield yourself from the barrage of bullets you’re receiving from the other woman? From the kids? From society?

For me it was two things: My strong sense of self/self love – which I’ll address now, and my husband’s supportwhich I’ll talk about in next week’s post.

If I had been lacking in either one of those, my marriage wouldn’t have survived.

I think back to when I was in my early twenties, before I discovered who I am, and there is no way in hell I would have held on. My jealousy was sky high and my self-esteem was moderate to low.

This stepfamily thing would have eaten me alive.

I would have spent many a night crying myself to sleep because I just couldn’t get the approval of this “other woman.” Because it just wasn’t FAIR. Because I was hopeless and powerless. Because this was NOT the life I signed up for.

Without self-love, I would have relied on my husband to meet all my emotional needs (a feat no human can actually accomplish).

I would have been a crumbling ball of jealousy, with major feelings of inadequacy, mixed in with a dash of neediness.

Our conversations would have been filled with complaints and constant discussions about the never-ending drama. I would have forgotten who I was.

The woman he fell in love would have disappeared; replaced by a victim.

I would have kept waiting for someone else to make it better.

For someone else to change.

For someone else to fix me.

Without a sense of self, there’s a void in us, an aspect of ourselves that we don’t love or approve of, so we seek that approval from others.

We take our cues from them; If they value us, then we feel valuable. If they say we’re worthless, then we feel worthless.

We’re easily offended and will start to doubt ourselves at the first sign of rejection.

That’s dangerous in any relationship, but especially in divorce-connected families, because there is so much deep-seated pain contributing to the rejection and turmoil.

Because my wounds were already (mostly) healed, I was able to resist getting dragged into the drama and through the mud. My self-esteem was strong enough to take the hits of misdirected anger and hurt.

With a strong sense of self, I knew, that no matter what anger and negativity was directed towards me, I was still the same person.

I was still Jenna. A girl I actually liked a whole lot. A good person who was doing the best she could and had the best of intentions.

I was someone who loved her husband. Who wanted a great partnership with him and who wasn’t going to let a nasty situation get in the way.

Was it always easy? Hell no! Did I cry out of frustration at times? Hell yes!

It took all the self-control I could muster, but I didn’t let the ugliness change me. I didn’t let it turn me in to someone I didn’t like or didn’t recognize. And at my core, I was still happy.

And that’s why I always say – You can be happy, even if the other woman doesn’t change at all.

Because as much as we think it’s about her and that SHE needs to change…

It’s really about us.

We actually have the power to be happy, regardless of the circumstance.

Would it be easier if the other woman just left you alone? Or embraced you with open arms? Of course!

But if you’re relying on her changed behavior to make you happy, then you’re also giving her the power to make you miserable.

So for all you woman who are struggling, I urge you to take stock:

What part of YOU is preventing you from being happy?

Where do you need to increase your strength?

What do you need to be happy?

What do you need to ask for?

How will YOU take back your power?

(Photo by Richard and Lori Rothstein)

© 2011 Jenna Korf      All Rights Reserved

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  1. Amyleigh says:

    Jenna – Thank you for the article. This is so empowering. I love it. I have often said the ‘old me’ could never have handled this situation. The ‘old’ me of a decade ago would’ve never survived. I have to pride myself on my current strength to get thru this. I remember mumbling lots of doubt under my breath in the beginning but it is getting easier – 5 years into it. I need to print your article out and refer to it often when I need a bit of cheerleading! If only you could’ve been there during those dark days of doubt! I think I speak for all of us when I say thank you to you and Jennifer for all you do for us. This is my lifeline to sanity and advice. A place to go where there are no other resources or friends or family that truly understand. I am really starting to look at things differently and it feels so much better inside. I’m already looking forward to your July call and the next blog entry. It’s like a daily devotion, a nugget of wisdom and prayer of the day to keep me going when the going gets rough. Again, thank you for all you do. I really appreciate it and feel a bond with you both thru your stories and advice and your guidance! Thanks for sharing and pouring your heart and soul into it.

  2. Amyleigh, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s so easy to get sucked in and become someone we don’t even recognize. I’m glad this post resonated with you. And yes, by all means print it out and refer to it often :) You’re doing great by reaching out for support. Just keep doing whatever you need to do to become empowered! Jen and I are thrilled that we can help you with your journey!

  3. Great article, Jenna.

  4. Goober Girl says:

    I have lapses, and I have no idea how not to let certain things affect my peace. As soon as it seems we have some money saved up to buy the kids what they need, or perhaps spend it on a family vacation, etc. it seems we get another threat of a lawsuit over the most ridiculous thing.

    So..that lurks in the back of my mind. I can’t help but want to hold onto that money and not use it for fear of another lawsuit and I don’t want my husband to go through any more suffering or pain, unprepared. A very “real” fear..because most threats are carried out. But I have to realize that it’s not my battle. It’s my husband’s and he has learned not to worry about it so neither will I.

  5. Love it. Sounds like the whole process of transformation that I went through. Though I don’t feel the need for her to change anymore for my happiness, I still hope she does for her kid’s sake. But in case she doesn’t I am just working on teaching my SD to leave her mom’s emotional baggage with her mom instead of putting it on her own back the same way that I did. Hopefully, I can teach my SD how to be free of feeling the animosity, insecurities and low self-esteem that her mom projects on to her and anyone else for that matter.

  6. Goober, if your husband doesn’t worry about that stuff, that’s your free pass to let it go too :)

    Not so wicked, that’s one of the great things about being a stepmom; we have the opportunity to teach the kids something in addition, and sometimes different, than their parents teach them. It’s quite awesome! :)

  7. As the caring girlfriend of a kind and loving divorcing man who treats me with respect and dignity (and is more worthy of my love and affection than any man I’ve ever known), I’ve scoured the internet and book shelves for some glint of hope, honest advice and expression of faith that would encourage me to stick with it and see this through. Because, at the end of the day, I do believe and know that what we share is wonderful.

    This article (above any and all others) by Jenna Korf is the only one that’s truly hit home for me…well, this one and everything else she’s written!!! This set of articles, in fact, has given me reason to continue being hopeful. It’s reassured me of just why I’m in this relationship in the first place: I have a good man by my side, the rest of it’s simply background noise and what we share together (whenever and however we can) affects both of us deeply – and will help us get through anything.

    Thank you, Jenna, for your insight and eloquence. Thank you more than you’ll ever know!!!

  8. Hi Christine, thank you for the kind words :) I’m glad mine are a comfort to you. It can be easy to get bogged down in the stress of a stepfamily, but by the sound of it, you found yourself a man worth hanging around for. Cherish that, focus on that and it’ll get you through anything. :)

  9. Jenna – those of us who’ve found a man worth hanging around for are very lucky, but face so much toxic clutter elsewhere…and it’s riddled with negativity (i.e., “Dating a divorce/separated man? Get out now! They’re all selfish – they just want to have their cake and eat it, too”).

    Having your words to fall back on (here and in “Step Mom Magazine” – thanks for turning me on to it!) reinforces what I believe (vs. the clutter) and face the difficulties together w/the love of my life by being compassionate and empathetic partners to one another. By doing that, we’ve created a bond that’s true and will withstand anything.

    I can’t thank you enough for helping me (and others like me) realize that truth. I’ve already put your suggestions to good use and continue to keep doing just that! – c.

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