Stepmoms, Why Your Husband Is So Important

There seems to be an epidemic of stepmoms divorcing. I don’t know the details of every situation, but it’s a pretty good guess that their husbands did not step up and support them.

Experts agree that  the marriage needs to be the primary relationship. If your husband doesn’t realize this, you have a high chance of being one of those 60-70% of second marriages that end in divorce.

Does that mean you’re more important than the kids? Of course not. But it means that when the kids are behaving badly, disrespecting you or making life miserable, your husband needs to step in and set things straight.

That might mean enforcing discipline he never has before (ahem…Disneyland dads) or showing his kids the proper way to treat you. It might mean doing more around the house. Or it might mean simply listening to you.

As a man, your husband’s job is to provide for and protect you. In fact, he’s compelled to do this. And even though, intellectually, women know they don’t need a man for that anymore, our instincts tell us we do.

We feel it in our bones when we’re not being protected. It feels life-threatening.

We get anxious, scared and then angry. It’s a pretty awful feeling.

A woman needs to know that she’s safe. And she attains that feeling when her husband listens to her needs and does what he can to meet them.

If he lets the kids (or the ex) rule the roost, there will be a breakdown between you and your husband as trust is lost and the bond between you is weakened. Not to mention the awful lessons he’s  teaching the kids.

Now stepmoms, you’re not off the hook here. There IS a right way and a wrong way to talk to men; to ask for what you need. (Feel free to contact me for a lesson in communicating with men)

Where do you fit in this scenerio? Is your husband stepping up to the plate or does he need some guidance in this area?

To learn more about understanding men, join Jenna for her Insights Into Men workshop.

© 2011 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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  1. Jenna, I couldn’t agree with this article more! I am one of the very fortunate stepmoms whose husband puts US and our marriage first and foremost, before his children, his work, the rest of life and most definitely before his ex! She doesn’t even factor in as an “important” category. While there are times that I let *my* frustration with the ex spill over into our home, he just blows her off (why can’t I learn how to do that so easily sometimes?) He and I both believe that the husband and wife are the foundation of the family, and if that relationship is strong and stable, with both people happy and fulfilled, the other relationships, like those with the children and other family members, will be able to be built off of the strong foundation that he and I have established together. But if the foundation of the husband and wife fails, the whole family unit falls apart, relationships are torn apart, families are torn apart… all you have to do to see evidence of that is to look at the failed previous marriage. I have to say, my husband is my biggest blessing in life and I am so fortunate that this concept seems to come easily to him!

  2. Thanks, CK! It sounds like your husband really knows how to put your marriage first. And when the husbands do that, the wives can and are willing to deal with almost anything ;)

  3. I agree whole-heartedly. My husband and I have been through moments in the last 3 1/2 years that we’ve been married that though he wasn’t intentionally putting our kids or the relationship he has with his ex-wife in front of ours, we could both feel the tension of that happening. We have to constantly remind each other, “That is what happens over there. We can only control what happens at our house,” so that we are not living in a place of resentment or comparison. My husband’s leadership in that assures me that he is putting our marriage and our household over anything that his ex-wife or our kids say or do.

    From the very beginning of our marriage, we decided to plan “get-aways” at least 2 times a year. Sometimes these are 3-4 days or a week. Other times, it’s just an overnight trip. Either way, those times have been extremely helpful to communicate the priority of our marriage to each other as well as our children. We have done this even in the last year when my husband was unemployed 2 times. Him making that a priority, even when times were tight financially, spoke volumes to me.

    My husband also is very clear to our kids that our marriage DOES come before them. That means that if they decide to be disrespectful of either one of us, they know that they will have to deal with consequences from the other parent. Disrespect can be such a temptation for children that feel tossed from one home to the other. We feel like communicating the importance of our marriage communicates not only the priorities of our house but also helps our kids know what a healthy home can be … in contrast to their past experiences of their mom and dad not necessarily making the marriage the top priority. Obviously my husband has recognized his mistakes in that and doesn’t feel like it’s too late to teach his children differently.

    I also feel EXTREMELY blessed to have a husband who supports us and me so completely. Being a stepmom is NEVER easy … but having him as my husband certainly makes the journey joyful and less stressful than it could be!

  4. That’s great, Daphne! You must feel a great sense of connectedness and security knowing your marriage is a priority. I love the get-a-ways too. Great to follow through with those, even (or especially) when times are tough! Thanks for your comment :).

  5. “As a man, your husband’s job is to provide for and protect you. In fact, he’s compelled to do this. And even though, intellectually, women know they don’t need a man for that anymore, our instincts tell us we do.”

    Ah, okay. Now we’re getting somewhere.

    Again, you’re a bunch younger than me, and I think women tend to get less impressed by men’s ability to protect and provide, and our need for them to do so, as we get older. I’ve been a grownup taking care of myself for over 20 years, and for part of that I’ve taken care of me and a child. I’ve lived with men for a good chunk of that time, and while one of them supported me financially for a few years, beyond that I cannot say that a man has provided for or protected me in adulthood. (Some have done quite the opposite.) Nor have I sought that. I have my own work to do and my own life to live, and I find that in general men expect quite a lot in return for bringing in money and hanging around looking reassuringly large.

    I think it’s worth asking what women believe men are protecting them *from*. As far as I can make out, men generally protect women from other men. Physically, sure, if you live in a dangerous place. This goes on at work, too; middle-aged men who haven’t made their mark, or are insecure in any other way, can be quite dangerous to young women building their careers, and that’s a large part of why male mentors are valuable.

    But on the whole, I find that if I want real security and support, protection from hardship and struggle, the go-to people are women, in particular mothers and those committed to supporting women. They’re the rock-solid ones in times of need, the ones who actively look for opportunities to help when they have help to give. My experience is that they tend to be far less anxious to impress the world than men are, need less continuous ego shoring-up, do more self-care, and are far more inclusive. Also less scared of young people. I don’t know where I’d be without the many circles of women who’ve grabbed my hands and pulled me up over the last decade or so. With the men, esp. the middle-aged men…oh, its endless quid pro quos, including sexual. You’d think that’d stop, but it doesn’t.

    In general, especially as we age, I find men are less stable emotionally than women are. It’s men who tend to fall apart in crises or deny their existence altogether, not women. The women keep the husbands taped together. I think of a couple of friends, married decades; she’s fought breast cancer for years. He’s a very good man, but she’s the tank, and she’s really the one keeping them both moving, even when she’s sick as a dog. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him if the cancer wins this time.

    As for me, I live in a quiet town with remarkably responsive emergency services. Nobody’s tried to rape or kidnap me in ages. I guess the furnace could blow up and set the house on fire, necessitating heroics, but that’s part of why I have the furnace serviced annually and have a rope ladder. I’m self-employed and have assets. As for…gosh, I don’t know. Emergency situations requiring a hero? You know, they’re just people, men. Most of the time they haven’t any idea what the hell’s going on anyway, they’re grasping at straws like anyone else. Mostly what you need, in an emergency, is a cool head and knowledge of how things work.

    When it comes to relying on a man, or any one person, for your income — well, I don’t recommend it. You can’t tell women in their early 20s this, of course, they want heroes, and tragedies are what happen to other people. But it’s bad for the resume, letting the man support you, and it means that if your boss turns out to be no good, you’ve got a serious problem. Same if he decides to get rid of you. And if he’s disabled, or dies…Elizabeth Warren is wise on that count.

    I’m also not sure I like how this plays into the “let him win, save his ego” trope. If your career’s going gangbusters, and his isn’t, are you supposed to pull back to save his pride, and let him feel he’s providing for you? I’d recommend against. Not least because you’ve got another 60 years to think about. Older women will tell you: Take care of yourself and your kids, don’t wait for him to do it.

    All that said: If the ex-wife is a pro at taking care of herself and the kids, and the stepmom’s big into the my-hero thing, then it seems to me this is another source of real conflict and misunderstanding. The stepmom’s knocking herself out building up her marriage because *she believes she needs the man*. Not wants. Needs. And the ex-wife, even if she recognizes what’s going on and will deal with it as a reality, may not take the sentiment very seriously, and may find it tiresome. The stepmom, for her part, may find the ex-wife rude and dismissive of her marriage, and may feel judged, insecure. After all, here’s this lovely dream of a man taking care of her and protecting her, and then in comes Brett Butler raising an eyebrow at her.

    What I think everyone really needs is a friend. Better yet, friends. The women I respect most — and the one who leaps to mind is Ruth Bader Ginsburg — tend to have long, strong marriages to *friends*. Ruth Ginsburg can quite obviously shift for herself, and I really doubt her late husband had much of a sense that he was protecting and providing for her, and that she needed him, except for himself, as her best friend.

    So — and this is a zillion miles long now — let me suggest that the keys to your successful marriage are you and your compatibility with the man and life you married. If you know who you are, if you’re secure in yourself and your abilities, if you love and are hot for your man, if he’s your best friend, if you share major values and goals, if you’re a grownup when you fight, and if you recognize — really recognize — that you have joined a family already in progress, then I think your marriage has an awesome chance.

    It’s that last point that’s the sticking point, of course. The idea of a family already in progress. The fantasy that this family doesn’t exist anymore is dangerous, I think, to all concerned. But — divorced though he may be — he has a family focused on children’s growing up. It’s a complex thing, but if your husband and his ex are at all sane, it’s organized around the children’s wellbeing, and it’s a powerful thing. As it should be. Children need a lot.

    The problem is that you won’t see this when you’re dating. Why should you? The man is tasting liberation, happiness (maybe for the first time in years), and a woman’s solace, and besides he wants to get into your pants; he’s not going to start talking about orthodontia bills and legal business as the everyday things they are, nor will you stand by while he has conversations with his ex about the kids. You’re around the kids on a strictly volunteer basis, and while you’ll listen to him talk about them in order to support him, they’re not your primary interest. He is. You can pretend that they kids are part of some separate life, somewhere else, until you move in with him. And that’s when you discover that he wasn’t quite the footloose guy he’d been advertising, and that his house already has people in it. Including a woman that for some reason or other he didn’t get along with, but has children and a past with.

    If you can go into stepmotherhood understanding that — knowing from the time you’re dating that hey, this is not really a single man, that you are in some sense marrying his ex and his kids, and understand what that means for you — then I think that not only your marriage but his kids and your future kids stand a terrific chance of doing beautifully.

  6. So I’m fairly new to this site and I’m hoping someone here can explain to me how the kids are taught that they come second to the new marriage without it damaging their self-esteem or causing a long term mistrust and resentment (or need for approval) from their parent? I am starting to see the beginnings of this with my child who would simply rather stay home than live her dad’s relationship every other weekend and I would like to nip these bad feelings in the bud as I have put a lot of energy and effort into facilitating the father-daughter relationship (which I know is kind of sad, in and of itself) and think it would be a real shame for her to miss out on such an important relationship just because Dad thinks his new life is more important than her (sorry, I know that seems inflammatory, but in this case it’s also true – it’s in all areas not just the SM so I’m not just being cranky), which I make a point of refuting when she brings it up with things like but daddy loves you so much he wants you to be a part of his new family, etc. I’m sure you can imagine how much this is impacting how I feel about the SM, even though I know it’s his responsibility not hers! (and this is how the Bio-mom/SM war starts LOL)

    The commentors all seem to have really positive interactions going on with their hubbies, how are things with the kids?
    Am I allowed to ask questions here? Sorry if I’m not :)

  7. Hi Elaine, welcome to the site and great questions! First, yes, you can ask questions here, but they may not get many responses. We’d love you to join us in our closed Facebook page or private Member’s Community for more interaction with fellow moms and stepmoms :)

    Second, many people get confused about what it means to make your marriage the priority. It doesn’t mean the child gets ignored or is loved any less. It means that if the child is disrespectful to the stepparent, the bio parent must stand up for the marriage and let the child know that it’s not okay and it won’t be accepted. It’s not about loving one more than the other or one being more important than the other. And the bio parent should always let the child know how loved they are, include them in activities, etc…In fact, it’s important for the bio parent and child to participate in activities together, without the stepparent, in addition to including the stepparent at times, and in addition to the child also having some alone time with the stepparent. Everyone needs to build their own relationships along with the relationship as a family.

    I hope this helps!


  8. And Elaine, you make a great point. A lot of kids can feel snubbed if the bio parent is actively spending alone time with them and assuring them how loved they are.

  9. Thanks for the response, I’ll look up the FB site. This seems to be a great site and has me really thinking about how I react and control my part of our situation

  10. Um, sorry, couldn’t disagree more, a man should put his children FIRST. Blood is thicker than water.

  11. I agree with whitney – a man should want to protect his family! And so should women. It took me a long time to finally file but I had to do what I thought was right for my children.

  12. I agree with this article and I can only say that I wish that my fiancé would have stepped up and taught his children to respect me instead of bully me. We lived together for two years until I chose to move out because his kids made me terrified to come home every day. They constantly disrespected me, called me names , stole from me and made me feel unsafe and alone. Their father always blamed me and never held them responsible for their actions. Now we are on the verge of ending our 4 year relationship. I can’t continue on in a relationship where I feel disrespected and not treated as a priority in his life. His kids have always been a sore point between us and he has defended them to the point where it has driven a wedge between us. I think it’s important for women to know that we can do as much as we can to make a blended family work but if both partners are not on the same page and don’t make their relationship a priority then it will never work.

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