Please contact Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org with your questions or ideas about stepfamily living with 17-30 year olds.

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
Your Marriage is Being Sabotaged

Dear Evil Stepmom,

My husband's ex has been calling him a lot lately and asking him if they have a chance of reconciling. She says she wants her family back together. They have been divorced for five years now and she remarried three years ago. Meanwhile my husband and I have been married for three years also.

Every time we have to go to an event for the children she calls him afterward to tell him how awful it was for her, how uneasy she felt, and that she cried for hours. Her husband attends all of the events too so it's not like she doesn't have a supportive spouse. I have started to stay at home whenever I can come up with a good excuse just to avoid this.

I should also tell you that she is always very nice to me when we see each other, but knowing the aftermath and her attempts at reconciliation, I have become extremely uncomfortable at these events. Anyway, we have a wedding coming up which I am totally dreading. What can I possibly do so this isn't so completely awful?

Distressed Stepmom


Dear Distressed,

You sound like someone who is trying to do the right thing by your husband, his children, and their mom. But your marriage and your sense of self are getting lost in the mix.


Your marriage is being sabotaged by a third party. If these phone calls were coming from one of the ladies your husband works with or an old girlfriend of his, you wouldn't hesitate to tell him to shut it down (if he didn't do it instantly on his own). Yet here you are, standing by while another woman calls your home regularly to beg your husband to leave you for her.


I'm not trying to shame you; it seems that you are trying not to make a mess of things for the sake of your stepchildren and I commend you for that. But being a great stepmom doesn't mean that you have to take abuse from your husband's former spouse. You should not have to worry about being disturbed by her calls, their content, or their affect on your marriage. You have a right to know that your husband will firmly rebuff ANYBODY who dares to threaten his marriage or your peace at home.


Which is why your husband needs to tell her immediately that her post-event phone calls have to stop. He must make clear to her that, while she is an important member of his family system as the mother of his children, she is not a part of his marriage and is not welcome to talk to him about her feelings of loss or her wishes for reconciliation.


(Note: She should be talking with a professional about these feelings, because they indicate a serious problem in her new marriage and/or that she is struggling with her children leaving home. But this is not for you or your husband to suggest to her. Other people care about her too, and most of them are in a better position to help her.)


Your husband should let her know in a matter-of-fact way that she is always welcome to call between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (or whatever works for you two) about issues concerning the children, and that she can call at any hour day or night if there is an emergency with one of the kids. But, he needs to be clear, she is no longer welcome to communicate with him about her sadness, her regrets, her wishes, or anything else that doesn't specifically have to do with the kids. Period.


I would urge him to send this message via email because a) he'll have it in writing, and b) he won't have to deal with her immediate emotional reaction. She will wail that communicating this way is cowardly and unfair, but remember that pummeling him about how he communicates is just another way to keep him involved in no-win emotional conversations with her. It's bullying, and it must be dealt with as such. By confining communication to email for at least a while, he can help her get the emotional content out of her messages.


Your husband will need to be prepared for some emotional backlash from at least one of his children. When Dad cuts off Mom's emotional access to him, Mom usually sends one of the troops in as an emotional proxy to whine, complain, or fight with Dad. So your husband must be ready to tell his kids that their mom is still very important to him as their mother and that he will always work with her as such, but that he will not allow anyone to disrespect his current marriage and that won't talk to their mother any longer about her fantasies of reconciliation. They may get mad and argue with him because kids always worry about their mother, but if he loves them and he's a good dad, they'll accept his decision about his life and they will move on with him.


Your husband's ex isn't doing the kids any favors with this behavior. Even if the kids don't "know" about the phone calls, all kids know when one of their parents isn't really over the divorce. If she's remarried and not over your husband, she's sending terribly mixed signals to her young adult children just when their making important decisions about their own mate selection and relationships. Your husband can help her do the right thing by gently but firmly redirecting her toward her own marriage and her own life. Working on those two things will make the biggest positive difference for her kids at this stage in their development.


Finally, you can't be a positive presence in the lives of your young adult stepchildren if you won't attend their events and celebrations because your husband's ex is making you uncomfortable. You and your husband must step up to protect your marriage. When you're both doing that, you will be comfortable anywhere with him, because your place is always by his side. And no matter what they say, all children want their parents to have a good person and a good mate at their side. Don't let them down.


Stay strong,


ESM

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