One of the most common stressors that stepmoms have is the ex.
This is particularly true if the ex is what the online stepfamily community likes to refer to as a “high-conflict ex.”
Below are five tips to help if you find yourself in this situation.
- Ask yourself, am I a high-conflict stepmom? Am I doing anything to add fuel to the fire?
It’s really easy to blame everyone around you. There are times I’ve fueled the fire without even knowing I was. Be honest with yourself—are there times you’ve actually been the one who created the conflict? It’s OK if you have! I’ve been there.
It’s uncomfortable to admit, but humans are messy, and sometimes we are creating conflict while blaming the other person.
The term “high conflict” ebbs and flows, and can be situational. Maybe sometimes the ex is high conflict, and others she isn’t.
The same goes for you.
2. Minimize interactions whenever possible
Sometimes as stepmoms we think we have to show-up for everything: the Little League game, the school’s show and tell, or even taking the ride with your partner during pick up or drop-off.
If your step kid really wants you at an event/school function/game, by all means, go.
Otherwise, check in with yourself —do you really need to go to the parent / teacher conference or can the bio parents handle it and fill you in later?
Do you really need to be at every single soccer game or can you skip a couple?
Is this a situation your partner can handle—and you can be taken off of the text thread or email chain?
Minimize interactions whenever possible and your mental health will thank you.
3. If you absolutely have to communicate, keep opinions and emotions out of it. Make it a business transaction.
For example, if you get a text that’s long, but it’s really asking a yes or no question—don’t mirror the long text. Simply send back an “OK” or “I will let you know” or “Thanks”.
If you send non-emotional texts, you immediately put out the fire. Fight with water, not with fire.
Pretend emotions and feelings aren’t a thing, and write / respond as though you are a boring gray rock. Be the most boring version of a person you can be—eventually, the other side will lose interest.
3. Stop expecting anything different
Stepmoms are often shocked when the ex does it again… but why are you surprised? It’s been like this since day one. They (most likely) aren’t going to change.
Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
If you flip it around, and actually expect the ex to do the frustrating thing, at least you won’t be disappointed. You can actually laugh to yourself, or with your partner.
You’ll be like, “Yep, saw that one coming.”
And if it doesn’t happen? Consider yourself lucky, and let yourself be pleasantly surprised.
4. This isn’t about you, it’s about what you represent. Unless it is about you. If that’s the case, go back to number one.
Usually, a high-conflict ex is not just a high-conflict ex—they’re a high-conflict person. That means they are having these situations with many people in their lives—their co-workers, friends, and family, not just you.
It’s easier said than done, but try not to take things personally—it often isn’t that the ex is out to get you, it’s that they feel a loss of control. Challenging as it may be, try not to personalize everything that comes your way.
I once read that it takes a woman 4-5 years to fully process the end of a marriage, even if they were the one that ended it. Your presence may trigger unhealed wounds. You may trigger insecurities that haven’t been addressed.
You may very well represent the life she wishes she had. No one gets married expecting to get divorced. No one brings children into the world with the intention of co-parenting or sharing a motherly role with another woman. This is hard. Just like stepmom life hasn’t always brought out your shiniest qualities, it may not be bringing out hers.
5. Let your partner take over communication especially if it is causing your anxiety and preventing you from showing up as your best self.
If your position allows you to, take a break from being the go-to woman. Ask for help. It’s totally OK to lean on your partner when you need a break. They ARE his kids after all.
You don’t have to make a big show and announce it, just do it. Take action by not taking action. You can mute a text thread (you are the owner of your phone, don’t let your phone own you!), leave an email unanswered, or go into your bedroom when the ex comes to pick up your stepkid.
Or you can simply respond
“I’m going to pass this one on to [partner’s name].”
“I think you should talk to [partner’s name] on this one.
Remember, you don’t need to attend every argument you’re invited to.
You decide how you allow people to treat you.
Dealing with the ex is ultimately your partner’s responsibility. This isn’t all on you.
You need to protect your mental health at all costs. If dealing with this person is affecting your ability to show up for the people who matter most (including YOU), it’s time to re-asses.
Next time you have a high-conflict situation arise, try implementing one of these techniques and let it work it’s magic.