Here’s the cold hard truth: you can’t understand what it’s like to be a stepmom unless you’re a stepmom. Often stepmoms expect our partners to understand what it’s like, but they can’t.
Just like you can’t fully understand what this feels like for your partner.
You want to be able to talk to your partner about everything, but when you’re in a stepfamily sometimes that doesn’t go over smoothly. There are tons of emotions and guilt involved in stepfamily stress, and even the smallest thing can feel loaded with a capital L.
Often this doesn’t set the foundation for productive conversations. It can feel like you’re walking through a minefield. At any moment something could trigger and blow up.
Sometimes as stepmoms we get so caught up in our own grief, triggers and struggles that we forget about how hard it is for our partner. Remember: they are balancing the needs of their kids, possibly ours babies, us, the ex etc… It’s hard on them too.
Stepmoms often ask me how to communicate with their partner about how they are experiencing stepfamily life, without getting into an argument and hurting their feelings.
This is hard.
They can’t control the big issues.
They may feel torn between you and the kids.
They may feel torn between you and their commitment to a past life.
There are a lot of emotions and points of view to consider when having these conversations.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t happen in a healthy and productive way.
It’s not easy, it won’t always be perfect, but here are some techniques to use next time you need support from your partner about your stepfamily stress.
Commit To Respecting One Another’s Experience
Your partner may want his new family to function like a first family, and you could be there struggling to make the connection.
Instead of squashing that dream, have a respectful and realistic conversation about where you’re both at.
As close as you are with your partner, we have wildly different roles and experiences than each other as a stepmom versus a biological parent. This can make it hard to connect.
When the conversation gets heated—because they almost always do—try taking turns listening to each other with no interruptions.
Listen to understand not to respond.
No interruptions, no judgment.
Choose The Right Time
Sometimes the issues we feel are super urgent, aren’t. I know I can get riled up and want to shoot some text messages off immediately, or air my grievances the minute my partner walks in the door.
But wait….stop….breathe. The issue isn’t going anywhere.
You will get a much better reaction from your partner if they’re relaxed, and you actually have time to discuss the issue. Read the room.
“Hey, I want to talk about some things that are on my mind. Is this a good time to chat?”
When your partner is thinking about work or in the middle of something else, chances are they don’t have the bandwidth to give the conversation the time and attention you need them to give.
Go Into Tough Conversations With A Disclaimer
“You don’t have to agree with how I am experiencing the situation, I just need you to respect that this is how I am feeling right now.”
This disclaimer can change the trajectory of a conversation!
Sometimes our partners go into “fixing” mode and think if we tell them something, they have to fix it immediately.
Or they get super defensive because in their mind, this is not how it is.
When really, all we want is to be heard and seen.
Another good disclaimer is, “I’m going to express something that’s been bothering me, but I don’t need a solution, and I’m not trying to offend anyone. I just want you to listen.”
There Is No Such Thing As A Wrong Experience Or Feeling
Let’s go back to the example where your partner wants your family to function like a first family.
This can be frustrating, but instead of telling them this is wrong to expect and never going to happen, have a conversation about each other’s perspectives.
Understand that if you’re having issues with your stepkids, your partner may feel like it’s an attack on their parenting.
Make it clear it isn’t an attack on their parenting, but it’s your perspective and it is valid.
They Make Take Offence
Be prepared in advance that your partner’s initial reaction might be offended or defensive.
So be careful how and when you present your issues. (See: Choose the right time.)
And if they are offended? That’s OK. That’s their experience.
Give some space, and after their initial offense, they might come around and see your point of view.
Your Partner Will In All Likelihood Be More Forgiving Of Your Stepkids
Have you ever had a situation where one of your stepkids says or does something that pisses both you and your partner off? Then a few hours later they’ve moved on, but you’re still pissed?
If you have an Ours Baby, you might be more forgiving of them than your stepkids. It happens.
Don’t beat your partner up about it, and don’t beat yourself up about it.
Have Realistic Expectations About The Support They Can Provide
It’s a lot of pressure to expect our partners to meet all of our emotional needs. It puts pressure on us and pressure on them.
It can make even the strongest relationship suffer.
Perhaps this is something you need to seek out elsewhere. Hire a coach, join a community, find a stepmom friend and meet up with them to vent.
If you’re craving more… there is a workshop in my membership The Exclusive Stepmom Community, that walks you through how to have tough conversations with your partner about your stepfamily stress. Members get free access.
Not a member but still want it? Get access to the workshop HERE!