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Ask Dr. Zoe – Struggling Stepmom: What Helps My Relationship with His Ex?

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‘Confused Fiance’ Asked:

How do I go about repairing the relationship with the mother of my fiance’s children? I don’t like her, I think she is a very childish and spiteful person, but there should be some sort of casual friendship between us, for the sake of the children. She doesn’t seem to care and throws the fact that she’s their mother in my face. I’ve explained to her on several accounts that I’m not trying to and could never replace her, but that she should be appreciative that I treat them as my own when I have them with me. My fiance and I are getting married this summer and all of this drama she’s causing has me worried about how it will affect our life once we begin to form our own family. Help?!

Dr. Zoe Answered:

I’m so glad that you are being honest in saying that you don’t like her. Honesty gets everyone so much farther!

So, I’m going to be honest with you, too. When we don’t like someone, most of our interactions with them are viewed through a negative lens. I understand that she has given you reason not to like her. Just know that because of this, your view of her motives at any given time will be skewed.

You are making the situation harder by telling her that she should appreciate you because you treat her kids well. That’s kind of like a slap in the face. Treating kids well is a given. She doesn’t really need to appreciate that you are with her ex and you get to spend time with her children and influence them without her control. That’s actually what her problem is with you.

Don’t miss this episode for blended families!

I’m sorry to come down hard on you, and you may feel that I’m on her side. Not at all. I’m trying to help you see this whole thing through her lens so that you can have a fighting chance to know how to approach her if you really want to repair the relationship with her.

Great communicators view issues through the lens of whom they are trying to influence and then help them feel understood. She is hurt, fearful, and jealous of you. Jealousy, fear, and hurt are the foundational drives of much of the evil in the world.

Although it’s difficult, attempt to make her feel understood.

You definitely started out well by making sure that she knows that you have no intentions of replacing her. You just need to couple that with letting her know that you understand how hard this situation is for her—not telling her she shouldn’t have the feelings she has.

When people feel seen and understood, their defenses fall like water. All the energy used to defend themselves dissipates and they are so much easier to deal with.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not all about her. You deserve to be respected, but the only person you can control in this dynamic is yourself. The good news is that when any part of a system changes, the whole system reacts. So you can create change in her by making changes in yourself.

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I’m so glad you are addressing this now. Please know that it is likely that things may escalate before you walk down the aisle as she adjusts to the knowledge that you’re going to be in her life and her children’s lives forever (the whole system reacting thing).

You deserve to be respected, but the only person you can control in this dynamic is yourself. The good news is that when any part of a system changes, the whole system reacts. So you can create change in her by making changes in yourself.

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Remain on the same page as your fiance.

Your main goal during this transition is to make sure that you and your fiancé are a united front when it comes to interacting with her. Please sit down with a professional and hammer out rules, boundaries, and hypotheticals. Ultimately, if you two are strong, it doesn’t matter how much drama she is cooking up. It’s when the boundaries are weak and trust is lacking in the relationship that her behavior can find a crack to split open.

Blending a family is tough, so you should also have a regular, planned meeting with your husband where the only agenda is talking about how the blending is going.

Navigating blended family life is not for the weak-hearted. Combining understanding with a healthy dose of boundaries will get you off to a great start! You’ve got this. It just takes a little grit and grace.


Looking for more articles addressing blended families? Start here:

5 Ways Blended Families Can Be Happy and Healthy
Stepmother: the Most Difficult Job in a Family
Things You Should Know When You Want to Date a Single Dad
You, Your Man, and His Baby Mama All Need Grit and Grace
Ask Dr. Zoe – Dealing with Blended Families and Different Household Rules

Why You Should Just Have That Hard Conversation (And How to Do It)

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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