How to Handle Conflict with Your Spouse’s Former Spouse

by childless stepparent

spouse's former spouse

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart and to relate to that wound.”

~ Pema Chodron | Start Where You Are

Dealing with my husband’s former wife has been a gift. It has been a gift because it has been difficult.

When my husband and I got engaged and I was making a cross-country move to be with him, I wrote a short letter for him to share with his former wife. In it, I praised her and my husband as great parents who’d done an amazing job raising their daughter. I wanted her to know that I had no intention of stepping on her role as mom. I let her know that I would would be happy to talk with her and answer any questions she might have. I wanted to put her mind at ease since her daughter would soon be spending half her time with me.

Her response? Sent to my husband: “you tell that woman I don’t need any more friends.” It was not an auspicious beginning. From there it got worse.

She completely misunderstood my letter. I was reaching out on behalf of her child; it had nothing to do with a friendship with her. I remember my husband telling me early on – with such naive hope – that he thought his former wife and I might actually become friends. She and I can – and should – be friendly on the rare occasions when we encounter each other, but we will never be friends, and that’s okay.

Some people in our situation harbor the same hope for friendship as my husband did. Many people not involved in a stepfamily expect it, as if it’s a sign of mature good behavior. In fact, it’s completely unrealistic. The dynamics of the situation do not easily allow for it. Trying to force a friendship between the former wife and the new wife is not necessary and often makes things worse. It’s best if the husband handles everything when it comes to his former wife.

Now, when difficulties arise, I no longer insert myself into the situation. I turn my attention inward. I no longer set myself up for getting shot in the heart.

Manifesto #5 | Whatever dynamic exists between my husband and his former wife does not involve me. They must work together for their child’s benefit.

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