From Rattled to Grateful in a Few Hours

by childless stepparent

spouse's former spouse
Earlier today, my husband’s former wife stopped by our house uninvited and unannounced. She has not done this before. In fact, she had never been to our town – much less our home – in the four years my husband has lived here.

My husband’s daughter was with her mom and wanted her to see where she spends half her life. I get it. That’s healthy. But the way it was handled by her mom was inconsiderate – without the courtesy of a phone call or a text beforehand. Disappointing but not surprising.

So my husband invited his former wife inside and gave her a quick tour of our home. He was friendly, to make it easy for his daughter. I made the choice to remove myself to a room upstairs and didn’t see either of them while they were here. His daughter was happy to show her mom her room and her cats – something she’d been wanting to do for years – and then they went on their way.

The whole thing was drama-free and took just a few minutes, but my husband and I were both shaken. Afterwards, we spent a few minutes talking about how unexpected it was and how appalled we were at his former wife’s bad manners, then we laughed it off and went about our day. My husband settled upstairs to meditate, and I sat in the peaceful sunshine of our living room, enjoying our home. I had two realizations.

One, I had never before seen my husband rattled like that. Two, I feel that way every time I see his former wife.

I hadn’t truly faced it before, but her presence affects me in a visceral way. We’re cordial for the benefit of her daughter, and we will continue to be. But being around her has always left me feeling shaken and depleted. Why had I been putting myself through that for the last two years, volunteering myself for pick-ups/drop-offs, school activities, etc.? I think I assumed that with enough face-to-face time, my reaction would fade. But it hasn’t. It’s hard every time. And that’s okay.

Time for me to give myself a break and let my husband handle those encounters. I don’t need to make myself known. I am a positive presence in my stepchild’s life. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I’m not tough for repeatedly putting myself in an upsetting situation. I’m strong for untangling myself and stepping back. Which is exactly what I plan to do.

My husband doesn’t usually find his former wife upsetting; he can work with her in the business of taking care of their daughter and then not give her another thought. When I told him my realization – that every time I see his former wife, I feel rattled the way he did today – he shook his head sadly and wrapped me in a big hug. He had no idea. I had no idea. Instead of facing my discomfort and doing what I could to change it, I had been pushing it away, refusing to look at it.

What a useful realization. I am grateful for the self-acceptance I found today. I will continue to be kind to my stepchild and supportive of my husband. But I will no longer insert myself into situations involving my husband’s former wife – not if I don’t have to be there. This is an empowering decision.

As for her intruding into our home – our sanctuary – my husband assures me that will never happen again.

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.

Manifesto #6 | I will be kind to my stepchild. I will support my husband in his role as her dad. I will contribute – on my own terms.

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