Rebuilding Your Life from the Ashes
One peculiar feature of a stepfamily is that they are built on a negative foundation. A stepfamily couple comes to their new home with a full set of baggage, containing memories, wounds, and habits. Probably the biggest piece of baggage that sits in the way of your developing a new life is your connection to your ex-spouse.
And, while some ex-es go away physically, many more haunt your life as well as your memories. One of the great mysteries of divorce and remarriage is why many ex-spouses just refuse to turn loose.
It has been said that divorce is the single cruelest thing one person can do to another person. The one soul you trusted more than any other with your secrets, your hopes, and your weaknesses turns from their vows and wrenches themselves from your living heart. The phenomenon of the spiteful, vengeful ex-spouse is such a problem that the majority of emails we receive are on that subject.
However, in working with thousands of stepfamilies around the world, we've found two facts to be true about dealing with these vindictive ex-es (and they're nearly always ex-wives!):
1) The kids see the truth. Kids aren't stupid. And, although they have a natural tendency to defend even the worst bio-parent, they can see for themselves when adults lie and use them. They see both sides of the story, in both homes. These kids know what your personalities are like, versus her personality. And they are keeping track of everything she tells them that doesn't add up.
Now, this doesn't mean that you can use this fact to try to turn the kids to your side. You must behave in the most Christian manner you can.
Which leads to one of our Cardinal Rules: Never Criticize Your Stepkids' Other Parent In Front of the Kids. She may actually be a psychopathic shrew or he may indeed be an alcoholic abuser, but if you criticize those monsters where the kids can hear you, those kids will defend them-either aloud or in their minds.
2) Wicked ex-es are not as strong as God. This is a weapon you can use for your defense and against them. If you present the best example of a selfless, loving, gentle Christian stepparent that you possibly can, your stepkids will be able to see and feel the difference in spirit between love and hate. Also, if you constantly return kindness for every time she is mean to you, you will wear her down.
These are not "pie in the sky" dreams. I've seen them happen in my own stepfamily and in many others. It is a Christian concept, but it's also fundamental nature. You are not responsible for how she acts toward you. You are only responsible for how you act ... or react ... toward her. Act in such a way that you can feel comfortable with yourself. Show those kids how a real woman handles problems-with strength and self control!
While it is sometimes necessary to stand up to vindictive ex-es, the only approach I have ever seen to be completely effective in securing a peaceful home in relation to your ex-spouse is to reach out in love. Now, I'm not throwing flowers around and saying everyone will get just along together. But I am saying that it's pretty much impossible to fight with someone who won't fight back.
I'll fall back on some sage advice which says that, "If we only love our friends and hate our enemies, how are we any better than them? But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."
Look at it this way, if you simply react to your ex-es attacks every time he or she says something about you, who is in control of your life? Your ex is.
However, if, no matter what they say about you or do to you, you refuse to stoop to their level, if you insist on acting in a superior manner, you-not your ex-are still in control of your mind and life.
Jesus wasn't teaching, in the above passage from Matthew, chapter 5, that we are supposed to be wimps. On the contrary, it takes much more courage and character to answer an attack with an attempt to make peace. It is harder, but it is more rewarding.
The only sure way to win is to get everyone on the same side.
by Bobby Collins © copyright 2000
Bobby Collins is a stepdad first, then a minister, a certified family mediator, and founder of STEP-Carefully! for Stepparents!, the largest faith-based support organization for stepfamilies in the country. His articles have appeared in national publications and he has appeared on national TV and radio programs always teaching stepparents how to have healthier, happier families. His organization can be reached on the Internet at http://www.stepcarefully .com where visitors will find free articles, a free newsletter, and a book store with proven stepfamily resources for sale. Collins is best known for his private family mediation between husbands and wives, ex-spouses, and stepparents and their stepkids. With over a decade of experience, he has helped thousands of stepfamilies survive and succeed. Contact him directly at coach@stepcareful ly.com
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