The chances are that you wish that the ‘ex’ would disappear off the face of the planet. So here’s a guide to managing the complex feelings of jealousy, rivalry and resentment that dealing with your partner’s previous partner may bring.
- Have a discussion early on about how much involvement your partner’s ex will have in the new family. If there are children involved, regular contact will be unavoidable, but it still helps to set things out from the beginning.
- Be civil, regardless of how the other person behaves towards you. You don’t have to like her/him but if there are children involved, this is going to be a long‐term situation and you have to come to terms with it. Regardless of your feelings towards your partner’s ex, it’s important to display a civil attitude; children must be protected from any battles. Keep any negative thoughts about your partner’s ex to yourself.
- Partner’s support is essential: he/she should speak to his/her children and insist that they show respect to you and also speak to their former partner about these matters.
- When an ex has bad feelings for you, this has a dire effect on your relationship with her/his children. They may become carriers of her/his hatred, jealousy or contempt. However, resist any attempt to retaliate no matter how great the temptation. Your reacting will create further family unrest and have a negative effect on the children who are caught in the middle. If you hold on long enough the children will eventually make up their own minds.
- Focus on the welfare of the children caught in the middle of a situation that is not of their own making. They should be allowed to move freely between the two homes, and be welcomed and accepted as part of the family in each.
- Create new family traditions that will help in creating a bond within the merged families. Holidays are going to be a sensitive time when children may have to divide their time between two or more homes. For instance, set‐up an enjoyable Sunday morning ritual, which will not be in conflict with any previously established family tradition.
- Not facing up to your feelings of jealousy could have a negative impact both on your relationship with your spouse and also with any children involved.
- Insisting that your partner’s children call you ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ will seem as if you’re taking over the place of their birth parent. To begin with, at least allow the children to call you by your first name.
- It’s important not to let your feelings towards your partner’s ex influence your response to their children. This can happen often on an unconscious level, especially if the child looks, sounds or acts like their other birth parent. You need to remember that the children are the innocent parties in the relationship tangles.
- Attempting to compete with the ex or trying to prove to your partner or the children that you are a far better spouse or parent is doomed to failure. You will be wasting a lot of valuable time and energy by focusing on the ex, which would be better spent on building and bonding your new family together.
- By retaliating to an ex who is particularly unpleasant you will only be playing their game. The best you can do is to maintain your composure, stay civil and hope that in time the unreasonable ex will grow tired of playing her or his destructive game.
- Get your anger and anxieties about your ex into perspective. Someone has power over you only if you give it. Don’t allow resentment to spoil your new relationship with your partner and with his/her children.
- Regardless of your feelings towards your ex, children want and need continuing contact with both parents. Balancing these apparently conflicting needs is key to a happy stepfamily.