Stepfamilies: Husband’s Ex “Runs The Show” and Stepmom Feels Alone

Dear Lisa:

My husband has two children from a previous marriage. We now have custody of one of them, his son. His son and I are extremely close and his ex-wife hates this. She will do anything to stop this, including lie to her children about me. I feel so alone at times here in my house because I feel that his ex basically runs the show. My husband gives into her every whim because he doesn’t want to cause friction, which on one hand I can see where he is coming from. However, when she is interfering with my personal life, I wish he would stick up for me more. That hurts me the most. She will call and say the stupidest thing because she knows she can get to me. She leaves nasty, vile messages on my cell phone. I just can’t ignore it anymore when she is berating me and putting me down in front of my stepson. I have such a great relationship with my stepson and I am scared of her coming between us. He is young and very impressionable. We try to limit their conversations because we feel she only makes things harder for him. She is trying to use that in a custody case now (She is trying to change our custody arrangement). Usually his conversations with her end with him crying. I feel like I am at the end of my rope and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Thank you so much.


Dear M.G.:

This sounds really difficult.

First of all, I think it’s critical that you refrain from engaging in battle with your husband’s ex. Do not respond to her nasty phone calls, and if you feel you can’t be civil, don’t speak to her. If you engage in battle with her, your stepson will suffer.

Karen Sherman, Ph.D., author of “Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, Make It Last,” a psychologist in New York, suggests that you tell your husband that this situation must be very tough for him. Then let him know that his ex is acting unfair to you, your husband and your stepson. When you speak to him, don’t attack or judge.

Next, she says, you should offer to work with your husband to identify how you can solve this problem as a team.

Donna A. Tonrey, a licensed marriage and family therapist and director of a clinical counseling program at La Salle University, says that your husband may give in to his ex because he’s feeling guilty about the divorce. This is quite common.

“Or, it could be that he is not comfortable with conflict of any kind and he has not developed the communication skills to effectively handle conflict; therefore he avoids directly addressing issues,” she says. But of course, this will create conflict between him and you, she says. Again, tell your husband how you feel. If giving in to his ex makes you feel as if you’re not important, let him know that.

Brette Sembler, a former divorce and family attorney and author of several books about divorce, suggests that while you’re dealing with this tough problem, try to remember that your husband has a history with his ex. Particularly because they are parents together, they do need to communicate and work cooperatively. Try to support his efforts to cooperate with his ex-wife.

As for your stepson, he’s clearly caught in the middle of the adults in his life. This is a painful place for him. It’s up to the adults to get him out of the middle, Tonrey says.

It would really be ideal if you, your husband and his ex could sit down together and talk about how you could cooperatively raise his children. And it would be great if you could do this without resorting to the courts. You might consider finding a counselor, mediator or minister to help you talk with each other.

I hope this is helpful. Please keep me posted.