The Doctor Is In: Emily Bouchard

11 03 2009
 emilyEmily Bouchard, founder of www.blended-families.com, is an expert in stepfamily issues with more than 20 years of experience in working with children and families dealing with adversity. She has a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in child development. Emily is also a stepdaughter and a loving stepmother to two young women who were teenagers when she entered their lives. At www.blended-families.comyou will find archived articles such as this one, a free newsletter written by professional family coaches, and many other resources for stepmoms who want to thrive in their families.

A New Perspective on Dealing with Your Husband’s “Ex” 

By Emily Bouchard

One of the most persistent and common complaints I hear from stepmoms is their frustration with their husbands’ former spouses whose behavior is intolerable.

In my experience it is HOPELESS to wish, want, need, hope, pray – that THEY will change. I’ve heard clients report how they have tried all sorts of communication strategies that are supposed to be so effective with zero results. I’ve heard so many complaints about how the former spouse will agree to something and then turn around and do the opposite – and my clients are always so surprised EVERY time this happens.

I feel a need to repeat here Gertrude Stein’s definition of insanity that can be very helpful: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Here’s what I tell couples who are struggling with these issues – stop focusing on what is wrong about the “ex” and start focusing on what you do have control over – your responses to what the ex-spouse does in relationship to you and your family.

Oftentimes, when couples begin to shift their focus, they discover that it has been serving them to look outside themselves at what is so wrong about the other person – the one they cannot change. It allows them to feel victimized, helpless, hopeless, and righteously indignant. They get to feel superior, knowing better than the former spouse how to parent and deal with new families and new lives.

The remarkable paradox that occurs is that when couples shift to:

  1. compassion for the former spouse, and
  2. taking full responsibility for their participation and choices in relationship to the former spouse,

change does occur – it has to. When one aspect of the family “system” changes, all members have to shift as well.

When the new, second wife is able to release and let go of her resentments toward the former wife, she is able to be much more at peace with whatever the ex-wife is doing. By becoming a “lover of reality,” you get to actually enjoy the drama of life, instead of feeling only wronged, victimized, and hurt by life.

Freedom and peace come from meeting life fully with what it brings you instead of wishing, hoping, or needing life to be different than what it is.

Action Step: The next time a former spouse pushes your buttons and you feel frustrated, angry, or hurt –

  1. Acknowledge your feelings and seize the opportunity.
  2. Ask yourself what you “get” out of believing that you are being treated a certain way.
  3. Honestly appraise how you approach life when you hold onto your beliefs about the former spouse and why you think they are behaving that way.
  4. Ask yourself how you might be different if you did not believe those things about the ex-spouse.

This same process works for ANYTHING outside of your control in your life. Any time you feel out of balance, frustrated, angry, or irritated about a situation – be it about one of your stepchildren, the weather, your computer not working right, your partner, etc. – you can apply this simple strategy to determine, consciously, how you’d like to respond to what life brings you.

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