Stepmothers: Do You Turn Toward Or Away From Your Partner?

28 09 2010

We all know that conflict is a normal part of any long-term relationship. You’re going to fight. You’re going to get on each other’s nerves. You might even call each other a few choice swear words in the privacy of your own heads.

But at the end of the day, do you turn toward each other or away?

Over the last three months my husband and I have been stressed out. Big time. A whole bunch of challenges hit us at exactly the same time. For the first month, we turned away from each other. We were polite, but we suffered from the stress in our own little worlds. The second month, the stress started coming out in arguments and nasty comments. This month, we turned toward each other.

We acknowledged that we’re both stressed and began exploring some questions. How can we address this together? How can we feel proactive instead of reactive? And most importantly, how can we protect our marriage from the outside stresses it must endure? That is the challenge many stepcouples face. Scratch that. It’s a challenge that ALL couples face.

We came up with some things that are working for us:

  1. Be aspirational. Work toward a goal together that is fun and exciting. We decided to meet once a month for a day to visualize our goals for our future.
  2. Deal with the stress head on. We didn’t just sweep the stressors in our lives under the rug. We built strategies to help us manage the stress and move to a more easeful place with benchmarks so we can track our progress.
  3. Take a break! I know I’ve nagged you all about this one before, but my gosh–having fun is so important. We certainly can’t talk about our problems all the time. We need breaks! We decided that our breaks should include activities that build a positive emotional connection between us.

How about you? Do you have any strategies that you and your partner use to keep connected during challenging times?

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8 responses

29 09 2010
Tamela

It seems that my husband and I turn away from each other in times of stress and our life together as a married couple has been very stressful! We’ve only been married two years. We married in October 2008 and by November 2008 I was ready to run for the hills!

I don’t know how to share with him what causes me so much stress because it is his family: his mother, his children and his ex-wife. Also how dramatically my life changed from being a single, independent, happy woman to a life of instant family and the chaos that goes with it that makes me very unhappy. To this day I harbor feelings of resentment. I try not to hold it against my husband because it’s not his fault yet he seems to be the one to get the brunt of my unhappiness.

On top of all this is the fact that we had to move away from our home town, our friends, my family and my job two months ago because my husband was transferred. We are trying to sell our house and are having to pay expenses for a rental in our current location. I am not working…….. I’m afraid the stress of it all is going to end our marriage before it’s ever really begun.

29 09 2010
Talia

My husband and I turn away from each other. We both get very quiet and retreat to our corners, so to speak. He does not understand the stressors of being a stepmother. My two girls (at College) like him, converse with him and include him in every way. His kids on the other hand, do not even talk to me. When I try to tell my husband how his children’s behavior makes me feel, it always turns into an argument/fight. I have serious feelings of resentment and anger and at times, great sadness. I try not to hold this against my husband, but it is HIS kids who bring the stress and dysfunction to our family. (and if he was honest with himself, he would admit it)

Six months into our marriage, we sought counseling. Sadly, it didn’t really help. Many times I think that the life I am living is not what I signed up for.

29 09 2010
Tamela

Talia,

“Many times I think that the life I am living is not what I signed up for.”
That is EXACTLY what I am feeling! I so understand what you are going through.
I wish I knew what to do to change those feelings. I love my husband and I want us to be happy together. For the majority of our marriage I’ve been in a constant state of stress. My mind, body and spirit can’t take much more of this. I know my husband can’t either.
I wish I knew the answer.

29 09 2010
Talia

Tamela,

I understand completely! I absolutely love my husband and know he loves me, but like you, I’ve been stressed for 3 years. This.can’t.be.healthy!! At times, I think what happened to me? I used to be an independent, self confident, happy go lucky woman who successfully raised two girls alone and now I am so…stuck.

30 09 2010
Jane

Tamela and Talia, I read your comments and it is helping me to feel less alone in the situation I’ve now found myself in. Some of the comments you made are exactly the way I feel!
My partner and I go back and forth, turning to eachother and away from eachother. when he turns away from me he says it’s because he feels bad that I need to deal with “his mess”. That I “don’t deserve it”. Sometimes for me, turning away is the only way I feel I can survive this.
I’m a few years into a blended family situation. I came to the relationship divorced many years, no kids, great career, great health (mentally, physically– no guilt from the past, etc). I was free to love in every way, but he came with considerable baggage. Every one of our stresses- it seems- is because of his kids, his job, his house that won’t sell, his exes, his alimony, his child support, his his his. All of his problems have become my problems and I frequently find myself saying “how could I have gotten into this? I went from no problems to 100 problems and they are all HIS!”
The situation I found myself in is far more complex than I ever could have imagined: 2 ex wives with a grown daughter from each. Ex #1 and child #1 are nice for the most part. Ex #2 and child #2 are not. They have been a nightmare since day 1 and have divided the family completely. I am the convenient blame of all of their problems, their low self-esteem, their lack of accomplishments, etc. I am also now the blame for spats between the siblings because #2 is extremely angry that #1 has accepted me. I try SO HARD to just stay out of everything, be nice at all costs, etc.
Ex #2 and daughter #2 have made it clear they are a package deal even though the daughter is an adult. Daughter #2 refuses to attend any family gathering without her mother, and she is now estranged from her father because she is so angry he’s with me. This kills him inside, and it leaves me to be the constant cheerleader for him. This is tiring, as I need to be the cheerleader for myself too! (I do have a complete life as well!)
My man is one of the sweetest out there and we have a fabulous life, but that part of his family causes me a considerable amount of stress. While he has learned over the years to deal with the stress they create, I have not. Yes, I do resent all that I’ve put into this and all I’ve had to endure. I go back and forth between having hope that things will change and forcing myself to just accept the inevitable. I don’t know what is healthier or even better for the relationship. Have hope or just accept?

1 10 2010
Tamela

Krista & Talia,

I’m beginning to think these feelings are pretty prevalent in the stepmother world which is sad. I thought I had prepared myself for blended family life, being a stepmother and a second wife. I read all the books with all their advice, talked with a counselor, talked with my husband, talked with my friends….all to no avail. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for reality. It tears my very soul apart to love my husband so much yet to feel so unhappy in this marriage. If I could find a way to separate and detach myself from his baggage we might survive. But it’s hard to detach when his “stuff” so profoundly affects me. I’ve tried to support him, tried to be understanding, tried to “give it time” but after two years….I’m exhausted. I do not want our marriage to end but I do not want to continue to feel like this.
I feel extreme disappointment that my life is what it is today and it all goes back to the fact that I married a man with an ex-wife and children and an overinvolved mother. My life before marriage was not perfect by any means but I was surely happier. I went from owning my own home to living in the house that my husband and his ex bought together. We’re still trying to sell that albatross. I went from going out with friends whenever I wanted to, to having the stepchildren and MIL every other weekend. I went from good mental and physical health to downright depression. I went from a 20 year career to unemployment because we had to move so that my husband could get the GI Bill for his share of his children’s college expenses. We moved from our hometown, our friends and my family for this. You can bet I have a huge chip on my shoulder and a ton of resentment. And it shows.

I am at my wits end about what to do. Sometimes I feel like sneaking away from it all while my husband is at work. But I love him, I don’t want to hurt him and I want him as my partner for life. What a dilemma.

Right now all I know to do is to pray for us all.

1 10 2010
Jane

Tamela, I understand your feelings. There is no easy way to get around the resentment that builds, I’m afraid, unless you can in some way continue to remind yourself of who you are. Remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished in your life instead of looking at everything you’ve lost or chosen to give up for the good of the marriage. Believe me, easier said than done. I know. Like you, I’ve read the books, hired the coaches, talked with therapists, talked with my partner, talked with friends. My experience with friends in this matter is that none of them have the experience to be of much help. Yes, they are always kind and lend an ear, but none of my friends have had the experience themselves, in this way. So therefore, these blogs are better. It sounds like your husband needs help with boundaries. I can relate. My partner is a sweet man, too sweet really, and therefore he has a hard time saying no to anyone. So, he says yes to whomever is in front of his face at the moment: either of the daughters, either of the exes, and me… then fails to follow through because he’s overpromised. As you can imagine, this leads to big disappointments. He’s running around trying to make everyone happy and guilt overcomes him when he learns that someone is unhappy. But at some point, someone is going to need to be unhappy! He hasn’t learned yet that it is not his JOB to make all these women in his life happy. He wants peace, but at some point, how can he have peace with this situation? He is going to need to learn to live with it just like the rest of us have to. something has to give, someone has to be told no, and in MY opinion it needs to be the ex at this point. Will he do it? not really. he allows her to run ripshod into our lives because she is the only link he has to daughter #2. She can be the meanest, nastiest, most manipulative woman known to man but she gets away with it because “it’s his only link”. He’s tried telling her to stay away before, for the good of OUR relationship, but then he ends up resenting me because he’s now “cut off” from his kid. Really, I wish all these adults would just grow up and get a life and move on and decide to be happy. It CAN be done. but at this point, these women seem content to try to ruin whatever kind of good we have between us, and it’s a lot of good. All you can do is pray for a sound, rational mind so you can make good decisions. It’s hard among all the chaos.
Lastly, you might feel resentful for losing your old life to now come to “this”, but think of it this way.. you ARE learning something from this. you ARE being prepared for some future experience that you would not be able to get through if you had not gone through these experiences. no matter how stressful you might be with the house, mother in law, kids, ex, this is building your character and strength. At some point all these experiences will serve you.

1 10 2010
Talia

Tamela and Krista,

Wow! We are all in the same boat, huh? Like you, I’ve read, researched, consulted enough that I should have a Ph.D in stepmothering! I have two stepchildren who live with us every other week for a week. They do not talk to me and it is dysfunction at its’ best. I have learned to stay away. On “their” weeks, I work (I have two jobs), run, read and visit with friends, anything so I am not home. It is so sad, because it is my house. However, I have found that disengaging is what I had to do to save my sanity.

Tamela — I can relate to you 100%!! My children (whom I raised alone) are now in College. These were the years I was looking forward to doing everything I put on hold while raising them. Not so. I have steps who do not leave the house. They do nothing. They are not engaged in sports, have no friends – truly.do.nothing. Since they won’t leave, I do. I can’t live or thrive in an atmosphere filled with stress and rudeness. They sit around and expect to be entertained. Truth be told, I don’t like them. I can’t relate to people who have such little expectations of themselves and of life. SD has stolen items of mine and of my girls. She lies, steals and is very very sneaky. It is hard to live comfortably with someone who has no morals or values. DH refuses to acknowledge or do anything about it. I now house all my valuables either at work or in my car. Ridiculous!

I love my husband with all my heart. He is a kind man, but his kids and their odd behavior, the ex-wife who is ape-$#@! crazy, and the madness of my life with him is not at all what I expected. I get so sad and depressed when I was once full of life and joy. What has happened to me? I am a shell of my former self.

Should I stay or should I go…I ask myself this often.

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