How to Cope with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

I’m addressing a question today I received from a reader. How do you cope as a stepmom when you’re dealing with a biological mom who is belittling to you and doesn’t want you in her children’s lives?

The stepmom role becomes harder when the bio mom makes every effort to exclude you from her children’s lives. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. At the root of this issue lies the fear that the bio mom feels the children are going to bond with the you – the stepmom, and form a deeper relationship with you than they have with her.

It’s an unfounded fear because children almost always have a stronger relationship with their biological parents than they have with a stepparent. However, she’s reacting out of her own fear and communicating to her children that she wants their loyalty. Women are territorial when it comes to their children. If you have children of your own, you understand these feelings, but it doesn’t give the bio mom the right to act belittling or antagonistic  toward the stepmom.

To help alleviate the threat the bio mom is sensing, the stepmom needs to send a message that she has no intention of interfering with the relationship between the bio mom and her children and isn’t trying to replace her in any way. In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal give an example of how to communicate this message which they call “The No-Threat Message.” They suggest doing it in person or via e-mail if the relationship is already strained.

“Dear Meghan, since we are both involved with your kids, I wanted to take a minute to communicate with you. I want to share that I totally understand and respect that you are the only mother of these children. I’m not their mom, and I will never try to take your place. They are your children. I am honored to be an added parent figure in their lives. I view my role as one of support to their father, and my desire is to be a blessing to them. I promise to speak well of you and work together for their benefit. I desire to make their lives easier, not more difficult. Please know that I pray for the entire family. If there’s anything I can do to help the situation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”

Sending the no-threat message doesn’t guarantee the bio mom will accept your position in her children’s lives but it offers her some perspective on how you feel about your role. She is more likely to allow a relationship between you and her children if she doesn’t feel threatened by your behavior and sees you live out the No-threat message.

Unfortunately, some bio moms are mean-spirited and vindictive. In this case, there’s not a lot the stepmom can do to have an amicable relationship. For further insight, I suggest reading the chapter from The Smart Stepmom, “Meet Your Ex-Wife-in-Law: Friend or Foe.” It gives additional scenarios of how to cope with a difficult ex-spouse.

What suggestions would you give this reader? I’d love to hear them.

Picture by Grant Cochrane

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Creating Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries

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4 replies
  1. Amy
    Amy says:

    What do you do when you’ve had the “No-threat” conversation with the ex-spouse many times and the ex spouse still continues to fabricate lies about you to their children and belittle you to their children and others? This is my situation. The ex-spouse and I have had this conversation several times. She apologizes for acting this way and says she wants us to be able to get along. Then, after a few months, it starts all over again. Will it ever stop?

    • Step Parenting with Grace
      Step Parenting with Grace says:

      Amy, It sounds like you’ve done your part to make the best of this situation. There may not be much more you can do other than to be sure you’re living the No-Threat message through your actions. Some bio moms are naturally insecure and have more trouble dealing with a stepmom in their children’s lives. I know that makes your role as a stepmom harder. Pray for her to soften her heart toward you and continue to send messages that convey to her that you respect her position as a mom and you’re not trying to tread on her “territory.” Best to you. Gayla

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    Thank you, Gayla. I feel I have done everything I can. I have stepped back and left it in God’s hands. Apparently my mere presence causes issues as bio mom has requested that I not look at her, speak to her, or just be around her in general so I try to just stay away from any situations where she might be present so as not to aggravate things. I do pray for her daily, that she may find peace and happiness and let her bitterness and anger go.

    • Step Parenting with Grace
      Step Parenting with Grace says:

      Good for you Amy. You’re in a tough situation. Hopefully, in time, she will see you as less of a threat and make strides toward a relationship. But until then, it sounds like you’re doing all the right things.

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