How to Cope with Difficult People in Your Stepfamily

We all have them – maybe it’s your stepdaughter. Or your husband’s ex. Or perhaps it’s your mother-in-law. If you’re honest, there’s probably at least one person in your stepfamily who’s difficult to be around and creates tension when you’re together.

When Disharmony is the Norm by Gayla Grace

How do you cope with them? Here are a few tips:

1.  Don’t give that person power over your emotions.

We don’t have to allow hurtful words to affect us. When someone says mean things to or about us we have a choice: will we let those words penetrate our heart or will we let them roll off, recognizing mean words often come from an unhealed hurt.

I recently learned of a physical altercation that happened between a biological mom and a new stepmom. During a weekend handoff, the bio mom lunged at the stepmom with an intention to harm. The stepmom had done nothing to bring about the response. Unfortunately, the bio mom has not accepted her husband’s remarriage and a new stepmom in her daughter’s life.  If the stepmom recognizes where the hurtful words come from—an unhealed hurt—she can let the event roll off without giving the mom power over her emotions.

2)  Seek out healthy people to hang with.

If we’re surrounded by healthy people, we are less likely to let an unreasonable person affect us. If our ego does get bruised from hurtful words, we can turn to others to help re-build our esteem instead of lashing back. It also helps to minimize the time we spend with negative people. If you have an unreasonable stepchild coming for the week, plan some time away with friends or your spouse to maintain a healthy image of yourself and your surroundings.

3) Accept the relationship in its current state.

If we spend our time trying to change another person or fretting over a tense relationship, we create frustration for ourselves. A peaceful heart comes when we accept a difficult relationship as it is and seek to do our part to improve it. Also, recognize that unreasonable people sometimes thrive on drama. I like to consider the words of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

4) Be a positive role model

Commit to taking the high road as often as possible. Someone needs to be the mature person in an unreasonable person’s life – how about you? We can influence others through positive attitudes and behavior. If our ex-spouse learns we’re not going to fight back when he/she becomes unreasonable, the game ends. If our stepchild doesn’t get a rise from unreasonable behavior, it’s more likely to end. Positive attitudes and behavior with unreasonable people, however, take intentional effort. Are you up for it? Remember: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:19)

5) Maintain healthy boundaries.

Respect yourself enough to create boundaries that work for you. If you’ve had a difficult day and aren’t in a good place emotionally, don’t walk into a tense conversation with your stepchild over chores that didn’t get done. Ask  your spouse to do it. If you know the unreasonable person in your stepfamily who chooses to pick battles with you is going to attend your stepson’s band concert, make sure you don’t sit by him/her. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself – no one else can do it for you. And you’ll maintain a healthier demeanor for whatever situation occurs when you know you have the right to maintain boundaries that work for you. Check out this post if you need help with boundaries.

Unreasonable people tend to show up more frequently in stepfamily relationships. Stepfamilies often have unhealed hurts that foster tense relationships. But we don’t have to get sucked into the dysfunction and allow others to have power over our emotions or influence our reactions. If we accept that some interactions will be difficult and some persons in our stepfamily will be unreasonable, we have a healthier attitude to cope with the behavior when it occurs. We will also appreciate the relationships with reasonable people in our lives even more!

Can you offer other tips for dealing with unreasonable people in your stepfamily?

Could you use some stepmom encouragement? Join us at our next stepmom retreat where you’ll find hope, healing, help, and camaraderie with other stepmoms! Details here:


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5 replies
  1. Ailsa
    Ailsa says:

    Deae Gayla,

    IM in desperate need of advice and just peace. I have finally had the courage to tell my parents about my partner who has 2 kids 6,8. Unsurprising they didn’t take it well. I come from a strict christian background and my parents expected me to well atleast bring a guy home without kids. I think this is a shock to the system as i didn’t. My parents want me to end the relationship (we are taking it still at the the friendship stage) his kids only know me as his friend. My parents are assuming the worst about this guy, and about his previous relationships, implying his running away from his responsibility when he isn’t he takes the kids to school most days,or brings them back n helps them with their homework.
    My parents have suggested that i speak to his previous partner to see where she stands with him? Is this a good idea? I have asked him and eventho he wasn’t keen on the idea he was ok to do it. IM just so confused. I trust my partner bcos his been open about the whole situation but i also understand my parents concern. What can i do to not allow my parents assumptions cause friction btwn us. Bcos it is. He feels that i don’t trust him when i do. IM just trying to get my parents of my back. Atm im just praying for guidance n clarity with the situation.

    Hope to hear from you soon


    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Ailsa: Being a stepmom is TOUGH. Young kids make it easier than teens, but it’s so much harder than being a mom (I am both). Your parents want the best for you, and they know that second and third marriages fail at much higher rates than first marriages. If someone doesn’t have the skills needed to make marriage one work, they rarely learn those skills before subsequent marriages (we didn’t, and are trying to learn them still today). Tread with caution, respect their concern, and remember that even when they cannot clearly express why they are worried, they will always have your best interest at heart.

      Talking to his ex will not likely be helpful, except to scare you away. She will likely play up the drama as his fault, when it’s more than likely BOTH partner’s issues that made the marriage not work. I just wouldn’t expect to get a complete picture from either party (everyone has their own perspective on every story), but if you think you can work through both stories to piece together the truth, try it. Praying for peace for you and a clear vision of what God wants for your life!

      • ailsa
        ailsa says:

        Thank you heather for your wise words. So what would you advice is best, to not bring up my partner topic for a while or?
        And I don’t know if this is me being naive but the only way I can see this stepmom in a positive light is to help out when asked (a bit like a baby sitter) n leave the rest to the kids mum and dad.

  2. Step Parenting with Grace
    Step Parenting with Grace says:

    Alisa, functioning as a babysitter in the beginning is a great way to develop a relationship slowly with the kids. My best advice for you is to tread very slowly. Give the relationship a lot of time — at least a year before considering if you want a long term relationship with your bf and his kids. After a year you’ll know much more about his kids, his ex, and him. And perhaps during that time your parents will see him in a different light if he treats you well and isn’t trying to rush into marriage. As Heather said, being a stepmom and a second wife is VERY hard. Educate yourself and proceed with caution. Pray about it and go slow and you will find peace about whether to move forward or not.

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