His Ex-Wife Hates Me: Advice for Stepmoms
When I began my journey as a stepmom I read every book and article I could find because it was a disaster from the very start. The theme that emerged time and time again in my readings went something like this: a man and woman with children get divorced, the man moves on and gets married to someone new, the ex-wife and the new wife have some misunderstandings and do not like each other, they sit down like adults and find common ground, then everyone lives happily ever after and the children love having a stepmom. The End.
If you are reading this article you realize that's never, ever going to happen for you. Some ex-wives out there are mean, abusive people and they will stop at nothing to destroy you and your marriage. It does not matter how many years after the divorce you met your husband, you are now enemy #1.
This article is for stepmoms who have an ex-wife that hates your guts simply because you exist and breathe on the planet Earth. She hates that you are married to her ex-husband, she detests that her children are around you at any point, and if she could throw you into a vat of flesh eating slugs she would not hesitate.
Does his ex-wife hate you?
You Did Not Know What You Were Getting Into
While you may have understood that you were going to marry a man with some kids and a questionable ex-wife, you probably did not know the woman was going to loath your very existence for the rest of her days or cook up some top level insanity in an attempt to ruin your day (or perhaps life). Most people cannot fathom that hatred can run so deep and last for so long. Most people also cannot fathom that the ex-wife you deal always has yet another underground crazy garage that just goes deeper and deeper.
I'm here to tell you that it's perfectly normal to feel shell shocked once you realize she is always going to hate you. It is normal to wonder what you could have done or could still do to make the situation better (Hint: Absolutely nothing.) It's also completely normal to wonder if the crazy will ever end (Hint: It won't) and if she will ever just stop with the insanity (Hint: No.)
I remember the day my husband's ex-wife emailed him and demanded a car seat from him for her baby with another man and told him if he did not provide it she would not be able to provide food, clothing, and shelter for their mutual children. I remember the day she punched my husband at an exchange and called him a "Piece of shit" all in front of the child. I remember the day a large package arrived in my mailbox from the ex-wife that included a bunch of pictures of her on her wedding day to my husband complete with one of her wearing pretty much nothing in the honeymoon suite. My eyes will be forever branded with the naked pregnancy photos she mailed to my in-laws.
Ladies, there is no way to predict that level of Jerry Springer type insanity so don't beat yourself up when you look around and find yourself neck deep in a dysfunctional freak show. Other people who have not been through the same level of crazy will never understand. Do not even bother trying to justify and defend the way you feel about it all. If you are nodding along in agreement and have experienced similar things know that we are in the minority and the rest of the world is not likely to truly understand.
Is this the level of hate and insanity you deal with?
She Will Never Accept You Are Around "Her" Children
It will not matter if you have been dating for two weeks or married for over a decade, the fact that you share the same air as "her" children will send the ex-wife off into a toxic tirade of inventive insults and creative, though probably vulgar, names. I was referred to as "the chick around your dick" for several years and have now evolved into "your new wife" despite the fact that I have been around nearly 10 years. It does not matter if the children from the previous relationship are over or under the age of 18, you will be cast as something worse than a villainous Disney stepmom by the ex-wife.
Things are not likely to improve with the length of time you stay with your husband. Take heart! It's not actually you that she hates. She would feel the same about any woman in your role but you just happen to be the lucky one currently in your role.
The ex-wife will continually demand information about you, your family, your whereabouts, your job, your income, and anything else she feels entitled to before she will "allow" you to be around her children. You are under no obligation to share your personal information with someone who wishes you were a pile of ashes. You have every right to set a boundary about what information you want to share with her and stick to it. The very first thing I did when the ex-wife who hates me started obsessively calling my private and unlisted cell number was to hire a lawyer to send a cease and desist letter. That was a strong boundary and one I never backed away from. My phone has been peaceful ever since.
You will probably find yourself stuck in this strange stepmom limbo where the ex-wife demands that you both have absolutely nothing to do with her children ever because they are her children, not yours, and the ex-wife demanding that you be nothing but loving, kind and compassionate to her children (because she said so). The ex-wife will demand that you have absolutely no relationship with the children who reside in your home part time and will likely complain about any positive interaction you have with your stepchildren quite loudly.
Unfortunately if the ex-wife hates you she will likely try to teach her children to hate you too. This is common in parents who have a personality disorder and see their children merely as an extension of themselves rather than an independent being. Expect this sentiment to be passed on to any children you also brought to the marriage or any children you have during the marriage.
There will never be a coffee date with this type of ex-wife to work out the misunderstandings you two might have. There is never, ever, going to be a collaborate relationship between the two of you for the sake of the children. You will be lucky if she doesn't try to run over you in the parking lot of a soccer game.
She Will Always Belittle Your Role
If the ex-wife hates you she will likely always belittle the role you have in the lives of your stepchildren. She does not want you to be a mother figure or to love or nurture your stepchildren. To her you are a nothing and will always be a nothing. She would like nothing more than for her children to agree with her and also think you are nothing.
I know very few stepmoms in situations like what I am describing that still have a relationship with the stepchildren by the time they are adults. It can be easier to develop and maintain a relationship with stepchildren who are young (under 5), however, this means the child will be in the custody situation for many years. The ex-wife will spend those many years belittling your role to anyone who will listen, including your stepchildren. After more than a decade of listening to their mother who hates you it will be almost impossible to have a close relationship.
It Will Be Emotionally Painful
Living in a situation that is this hostile and this crazy is going to be emotionally painful for you. A toxic ex-wife that is abusive is going to abuse anyone in her path, including you, the stepmom. It will be difficult to find support in these situations but it's out there. Take your time to find a professional counselor who understands high-conflict personalities who can help you set personal and emotional boundaries.
Take your time to find a professional counselor who understands high-conflict personalities who can help you set personal and emotional boundaries.
Consider a meditation retreat or find a local Buddhist center that can help you with mindfulness and finding your inner balance and peace.
Educate yourself on setting strong boundaries and do not be afraid to enforce those boundaries for your own mental health and well being. Also don't be afraid to hire a lawyer to legally enforce your personal boundaries.
As long as you are with your husband the ex-wife is going to hate you. You will go crazy yourself if you spend all your time and energy trying to change her mind. Although most stepmom articles out there talk about setting aside differences and continually extending the olive branch for the sake of the children I am here to tell you that you really do not have to keep trying if the ex-wife is a toxic and abusive person. You are completely justified in cutting a toxic person out of your life.
Not every blended family is going to have a happy ending or be a version of the Brady Bunch. Sometimes the happy ending is setting strong boundaries for yourself and sticking to them. You will likely receive pressure from others who have not dealt with this level of hate or crazy to "be the bigger person" but that is not a viable solution in a situation like this. You do you and be a great stepmom in your home (and let the crazy, hate-filled ex-wife go do her thing and ignore it.)