During early arguments, I’d hear myself saying, “What were you thinking when you married her?”

Every time I was frustrated with his children, I’d blame his ex for my having to raise their children after she messed them up. The angrier I got, the more I blamed her – never thinking that my husband had a small part in it. After all, it takes two!

I wanted my husband to take my side and collude with me. He rarely did. He told me that he was young and in love at the time. I never liked to hear that. I was angry and insecure and felt like I didn’t belong here. I resented that I wasn’t the first and only in his life, but he wasn’t first in mine either. I had an ex and two kids, but somehow that didn’t bother him so much.

As I grew…as we grew, we became a more solid stepcouple and these angry, jealous feelings about her slowly went away.

How did that happen?

By looking back, as well as listening to stepcouples’ stories in my counseling practice, I understand how peoples’ stories do change over time.

For example, taking my story about her– step by step:

When angry about his ex, I calmed myself down by thinking and talking to a close girlfriend. She gave me some good advice about stepcoupling that hadn’t occurred to me. She told me that stepfamilies take time to adjust to and that in the beginning everyone feels confused and insecure. Over time, I became more confident that this was where I belonged …with the man I loved and with whom I vowed to share my life and co-parent our children.

To quiet my early doubts, I’d glance down at the ring finger on my left hand. I realized that I was the one proudly wearing the wedding band we picked out together. I was the one lying next to him in bed every night. I was the one who got to hear about his day.

Gradually I was getting to know his children and appreciate their qualities. They were beginning to rely on me for what I had to offer them.

I gradually got it that his first wife was clearly out of his life as far as being his wife. I knew he loved me and only me. We had our boundaries clear.

Believe it or not, I began to feel curious and compassionate towards his ex-wife. She was living her life separate from ours. However, she was the mother of his children I was helping him raise. They were genetically related and bonded by love and loyalty. Present or absent, she was a part of my family.

And here’s the amazing part. My husband and I are deeply indebted to our first spouses. We were both recovering from our divorces when we met each other, fell in love, and decided to raise our five children in our stepfamily.

The biggest surprise came at the rehearsal dinner for my stepdaughter’s wedding. There was silence in the room when we saw his ex-wife stand up. She took a deep breath and began her toast. Shaking with emotion, she said “In most families, the children leave home first. In my case, it was different. I left before my children were grown.” She turned to the two of us and thanked us for raising her children after she left home…There was not a dry eye in the room.

And that’s how my story changed.

What’s the story that bothers you?  How can you change it by changing yourself -your language, your feelings and behaviors?

Susan Wisdom LPC
April 2008

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