If you are stepmomming, there is likely an ex in the picture when it comes to your relationship with your partner and stepkids. If you’re lucky, the ex and your partner know how to co-parent successfully with respectful boundaries. However, if not, you may find yourself struggling to isolate precisely what is or isn’t making you uncomfortable about their interactions!
This is where boundaries come in! Boundaries are critical to maintaining healthy relationships, especially between exes. Your boundaries also let others know what you are and aren’t comfortable with—and how you expect to get treated!
But how do you go about drawing the line between two other people? Particularly a pair that have been involved on a deep and intimate level—likely sharing a home, kids, marriage, finances, unhealthy boundaries, and much more in between!
As a stepmom, it can be hard enough to stand up for yourself, build a healthy relationship, and bond with the kids all at the same time. Never mind trying to assert yourself between the ex-wife and your partner while feeling a bit like a third wheel!
Below, I’ve provided 5 examples of unhealthy boundaries your partner (and even you) could have with the ex-wife.
#1 – Blurring the Lines with the Ex
It’s an unfortunate reality that your partner and their ex, at some point, shared a spark. Whatever their connection, or whether or not it has truly died out, you may find yourself feeling a bit uncomfortable and insecure about their interactions.
That’s totally okay, but it’s essential to analyze your response and where exactly it’s coming from. Then, chat with your partner about these issues, especially if you notice certain flirtatious or inappropriate behaviors that make you righteously uncomfortable.
Though the ex-wife is somebody your partner used to love, you are now their number one, after all. As such, you have the right to get your feelings and boundaries heard, acknowledged, respected, and enforced.
One question to ask yourself first, though, is, “Would I accept this behavior between my partner and another woman who wasn’t the ex-wife?”
If so, then you may just be feeling insecure about their prior relationship, which is entirely natural, especially if you value your and your partner’s bond. If not, it’s time to talk to your partner about setting some healthy boundaries with the ex-wife!
#2 – Confiding in the Ex
We don’t all stay friends with our exes; however, when we do, it can sometimes lead to complicated situations. Though remaining on good (sometimes too good) terms is a goal many broken-up couples wish to achieve, especially with kids involved, it can come with its own issues!
If your partner and ex are still friendly, or even quite good friends, you may be all too familiar with these issues. One may be that when problems arise in you and your partner’s relationship, your partner turns to the ex-wife to confide and ask advice! This is a common example of an unhealthy boundary I hear from many of my coaching clients!
Ideally, your partner should be talking things out with you—or chatting to a qualified coach or counselor for advice, if necessary. They definitely should not be talking to a party who may have a limited understanding, bias, or be unable to offer sound advice, such as their ex!
As your relationship problems (and joys and secrets) are also yours, you’re well within your rights to ask your partner not to discuss them with their ex!
#3 – Lumping You with the Ex’s (Plus Their) Responsibilities
As a stepmom, you’re likely quite involved in the family dynamics and kids’ lives. If not 100%, then at least more so than a new girlfriend or girlfriend of a divorced person with no kids would be. However, that doesn’t mean you are automatically responsible for the same things as your stepchild’s parents.
You are totally allowed to choose and set boundaries of what you do and don’t feel comfortable doing regarding childcare. You are not your stepchild’s parent and therefore, not automatically responsible for them, their financial costs, and care. This responsibility falls first and foremost to your partner and their ex.
If you feel you are becoming a bit of a pack horse, shouldering more than your fair share, or even being coerced into doing things without your approval or permission, push back! If your partner is responsible and respects you and your boundaries, they shouldn’t expect you to take on more than your fair share.
#4 – Allowing the Ex to Bash You
Bad-mouthing can affect our relationships, especially with kids who may thoughtlessly mimic this behavior towards us later on. As such, it’s so important for your partner to set healthy boundaries with the ex-wife regarding how she speaks to or about you, especially to or in front of the kids.
Though this may not be a major issue for all families, it is one to nip in the bud as soon as possible if it is occurring. Remember to keep things nice and calm on your side, too, and try to avoid getting pulled into the drama, emotional attacks and mud-slinging matches yourself!
#5 – Letting the Ex Dictate Your Schedule
Another less apparent unhealthy boundary is when your partner’s ex dictates your schedule!
Perhaps she drops the kids off last-minute, is always late or early, or never gives you adequate time or a head’s up of plans? Or, maybe she purposefully refuses to respect your plans? Or constantly expects your partner to cater to her schedule over and above them?
Either way, it may be time to negotiate some healthier boundaries! Managing your own calendar can be quite a demanding task by itself. If the ex has unreasonable demands that always seem to push your plans out the window, it’s time to take your life back!
Stepmomming isn’t easy, but it can be easier.
Learning how to navigate life with a new partner, their kids, and their ex is challenging. I won’t sugarcoat that for you. But, eliminating unhealthy boundaries with ex-wife and setting healthy boundaries will be a game changer, without a doubt.
It’s entirely possible to love your life as a stepmom and to feel protected from the ex and their impact on your life with strong, healthy boundaries.
If you need help setting boundaries and finding control as a stepmom, fill out this stepmom support coaching application and find out if coaching would be a good fit for you!
P.S. Remember, stepmom. It’s always okay to take up space!