Disclaimer: this is not intended for stepmoms involved in a high-conflict situation. This is for co-parents who are civil but sometimes feel like things are all out of whack!
Want to know the secret to having a happier, more effective relationship with the mom? More interaction!
Surely I must be joking, right?
Except I’m not. Often, your co-parenting relationship feels overwhelmingly negative because your relationship is unbalanced.
Science shows that for every 1 negative reaction in a relationship, there are 5 positive reactions needed in order to maintain a generally positive relationship. The Magic Relationship Ratio is generally used to describe marriages, but I think it’s equally relevant here.
The Secret to a Happy Co-Parenting Relationship
The Magic Relationship Ratio
In the 1970s, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson started researching the differences between happy and unhappy couples. “Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict” (source). They found a very specific ratio that must be maintained (especially when in conflict) in order for couples to stand the test of time. If the ratio of positive to negative interactions was less than 5:1, that indicated a less healthy relationship.
So what does that really mean?
I know! You want practical advice, not just a research summary. What it really means is that despite the negative interactions (conflict over an early pickup request, an eyeroll in your direction, or your stepchild telling you about something that happened at his mom’s house that doesn’t fit with the rules in your house), you need more interactions with the mom (and positive ones!) to offset those negative interactions.
I want to take a second to point out that I am not suggesting negative interactions will not occur. They will! Just like you and your husband don’t agree on 100% of things 100% of the time, there will be conflict in your co-parenting relationship. It’s perfectly natural and shouldn’t be feared.
Finding how to navigate that conflict in a healthy manner is where you should spend your focus instead.
Examples of Positive Interactions
Remember, for every 1 negative interaction, you need at least 5 positive interactions before your relationship is re-balanced at a healthy level.
Here are just a few examples of positive interactions you can have with the mom to get your relationship ratio back in the right direction.
1. Send photos of your stepchildren when they’re with you
2. Smile when you see her
3. Share a silly anecdote or commiserate over your stepchild’s latest bad habit
4. Bring her favorite Starbucks drink when you go for pick-up or drop-off
5. Send a text that says “Thanks for being so accepting of my role in his/her life.” or tell her how great you think her kiddo is
6. Bond over a bottle of wine
7. Compliment her the next time you see her – her hair, here outfit, her shoes, anything!
8. Help your stepchildren create a handmade gift for their mom
9. Take a slice of a homemade dessert to her house when you go for pick-up or drop-off
10. Hand-write a thank you note for something kind she’s done for you (even if that’s simply being a mostly low-conflict BM)
11. Have cookies delivered to her house when you know she’ll have the kiddos (I love Tiff’s Treats)
12. Invite her over for dinner
13. Share a sweet blog post (maybe something like 20 Things I Wish My Stepdaughter’s Mom Knew) with her
14. Ask for her advice on an issue you’ve been struggling with
15. Sit next to her at the next school performance or extracurricular game/activity
What do you think? Are you willing to give it a try?
5 positive interactions for every 1 negative reaction. 5 to 1.
Simple enough, right?
PS: Here’s how I became (and stay!) best friends with my stepdaughter’s mom.