Thursday, September 25, 2008

Exercising Empathy for the Ex

Just the title of the post brings up a slew of emotions. Most of which are so hurtful you wish you could erase them from your memory. How is it possible to exercise empathy for his ex? Shouldn't I just be pleasant and put on my happy face when I face her? Can't that just be it for me? You may be thinking that's all your capable of anyway or that's all that can be reasonably expected of you. I hate to be the one to break it to you but that's not what we as stepmothers are called to do.

Let's just assume for a moment that your husband's ex is a wonderful person and is decent to you and your husband. Maybe she hasn't done anything to sabotage your marriage or your relationship with her kids. Maybe you consider yourself blessed to have such a good relationship with her. This would be the ideal situation for most people. However, even if things are good now, the "hurt" still has to be dealt with. It's extremely difficult to work through the feelings of marrying a man who has had a relationship with a woman and has had children with her. After all, you didn't know him then (more than likely:), you didn't know her, you didn't know if they were truly in love or not, you don't know all the things they went through together and the anger, hurt and pain that was associated with the downfall of their relationship. When you start to think about their past, it's extremely hard to process. It's hard to imagine the man you love being with someone else, not to mention the physical intimacy part. Managing these feelings are hard enough when you're dealing with a bearable ex. But dealing with an ex who's bitter and hurt and possibly out to get you puts you in a different league full of more complex and difficult emotions.

Once I fell in love with my husband and knew we would probably get married, I started to have some feelings that I couldn't shake. As a Christian and virgin, I felt like I had been robbed. Now I know it "takes two to tango" and if your husband and ex were married, maybe it didn't affect you as much as it would have if they had just been dating. But in my situation, I felt like she had
taken something that was meant for me. After all, I had kept my promises to the Lord to save myself for my husband. But SHE had taken that precious gift away from me. The nerve of her! I immediately blamed her. Honestly, this was one of the hardest feelings for me to work through. Here are some of the things I had to come to terms in order to change my thinking and thus begin to exercise empathy for her. When reading this, don't be overwhelmed. It took months for me to work through these things so don't expect this to magically change your thinking overnight.
  • I had to realize that they both had an equal share of the ownership in this situation. They chose to make those decisions and now had to bear the consequences.
  • I also had to mentally separate myself from their relationship. I was not a part of their decisions, I had nothing to do with their relationship in any way, shape or form. I could not have and cannot change the decisions they made.
  • I had to remember that all of that was in the past. I tried not to "take it personally" in a sense. My husband wasn't thinking about the future, he didn't know how things would play out later on. He didn't know he would meet me let alone marry me. The trick here was to remember God works things out for our good. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" - Romans 8:28
  • I had to FORGIVE them both. It was much easier to forgive him because I loved him. It's harder to forgive someone that you don't know who has hurt someone you love. Forgiveness was the beginning of the healing process for me. After all, I am commanded to forgive others, just as Christ forgave us. No one is perfect, including me and we've all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.
  • I had to try not to judge them or their decisions. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. - Matthew 7:1-2
  • I had to put myself in her shoes. She was dealing with the same hurt he was. She basically became a single parent since she gained sole custody. I tried to imagine what I would have done in the same situation. I would certainly be angry, bitter and hurt to say the least. How difficult it must have been to raise children by yourself and work all the while. She had valid reasons for being angry. I'm sure I would feel the same way. Once you realize this, you start to view things differently. I started to feel sympathy for her on many levels. This was God preparing my heart to work through these difficult emotions and take the necessary steps to becoming the wife and stepmom he wanted me to be.
  • I then had to begin praying for her. It was hard at first and I began doubting if I could do it. However, over time, it became easier and easier. God gave me a strength I cannot explain. I knew she needed prayer. Especially since I believed that she was probably not a Christian. I started praying for her salvation, for the child, for her to meet someone, for her anger and bitterness to subside. I simply prayed for things I would pray for if I was in her situation.
Once I worked through these emotions and feelings, I was better able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could see the bigger picture. I saw that there are always two sides to every story. God had placed me in a situation where I could be a "peacekeeper" in a sense; a mediator or an objective party. I could maybe balance some of this awkwardness and allow each of them to see the other side a little more clearly and move on with their lives.

Most importantly though, I knew God wanted me to be a light in this negatively charged situation. A light to my husband, to his ex and also these precious innocent children. They needed someone to lookout for their best interest. The children in these situations are the victims. They didn't ask to be put in these situation. So I thought about what I would want if I were them. Would I want to know my father tried his best to work things out for my best interest? Absolutely. Would I want to know that he and my stepmom did all they could to make things peaceful and calm between my mother? Yes! I would be so honored and thankful for a father and stepmom who would put my interest first and make the best of their situation.

Ultimately, you have to keep God's purposes for your life in the forefront of your mind and heart. He has put you in a position to be a stepmom to children who need you. You may not see it now, but God has many reasons for putting you in their lives. He will reveal more and more each step of the way. Remember that truth each time you're dealing with the daily struggles of being a stepmom. God's plans are ALWAYS superior and He is faithful to carry you through each situation you may face on your journey. I am praying that the Lord will give you the strength you need to get through these difficult feelings and begin exercising empathy.

"Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." - Philipians 1:6

14 comments:

macocha said...

I will come back and read more, but the one thing that stood out was the single mom and bitter, angry...etc - maybe her having a reason.

I was a single mom for four years after my first marriage ended, and I got along with my ex's wife. It can be done. Granted, they weren't very much involved, but I did not make things difficult because it would have affected the children.

Regardless, children are used as pawns in a lot of situations and it is truly sad. I will come back and read more when I get home :)

Smirking Cat said...

I can feel empathy for being hurt, sad, a sense of loss, the agony of divorce, the heartbreak and trying to pick up the pieces afterward. But I'm hard-pressed to feel empathy for lying to kids, brainwashing kids, tearing them away from people who love them just to feel vindicated in personal negative emotions, or other behaviors that severely hurt the kids. No matter how I try to come at it, it is wrong to hurt kids.

Maybe this post wasn't intended for the extreme situations like this, and I understand trying to see the other side of the situation. But I'm still floundering trying to understand how anyone can knowingly damage a child's emotions, security, and safety. I don't think I will ever understand that.

thestepmomlife said...

Yes, that was not really the purpose of this post but that would sure be a great topic for a future one. Thanks for your insight.

ESM said...

Thanks for reiterating that God has brought us together for some reason. I too did not realize all of the pain and emotions I would feel as a stepmom and seeing her old pictures, files, highlighting in books in my husbands' house. It is so hard not to feel like this is my life when she is in the details and calls him often bossing him around. She also is bipolar so I am not sure what is the illness or what is her personality with the manipulations.

We have exactly 50/50 custody and I have wanted to quit so many times in my head. I am crazy in love with my husband and he is amazing. We have a new baby and this has always been my dream. It is so hard to appreciate what I have when there are complications and 2 boys with busy schedules. I feel this is not my life but theirs and hers. So thanks for the post, I needed it today.

thestepmomlife said...

ESM - I'm so happy that this post encouraged you!! I hope that you know how important you are in the boys lives. God has you there for many reasons and know that all you need to do is trust that He will give you strength to face each new day. He will never give you more than you can bear. Yes, you will have hard days and yes you will want to walk away sometimes. But remember during those times that God is your strength and He can and will give you peace and joy in your situation if you ask Him.

I will pray that He will begin to give you a sense of peace in your new family and that Satan would not bombard you with insecurities about "their past" and her actions would not interfere with your mission in this journey as a stepmom.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog, and I love it. I'm a custodial Stepmom. Their mother is a drug addict, and she's made our lives a living hell.

Like smirking cat, the mother in our situation has a lot of mental issues/drug addiction/alcoholic, etc... and dealing with her is extremely exhausting. The mother lies to the children, non-stop, etc...it's horrible.

But, regardless of how my husband's ex behaves or lives her life, I choose to try to hold on to my optimism, and take the high road as much as possible, even though it's challenging at times.



Thea

thestepmomlife said...

Thea,

Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you found this blog!

I'm so saddened to hear about your situation but I know that God had you in the children's lives to be a mother to them. They desperately need you in their lives and I have no doubt that you are doing a wonderful job.

I have found that if you continue to be faithful and do what God call you to do, He will bless you far beyond what you ever imagined! And rest assured, she'll wonder what you have that she doesn't....it will eat at her day and night! Remember, you're setting an example for more than just the children.

Thanks again for your comments! God Bless!

It's a Love Thing said...

Great post. I really needed to read something like this! Thanks!

C.

Jess said...

Hi, I just wanted to say Thank You very much for what you are doing! It is really amazing and I know that I am not the only woman that you have helped. Your faith in God is very inspiring and I admire that you have taken the time to create a blog that encourages stepmoms. When I first found out Dave had a child I was pleasantly surprised and looked forward to becoming a second “mother”. I remember telling one of my best friends that I was going to be a mom and that I couldn’t wait. Now that was before I knew anything about step mothering and what kind of a role a stepmom has. I was na├»ve and even unrealistic (or so I think) and thought that everything would be rosy and we’d be like the brady bunch.
We would live happily ever after and everything would be so great! That was until I one day was hit with jealousy and resentment towards both his ex and his child. I was shocked to say the least because I hadn’t had these feelings before and I would have never in my wildest dreams expected to have these feelings! “Where did these feelings come from?” I asked myself . “WHY did I even feel this way?” The ex had never done anything to me and the child was the most beautiful innocent little boy, but somehow I felt resentment. Like you it was difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that the man I loved was not "pure" and hadn’t waited for me. To be honest I’m still struggling. I feel hurt and I wonder why God has given me a man who has slept with another woman. Obviously it was before he ever met me but I still feel hurt and him having a child is a constant reminder of his intimacy with her. I am trying to deal with all of these emotions that I have but it’s hard. I’ve come to the point where I’m thinking it would be better not to get married to him and just move on and find a man who has no children. Don’t get me wrong Dave is amazing, kind, generous and the most loving person in the world. He is everything I ever dreamed of apart from the fact that he has a child with another woman and hasn’t saved himself for marriage. What do I do? I feel angry at him sometimes for putting me through this. I never asked for this and I never thought this would be my life. Now I have to make decisions based on a child that isn’t mine and will never be mine. Not only that but I feel so sad to know that on our wedding night it will be the first time for me but not for him, and when we have our first baby it’ll be the first time for me and not for him. It hurts and it feels like someone stole something from me. How do I even BEGIN to deal with all of my feelings? Then there is the thing with loving his son as though he were my own which I unfortunately don't . I admire women who somehow manage (including yourself Stepmomlife )with stepmotherhood. I don’t wanna say what so many women keep saying but I love him and I don’t want to live without him. I just can’t be a step mom. It’s not easy to leave someone you love. What should I do? I’m so sorry for writing so much. I needed to vent and this seems like a nice and accepting place.

thestepmomlife said...

Jess -

Well, first of all, I just have to say thank YOU for reading and I'm so glad you were encouraged by my posts. That is the purpose of this blog - to encourage and inspire stepmoms! When I felt the Lord telling me to do this, I knew He would bring other stepmoms (or potential stepmoms:) here to be encouraged and know that they are certainly not alone!

I have to say that I am very flattered that you would seek my opinion about your situation. I have been praying since your post about what the Lord would have me write. That you would hear His words and not mine. And my husband sat down with me and we prayed for you specifically before I posted this. So please know that you have found a friend here and I will continue to pray for you as you make this difficult decision. I have more I want to share with you but I would like to be able to email it to you as it's a little long to post as a comment. If you would, please email me at thestepmomlife@gmail.com. That way I can respond to you directly and we can continue communicating if you wish.

Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from you!

Jess said...

Thank you very much for your kind reply. I have sent you an email to the email address you gave.
It feels really great to have someone to talk to that has an idea of what I’m having to deal with emotionally etc.
I’m glad that the Lord chose you to start this blog. It’s a great place for people to share experiences and get encouragement.
I feel very encouraged after reading your blog so thanks.
I’ll be eagerly waiting for your email :)

Aneliese Hight said...

I hope that one day I can feel the same way. It is just so hard for me to think that way about the X. She has been so horrible to us, and I hate to think about there past relationship :(

lanie said...

Wow. I'm slightly tearing up reading this. I've been a stepmom to my 7 year old daughter for 2 years now, and want to push myself beyond what is expected to excel in my relationship with her and growing her heart towards the Lord. Her aggressive, overbearing mother is not a Christian and interferes in our lives occasionally, but my heart and attitude (while not visibly so) are not Christlike, but rather a referee of "fairness" (I'm the only parent out of 4 on a first name basis with child, I have no "motherly" rights with her like hair cuts, mother always informs publicly that father and I are wrong on trivial issues to appear dominant, etc). It is very hard not to enter into a spirit of competitiveness with so many invitations! So I googled to see what Christian resources there are for me on the www. Thank you for your post. I will meditate on this and read more. Your words are a blessing!

Special/Not Special Blogger said...

I am reading these things and am grateful for my situation even though today I am hurting. I think the LONG view is what I need today. Our pastor preached today on how the PROCESS is what's important to God, as well as the big WOW moment. (He used how long and patiently David waited to become the king he had been chosen by God to be). I proclaim today out loud in this venue that my GOD will demonstrate my step-children that I love them and will not be petty and resentful when they choose to exclude their father and me whenever their mother is in town. God is bigger and is all we need. Thank you Jesus!