Do not let an ex-spouse control your blended family

A blended family is rife with opportunities for struggle, and having a partner with a manipulative ex-spouse can challenge your couple relationship and put your step family at risk. The ex-spouse who calls at inappropriate hours for help, sympathy, or just to complain; the biological parent who feeds their kids negative views of a step parent,  or who does their best to sabotage your chances for a happy and successful blended family. Manipulative ex-spouses can, if you let them, affect a kind of underhanded control over your blended family.

Manipulation a well-used method of control

A manipulative person uses whatever strategy best suits them to gain or to maintain control. Ex-spouses who have not yet moved on in their own lives often use fear and guilt to their advantage; your fear that they might turn your children against you or keep them from seeing you, fear that you may be dragged back into court; your guilt over the divorce and family break-up your kids have experienced, guilt surrounding new financial challenges created by the divorce and remarriage.  A bitter ex-spouse can use emotional, psychological and sometimes even spiritual manipulation to get whatever they want.

Talk with your partner about ex-spouse manipulations

As a step parent, if your partner habitually succumbs to the unreasonable or selfish demands of his or her ex-spouse, you are also affected. It may be that your partner is unaware of being manipulated because it has become the standard of interaction between them. If you want to change the situation, be clear, concise and specific when you explain how the constant capitulation affects you negatively, both as a step parent and as a blended family spouse.

Dealing with a manipulative ex-spouse

It can be difficult to have a meaningful conversation with a manipulator, because anything you say can so easily be turned around to mean something else. Unless there is shared custody involved, it is best to avoid a manipulative ex entirely. However, if you must have dealings with a controlling ex-spouse, here are a few tips that can make it more constructive.

  • Learn to recognize when manipulative measures are being used. If you need time to consider whether a demand is reasonable or an argument is valid, tell your ex you will think about the request and get back to them.
  • Stand your ground. Remember that a person who uses manipulation is usually just afraid of losing control. They use fear because they themselves are afraid; even if you are afraid, too, try not to show it and do not back down.
  • Hold your ex accountable for his or her actions. A manipulator is good at making others feel guilty for things that happen, or do not happen, in their lives. Although it may be difficult, do not accept guilt for something out of your control.
  • Find a more effective way to communicate. Most people find that communicating with their exes via email or texting, or through a third party mediator, is more productive than telephone or in-person conversations. Stick to the subject matter, never re-visit old arguments, and end the discussion as soon as the business at hand is complete or if it dissolves into an argument.

Never-ending drama

Manipulative ex-spouses can be a source of seemingly never-ending drama and conflict. It helps to remember that you and your blended family spouse are in charge of your own relationship and the well-being of your step children while they are in your custody and at your home. Trust in, and support each other. Give your step kids the love, guidance, and structure they need to grow into healthy and fully-functioning adults, and do what you can to encourage them to accept what you have to offer.

Words of wisdom

When all is said and done, all you can do is all you can do! Reinhold Niebuhr wrote these inspirational words, which you may recognize:

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

His words might be well taken as blended family advice!

If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for more help.