Dealing with a High Conflict Ex-Wife In 5 Easy Steps: A Guide for Stepmoms
As you float down the isle on your wedding day you smile radiantly at your knight in shining armor. You feel glorious and that absolutely nothing can ruin this moment. Except the ex-wife.
As you look lovingly at your groom, you remember the 55 text messages his ex-wife sent that morning outlining exactly how she was going to make his life (and therefore your life) a living hell if he had the audacity to marry you. Never mind that their divorce was 10 years ago. You quickly glance around the church to make sure his ex-wife isn't camped out behind the nearest flower arrangement with a bazooka pointed at your head. Then you wonder if you really can survive that much drama. Not to worry. With a little effort and some strong boundaries you can.
Being married to a man with a high-conflict ex-wife is not for the faint of heart. I know because I am married to a man who's ex-wife is bat shit crazy. I met him years after his divorce and could not fathom that there was still this much animosity and abuse from his ex. I have dealt with everything from the ex trying to punch my husband at an exchange to her beating on my door at 6 am to see if my husband was at home. (He was by the way.)
I've been yelled at, received unsolicited phone calls to tell me what a loser I have married, been blamed for things I've never heard of, and called a horrible human being. For the longest time she only referred to me as the "chick around your dick." The ex-wife threatened to keep my husband and his son apart for the rest of the kid's life if the kid was ever going to be around me for even 5 seconds because she was not going to have "her" son around another woman. Odd, since I think all I've ever said to her is "Hello." and eventually "Stop knocking on my door at 6:00 am."
Sound familiar? If yes, keep reading to learn how to minimize the stress caused by a high-conflict ex-wife, maximize your own sanity, and keep your focus where it should be; on your marriage and your children.
Step 1: Recognize the Crazy
If your husband frequently receives 10 to 15 ranting and abusive emails (manifestos) from the ex-wife in a 24 hour period, this is not normal. If the ex-wife has ever texted your husband to the point that his phone battery dies, this is not normal. If you have ever accompanied your husband when he exchanges the children, and the ex-wife starts beating on his car. Yep, you guessed it. Not normal!
The first step is to recognize who and what you are dealing with. Any time two people with children get divorced there are going to be some squabbles over the years. Minor, and even a few major, disagreements are completely normal. Do not expect your husband and his ex to co-parent in perfect harmony all the time. Do, however, expect that there will be no cussing, name calling, threats, withholding the children, or banging on your door at 6 am for no apparent reason. If any of the latter are occurring in your life, keep reading.
Step 2: Get On The Same Page As Your Husband
High conflict ex-wives intrude into every last fiber of your being and into every last corner of your home. If you have a high-conflict ex-wife in your life, then you are all too familiar with that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when your husband lets you know she is at it again. If you let it, the drama will consume you and bury you in a big pile of steaming high-conflict poo.
Tell your husband the constant drama stresses you out and tell him you need it to end. Some men take an exceptionally long time to understand the havoc an ex-wife is wreaking on the current marriage. I don't care if you have to use smoke signals, get your husband to understand what the drama is doing to your well-being, to his well-being and to the marriage. Most importantly, get your husband to understand the negative effects the drama is having on the children. Children are very aware, even from a young age, when Mom and Dad do not get along. If your husband is a sane one, its up to him to end the drama for his children. He has to stop waiting on the other party to calm down and he must take action now.
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Step 3: Find Some Like-Minded Stepmoms
We are out there! In droves! I had no idea that there were so many other women who were in exactly the same position: married to a man with an ex-wife who had vowed to make his life a living hell. If you have attempted to vent or sob about the crazy in your life, and the other person has backed away from you slowly, then you are talking to the wrong people. Adults who have not been stepparents or who do not deal with a high-conflict ex will not understand what you are going through (lucky ducks!).
Spend some time searching for online support forums. Try out a few until you find a group of like-minded women who are a good fit for you. After spending a year lurking online, I started reaching out to some of the women I had met and now they are real friends. These women are my saviors! When the ex decided to dance on my front porch at 6:30am, they were there for me. When the ex-wife started mailing packages the week after my wedding of her on her wedding day to my husband and her wearing...well, less than I ever wanted to see in the honeymoon suite, these stepmoms knew exactly what I was going through. I cannot over emphasize the importance of finding some stepmom friends who really get it and get you.
Our Family Wizard Can Reduce Conflict
Step 4: End The Drama
The cycle-o-drama will continue as long as you and your husband let it continue. It took my husband and me almost 4 years to figure out how to break the cycle and end the drama. Although these measures may seem drastic or difficult they can all be implemented quickly and they are very effective. Remember, the point is not to "win" when it comes to the ex, the point is to minimize the conflict so the children are not exposed to the fighting.
- If you are personally communicating with the ex, stop. Like stop yesterday. Do not email her, text her, talk to her on the phone, or speak to her in person. In all likelihood it is not you that she hates. She would hate whatever woman was in your shoes. Remove yourself from her cross hairs. This is easy. Simply quit doing these things this very second. There are no excuses for communicating with someone who wants to blow your head off with a bazooka on your wedding day.
- Your husband should only communicate in email or in a program like Our Family Wizard if he can get that ordered through a court. Your husband should not text her, talk to her on the phone, or have a conversation with her at exchanges. This is also easy. Simply stop. What will the ex do? Nothing. She can call all day long, but that does not mean your husband has to answer the phone. Let her leave messages and then email a response if one is needed.
- Follow the custody agreement exactly as it is written. Do not deviate. Do not switch weekends. Do not do anything not written down on that piece of paper. (See this article for examples of how to create a more specific custody agreement.) If everything is followed 100% that removes much of the back and forth. If your husband has a horrible and vague court order, then it is time to head back to court. As long as there is wiggle room, a high-conflict ex will use it to stir up trouble and continue the conflict. In our house we have a motto or two that get us through: 1) we don't do favors for assholes and 2) we don't negotiate with terrorists.
- Go "low contact." At this point my husband can get by on as few as 4 emails per month. Do not respond to anything that does not require a response per the custody agreement or unless it directly relates to the health or safety of the children. Do not write more than 4 short and direct sentences per email or response.
A word of warning: There will be an extinction burst. The high-conflict ex will use any means necessary to engage and continue the conflict. She will call, text, email, and likely call your husband every name under the sun plus a few made up names. Ignore.
My Zen Place
Step 5: Learn To Love Frozen and Let It Go
Channel your inner zen place whether it's the beach, the mountains, or on top of a fluffy cloud.
I can hear the outcries now: "But the children! If we do not switch weekends they will miss a birthday party or a family reunion! We have to be the bigger people and try to work with their mother! If we keep trying, she will be reasonable." Or (my favorite): "But sometimes she is so reasonable!" Yeah, well, the ex in my life called to offer an extra overnight and then two weeks later punched my husband in front of their son at an exchange. Being reasonable sometimes isn't good enough.
I do not advocate following these steps because I think they will work I suggest them because I know they will work. My husband and I are living proof! Now that we have minimized the intrusion of the high-conflict ex-wife in our life my husband and I can have normal married people squabbles over things like who left the milk on the counter or why the toilet seat is up. We also see a world of difference in the children which was the goal of eliminating the crazy in the first place.