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Stepmoms: When Your Husband's Ex Carries a Torch for Him

11/06/2013 01:37 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
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Having to share your partner with another woman because he had a child with her can be difficult enough -- especially when she refuses to acknowledge your existence -- but when that woman didn't seem to get the memo that they've divorced, it can send your internal threat meter into the red zone. You might experience obsessive thoughts about everyday occurrences; a simple meeting between co-parents can leave you wondering what she's got up her sleeve this time. In what ways will she misread your husband's good will? Just how flirtatious will she be?

The following behaviors can feel intrusive and inappropriate to a stepmom and have her thinking that her husband's ex is still pining away for him. Whether or not that's the case is somewhat irrelevant because regardless of the reason, these behaviors have stepmoms on high alert, leading to a very stressful existence and placing unnecessary tension on the marriage.

1. She's admitted it. Some women aren't stealthy. Instead, they come right out and tell you what's up -- usually some variation of the following: One day she will get him back, she is still in love with him, he is her soulmate, your relationship won't last and he'll come crawling back to her. She may also bypass you, and go directly to your partner by sending him provocative texts, emails and photos. She may even tell the kids that one day their parents will be together again. This type of behavior can leave you wondering how this woman can be so disrespectful of you and your marriage.

But she likely doesn't feel like she owes you anything. In her mind, she was there first. You may not even be on her radar. This is where your partner needs to speak up and let her know that he's happily married or re-partnered and that it's never going to happen. I recommend just saying this once though, otherwise he's just reinforcing a connection with her. He can also request a communication restraining order if the provocative emails and texts don't stop. Sometimes just the threat of the restraining order is enough to get a woman to keep her pictures to herself. See number five for more information on a communication restraining order.

2. Inability to accept your presence. If mom is having trouble accepting that her ex has moved on, it may just be easier to pretend like you don't exist. Many stepmoms have been completely ignored when they've found themselves face-to-face with their partner's ex, as if they were invisible. This would also include them telling your partner not to mention your name, ever. And it can play out by mom telling her kids that they don't have to listen to you and that you're not part of the child's family. She may also refuse to participate in a function if she knows you're going to be there, causing your stepchildren or your partner to make a choice.

3. Oversharing. If she's sharing intimate details about her life with your partner, she may still think your husband is her confidant and her provider and protector. This would include anything that doesn't pertain to the children, such as her dating status, personal health issues, her breakthroughs and insights in regards to emotional issues, her weekend plans, new life interests, etc.

These alone are more annoying than harmful, but they can be out of line, especially if paired with any of the other behaviors listed here. Some men find these communications easier to ignore and not worth battling over, although they certainly wish she'd find someone else to overshare with.

4. Excessive communications about non-urgent issues regarding the kids. This is usually an attempt to keep him engaged and connected via the kids. This would include multiple calls or texts giving unsolicited parenting advice, wanting to go back and forth about already agreed upon schedules or everyday parenting decisions that don't include her, such as bedtime rituals or your plans for the weekend.

If you're experiencing multiple communications a day, you have a few different options:

  • Your partner can simply request that she stop. He can let her know that this type of communication is disruptive and unacceptable. If she continues, he can start turning off his phone at certain times of the day -- certainly during dinner and any family bonding time and always during date night. He can let her know ahead of time that he'll be checking his messages once or twice a day and will respond at a set time.
  • Google Voice. This is a single phone number for all your devices and can be set for all calls to go directly to voicemail instead of your cell phone.
  • He can choose to ignore the communications. He should put his phone on vibrate so you're not acutely aware of the 50 text messages she just sent him.

5. Excessive communications about anything other than the kids. This is usually about her trying to have a deeper connection with your partner, beyond co-parenting. This would include being invested in your partner's personal life by giving him unsolicited advice, as if she knows what's best for him, inserting herself into his personal business by asking about his personal plans during her parenting time, talking about inconsequential things such as sending him movie suggestions or links to web pages she finds of interest and using him as her therapist by sharing her new insights about their past relationship.

For these types of communications, in addition to the recommendations in number three, options include:

  • A third-party website called Our Family Wizard, which many courts have ordered co-parents use as their only means of communication. This can better ensure communication focuses only on the kids, but is often rejected by the parent who communicates excessively, which is why a court order is often needed to enforce the use of this website.
  • If these communications are negative and harassing, you may need to take things a step further and look into obtaining a communication restraining order. This is a bit more difficult with younger children, but if the current communications are a source of deep conflict between the parents, it may be the only way to create a sense of peace. Check your state laws for details regarding this option.

What your partner can do:
As you can see, your partner will be responsible for either perpetuating these inappropriate and disruptive behaviors or putting a stop to them. When he's ready to place boundaries with his ex, he needs to make sure he tells her clearly what he'll do when the behavior turns inappropriate and then he needs to follow through with said consequence every time. For example, "I want communications to be solely about the kids. If you share any personal details with me, insult my wife or inquire about my personal life, I'll hang up/won't respond to texts or emails." He can expect pushback, but after following through a few times she should start to learn that the only way she gets to communicate with him is if she keeps it about the kids.

He can also help you put your insecurities to rest by assuring you that he will protect you from whatever perceived threat you're experiencing, that she does not have the connection with him that you have and that you are safe. It may seem silly that we have the need to be reassured of our safety when intellectually we know there's no real threat, but our cavewomen instinct make that difficult to overcome.

What you can do: Because it's really up to your partner to set the boundaries with his ex, you may be feeling a bit helpless, but there are a few things you can do to ease your mind.

  • Understand that this is one-sided and that it's just as frustrating to him as it is to you.
  • Know that if he's allowed it to go on, it's probably because addressing it means inviting more conflict into your family in the short term, and he wants to protect you from that.
  • Have confidence in your partner that he will protect you and your marriage by placing firm boundaries, once he understands how disruptive this behavior is to your lives and that he does have options.

Having another woman always vying for your man's attention is a constant source of stress for some stepmoms. You can't force her to move on, but you can certainly create boundaries in order to protect yourselves from the incessant intrusions. And remember: Even if she threw herself at him naked, he'd run the other way, because he's with you, in love with you and has no interest in her beyond co-parenting.

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This article first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Stepmom Magazine.

Read more from Jenna at StepmomHelp.com