My dh has 2 bio-kids with his ex. and also 2 step kids that he has raised since nearly birth. The BM has been so bitter since he divorced her and her anger has increased since I entered the picture. She now claims she cannot keep up with the bills at home and is constantly in need of money and different things for the kids. I don’t think he should assist with paying her bills. His response is that he can’t watch his children suffer and go without. When I mention that he should just have custody of the kids, he explains that he would only get his 2 bio-kids and the 4 kids would be split up and he doesn’t want that.
Am I wrong for being frustrated that he’s supporting her so much financially? He takes groceries every week, pays for everything for the children, has to assist her with lights and gas and even rent. He claims that she refuses to get a second job and accuses him of not loving his children whenever he refuses to help her.
Another issue is that she doesn’t want the kids around me. She will call constantly yelling and cursing, she will get angry with the kids if they say anything pleasant about me. She has even came over and picked that kids up because they were alone with me.
I don’t want to separate the kids either, but I feel so frustrated and overwhelmed. I feel like I’m the bad guy and when I ask him not to support her.
What should I do?
First things first, “NO, you’re not wrong for all that you are feeling!” It sounds like your boundaries are very reasonable but that your DH is suffering from a deep case of divorce guilt and he’s being emotionally & financially blackmailed by his ex-wife. She knows his fears, his wishes and his feelings about the 4 kids and she’s playing him like a fiddle. This kind of thing is one of the many power struggles that can occur between bio-parents. Sounds like she’s using the “prove you love your kids” card whenever she feels like it. Sadly, this card works over and over again when divorced Dads are unclear about their fears and guilts. This is why so many hostile bio-moms use it. (FYI-I call her hostile, to differentiate her from the many civil and kind bio-moms who are also out there.)
There are many issues going on concurrently here. Let’s see what we can untangle and figure out. Since it’s clear you’ve made your feelings known about this issue, I wonder, have you and DH agreed to a financial limit or is he saying that he is going to give his ex whatever she asks for? The answer to this question will surely impact your response to him-I’m sure that’s clear to you. If you can get him to agree that he’s going to limit his monthly $$ giving to X, so you can feel that you, your home and lifestyle is protected, then that would be a good thing. Doesn’t mean it won’t bother you, but it’s better than fearing his ex is going to drain you in a life changing way.
Whether he has a limit or not, there’s still going to be the very difficult issue of a wife watching her husband be controlled by his ex-wife. I think that has to be one of the harder, most enraging, powerless, betraying feelings in our blended family situations. When the bio-moms have the ability to manipulate our DH’s and our DH’s are unwilling or unable to see what’s happening and/or do anything about it even if they do see-it is crazy making. At least that’s been my experience.
Some people will tell you to put your foot down. Some will tell you to shore up/protect your finances and stand firm. Some will tell you to ignore it, as long as you have whatever you need for your life. Most people need to tell you to do whatever they are doing (or did) to reinforce their choices. I’m not going to do any of that. Just not my style.
What I am going to do is offer you some ideas and then ask you to decide for yourself what’s best for you and your situation. We all have complex situations and I know virtually nothing about you so…here are some things I’ve noticed from talking, writing and working with SMOMS over the past 11 years. See if anything makes sense for you and your situation.
Please read my article about “Testing and proving love” to see if there are any issues for you about feeling that if your DH doesn’t do what you want, he’s not loving you and vice versa. This is so common and understandable, yet clearing this issue up will help you see what else is going on for you two.
Can you find a way for the 2 of you to face his ex together, on the same side, so that he’s not feeling like he’s trapped in a 3-way battle between what his ex wants, what you want and what he wants? It’s called triangulation and it can drain a lot of energy, waste a lot of time and cause a lot of relationship damage if left un-checked. When DH’s put themselves in this situation, it can also be a way for them to avoid taking responsibility for admitting, dealing with and confronting their own fears. They can hide behind the “What am I supposed to do?” excuse and feel righteous about it. If this is the case, in your situation and talking about it with him doesn’t shake him out of his unconsciousness, let me know and we’ll talk more about this is a follow-up to this letter.
It sounds like he’s made up his mind about not splitting up the 4 kids. Are you saying he never has them at your home? How old are these 2 older stepkids of his? There are a bunch of issues here, too numerous to cover here. MY thought is that even if you did get the kids more, or all the time, this hostile bio-mom would still find a way to invade and attempt to destroy your peaceful happy home. Could this be true? I say this because so often the hostile bio-mom will say she just needs this or that, implying or saying directly that if she gets X, she’ll back off or be happy but it’s rarely true. There almost always seems to be something else that always comes up. Why? Because many hostile bio-moms are motivated to stay connected to your DH so she can feel powerful. It’s the predictable struggle that feeds her ego and assuages her bitterness, envy and pain. Does this make sense?
If this feels like it applies, the key thing here, ideally would be for your DH to agree to a limit of how much time, energy and money he’s going to give (because it is what HE thinks is right and then to stick to it. I can almost promise you that his ex will not honor it. He’s probably taught her he is at her beckon call. However, if he’s willing to see the pattern and to open his eyes and set whatever limit he feels is fair, she will show her true colors and hopefully he will stand tall and hold his limits! In order to do this, he’s going to have to wake up to her ways. This can be tricky as being manipulated hurts and admitting we’ve been manipulated is a sickening feelings, requiring a lot of healing and compassion for both of you. If he’s willing to see this-i bet the love between the 2 of you will help him stand strong. (Again, this is a huge issue but offering tidbits to consider.)
About her not wanting your stepkids to love you, be happy with you, talk about you. Oh my, this is such a devastating act on the part of any bio-mom. I’m so sorry every time I hear about this situation. You may want to read my Smommentary about “The Loyalty Wars” for more about this and ways you can respond to this act of extreme cruelty. We can’t stop it but we can help our stepkids as best we can and get support for ourselves along the way.
Her bitterness, need for revenge and control seems to be the overarching drive and the more conscious your DH can be about what she is doing the better. You have some rights in this situation, something eager-beaver SMOMS can easily overlook in stressful situations.
You asked about feeling like the bad guy. What about a radical idea. What do you think would happen if you stopped commenting (in any way) about the things he does for his ex and kids? Make the commitment to spend your time and energy on the loving connection with your husband. Tell him you trust him to make those decisions and that you believe he will find a way to protect you and your lives together. Then completely blank out of your mind whatever she asks for and he does. I know this may sound extreme. However, don’t knock it until you try it. It takes some self-discipline. I’m a big fan of this tactic, when all other options fail. You can try it for a day, a week, 15 minutes! LOL Doing this can make us aware of our need for the drama or our need to prove the bio-mom wrong and/or feel like we’re in control. There’s no wrong or right here. It is about getting clear on what’s happening.
Here’s the way to think about this. Try the exercise of drawing an imaginary circle around you two and your life together and then making the conscious choice to NOT think about or act on anything that occurs outside of that circle. Why this exercise? Well, when we try this, it can point out to us where we are feeling left out or jealous of someone else. It will help us see what is being triggered in us-which is something we CAN do something about. It’s empowering in a very disempowering situation. This can be helpful to know so we can give ourselves more TLC and compassion.
When we do this exercise, it can show us, how much time we’re spending on something we can’t do anything about. It can show us how much power we are giving away to others-at our own expense. It can be helpful, as a mental exercise, to help us see how and where we can help ourselves have better hours, days, weeks. it can show us that we’re letting the actions of another (bio-mom, stepkids) damage the loving connection we have with our DH. When I did this and saw how much of our lives were lost to arguing over his ex-I was horrified and then became vigilant about protecting my own relationship with my husband! My skid’s bio-mom’s actions cost us dozens, if not hundreds of lost weekends over the years. Weekends where we were hurt or angry at each other, not able to enjoy feeling that loving connection (between me and my DH) all because of what his son or ex did. Our greatest gift to ourselves and our marriage was to find ways to NOT allow whatever the skid or hostile bio-mom did come between me and my DH. This is a worthy use of your time and energy. It could be a way out of this situation since the chances that the hostile bio-mom will wake up one day and appreciate you or grow up herself and become civil or kind are about zero.
I know this is a lot to think about. Sometimes getting new options to think about will also jog new feelings out of hiding. This is also a good thing. Think about what you want. Think about what you need from your husband. Think about what you are feeling and how you can help yourself. Think about all the ways you can shift the dynamics from trying to control each other and his ex to feel happy to finding ways you (and the two of you) can do things differently to make yourself (and the two of you) feel better. Boundaries, limits, creative options, making amends to each other, changing our thoughts, supporting each other in new ways, different ways. There are so many possible things going on. I hope there is something here that will give you some hope for a new way of feeling good about whatever you and your DH do going forward.
Just let me say, one more time, you are not Wrong, bad, crazy or the bad guy, in anyway!!! You are being impacted by the actions of others and your feelings are trying to help you find new ways to look at, handle, change things so you can feel loved, safe and happy in your marriage. I wish you all good things going forward.
If you want to continue this dialogue, just write back and we’ll carry on. It is your choice. I know there is a lot to digest. No pressure…ever! Be good to yourself as you engage all your inner wisdom, creativity and power.
Hang in there. You can do this! Cathryn