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Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
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Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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My fiance and I have been together for nearly two years and

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My fiance and I have been together for nearly two years and are getting married this summer. He is a fantastic partner, lover and friend who I adore. He has a young son with his ex-wife, who is incredibly clever, sensitive, and loving and with whom I get along wonderfully.

When I look at my life with these two, I feel sometimes like the lucky character in a fairy tale. I know that I'm fortunate as a step-parent to have a partner who supports me with his child (not that he needs to often) and appreciates my role in both their lives, and a soon-to-be stepson who has welcomed me warmly into the family as well.

The one and only thing that casts a taint on our lives is, you guessed it, the ex-wife.

She and my fiance were married young and together for over a decade. During their marriage, throughout the split, and regularly still she has treated him with disdain and disrespect. The bullying goes back many years, compounded with alcohol issues. When she left, my fiance fought very hard to keep the marriage together (which I respect) and he has bent over backwards to try to maintain a friendly working relationship with her to keep things as healthy as possible for their child.

Now that it appears I am here to stay, the ex has begun directing this bullying behavior at me, and it's keeping me up at night. I have read so many books, gotten involved with support communities online, and put endless hours of thought and effort into trying to figure out what I can do, and I just feel like there's no recourse.

His ex makes snide comments that are subtle but calculated to get a reaction out of me. She has has tried to enlist me in emasculating my fiance and often asks to borrow money, tools, etc, and asks my fiance for help with small things regularly. She has commented to him that she can't stand being around us at their child's events but puts on a friendly face when there's an audience. She comments on our cleanliness level (cluttered but not dirty), rifles through mail and papers on our kitchen table, wears skimpy clothing at evens she knows we will attend, etc.

There are some things (like the unannounced visits to our home) that have stopped because I was firm about the need for boundaries, but the steady stream of disrespect seems to only get worse. She keeps finding new ways to be awful. I have talked to my fiance many times about this, and it's become our only source of conflict. He is terrified (and I am too!) that confronting her or failing to acquiesce to her demands will cause her to badmouth us to their child and open up the situation to parental alienation.

We argue because he won't tell her no when she asks for things that have nothing to do for the benefit of their child. We argue when she's nasty to me and he doesn't notice or say something when I point it out. We argue when she makes plans or signs their son up for things that impact our schedules without consulting us, when she hijacks the holidays, when she makes demands and my fiance caves because he doesn't want to offend her for the sake of peace.

I feel like this is only going to get worse. We're planning on trying for a child together, and as much as I want that, I am scared of bringing a child into this situation. I don't want to feel trapped by her behavior, and I don't feel like I should have to put up with insults to me or to my future husband in our own home. I don't want my stepson to grow up believing that walking on eggshells around and tolerating the behavior of an emotionally abusive, borderline narcissistic alcoholic is the healthy response. I want not to cringe every time I hear the phone ring when it's her ringtone playing. And I don't want to be the wife who ends up losing respect for her husband because this woman has us all bound up and dancing to her tune.

We are trying for counseling but it's beyond our budget for the time being. I still have such faith in us that I don't feel like we should postpone the wedding - I really do feel like we are strong enough to tackle her if only we could find the right tools. But I need us to stop with the arguments. I want to be able to support my fiance in doing both the right thing for his son, and the right thing for our family. I'm tired of crying. What can we do to counter or prevent her intrusion without hurting his child?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dear Debra replied 1 year ago.

Deardebra :

Thank you for your question.

Deardebra :

What is happening is she is in control and this needs to change.

Deardebra :

Right now she knows she can do what ever she wants and nothing is going to happen. She can say little negative comments and stop by unannounced because she can.

Deardebra :

The important thing is not catering too her every demand. You both have a life and you need to live that life together.

Deardebra :

There are only two people in a relationship and she has become the third person. She is interfering in your life because she is dividing you both. She is taking time out of your lives by consuming your every throughout. You and your future husband have no time to just focus on each other.

Deardebra :

When your in a relationship you create a bond and it continues to grow, right now you have someone interfering with creating this bond.

Deardebra :

She has controlled the situation so much that you both are arguing, you mentioned about postponing the wedding. You can not let her consume your life. When she says something negative laugh and then say something positive so she knows it does not bother you.

Deardebra :

Right she knows what she says bothers you, so she does it more and it will get worse.

Deardebra :

You can ignore it as well and not respond. You just have to show her that it no longer bothers you. She is jealous because you are with him and getting married. He is getting this fresh new start with the love of his life and she doesn't want that at all. This is why she says means things.

Deardebra :

Your fiancé wants to be there for his son, so he is doing what ever it takes to keep that relationship. He doesn't want his son to hear anything negative since you btw have a great relationship with him. But she knows that your finace wants to keep that good relationship, so she knows she is in control.

Deardebra :

There needs to be countries set.

Deardebra :

*There needs to be boundaries set.

Deardebra :

She is to call or text when she is coming over, she is not to just stop by, you have a life with your fiancé and she should not just come over. That rule need to be set into place. If she needs things done for her son, she is to call and ask what is needed. Your finace is to tell her when he can do it on his schedule not hers.

Deardebra :

It is important that you both do not feel trapped in this situation, she took control of both of your lives and you both need to set rules in order for her to realize this is not going to happen anymore, we are getting married, starting a family.

Deardebra :

If you have a child, you can not just have her showing up interrupting your life.

Deardebra :

When you both have a child you will have many obligations that you will have to attend and life will change. You can not have someone demanding your time and pulling time away from your future child. There needs to be a balance.

Deardebra :

One thing I want you to try is not saying anything to your fiancé too him. Some times people need to see for themselves the person people really are. Often times if things are pointed out they just get offensive and do not think clear.

Deardebra :

You need to just let him listen and think about what she is doing so he can clearly see this is a problem. Right now you both are arguing and you do not want that at all.

Deardebra :

You want to resolve the problem. If he sees things for himself he will notice that something needs to change.

Deardebra :

Remember the reason why she is doing this is because she is jealous. He moved on and found the person of his dreams and that bothers her. Now you both have to focus on each other, your future and getting married.

Customer:

Deardebra,

Customer:

I'm sorry for the poor rating, I don't think I understood what that meant.

Customer:

I see a few things in your response that tell me you may not have understood my question fully. I do know I gave an awful lot of backstory, though, and I'm sorry that it was hard for me to be more concise.

Customer:

I am most concerned about two aspects of this issue: keeping our marriage strong/boundaries set and intact (which you answered the most about), but I need to also know how to address her manipulating our stepchild. He doesn't deserve to bear this woman's problems.

Customer:

I also was a little taken aback by your suggestion that I try not to talk to my partner about this. Who should I be able to rely on, be honest with, open up to, but him?

Customer:

Like I said in my original message, she is not coming over unannounced any more. I was firm about it and then she stopped by one time when we were having some sexy fun in the living room and she got an eyeful.

Customer:

Also I mentioned that we were NOT considering postponing the wedding but that we needed some tools to fight her that wouldn't hurt my stepson. I need to find a way to sell the stricter boundaries that we need to my fiance that will help him understand how it's better for all of us.

Customer:

Can you help me here? I very much want to make sure you are compensated for your time, but I also need to be sure that you understand what I'm asking for.

Customer:

Thank you!

Customer:

I know that all of the things you said are things we can do that will make me feel better and make our lives easier. But my future stepson matters too - and he is the only reason these things are so hard for us to deal with. Your answer to me kind of seemed to write him off. What about him?

Customer:

Also he tells me he cannot see what she is doing, he has spent so many years learning to automatically tune her out that he just doesn't notice when she says things that hurt me. As I said, she is very subtle about it but if you think about what she says, it's calculated.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

I wrote a bunch on more concrete tools and then lost all of it. So briefly.

 

Don't give away your power because you think the exwife could get revenge by manipulating your stepson. If he's already warmed up to you as stepmom it means one or both of 2 things: 1. he likes you a lot, and 2. he's aware that his mom isn't very stable or possibly even very safe for him. You and his father may already represent so much more security to him that he may let you know whenever she does things he doesn't like. And if alcohol plays a big role, you could have the tools to get better custody.

 

Her bullying your husband is very disturbing, but bullying her son is certifiable child abuse. You can use art therapy methods to find out if he's aware of a fearful relationship with her: Find a way to get him to write a story about a boy living alone with his mother in the forest--fairy-tale style. A lot depends on his age, but if it's obviously fiction, he may not realize how much he's revealing how he really reacts to his mother.

 

Don't hold back from confronting his mother because of what she MIGHT do behind your back, but strengthen your stepson's trust in you by finding out if he feels pushed around by his mother, or reacts to moodiness or personality changes when she's drinking. He'll need understanding from someone he can trust to cope with her, if she's not controlling herself when alone with him, and you can spend quality time with him to gain that trust and offer that understanding. It's really rather unusual for a stepmother to get accepted wholeheartedly as quickly as you have been (apparently) so you might be able to strip her of that power you're afraid she might wield, just by really being the good mother you want to be.

 

Many an angry exwife has accused her exhusband of molesting their daughter to hurt him and win things in court. But there are handles on either end of that stick, and in this case SHE is more vulnerable to child-abuse investigation, if she's bullying him or making him very uncomfortable and he doesn't want to be stuck with her as much as he is now. So to the degree that you gain the boy's increasing trust, you can turn the tables on her, and you don't have to let your fiance's habitual passivity in the face of his exwife's bullying put you in the back seat of the family car. You can eventually show HIM how to stand up to her by being the good mother to the boy that she probably can't be, and then pushing her back as you have begun to do already.

 

I may be oversimplifying. But if the son is the weakest link, then form your good parental alliance with him by giving him the good acts of love you want him to grow up with.

Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 903
Experience: Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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Expert:  Dear Debra replied 1 year ago.
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