Managing tension with an ex’s new spouse

Im divorced but both my ex and I are remarried. We share 50-50 custody of our 8-year-old daughter. My struggle is with my ex-husbands wife. I feel like I could embrace her as a friend, to help make it smoother for my child, but shes still icy and stand offish although Ive known her for years. My daughter has said things that make me think she has noticed the tension. How can I help make something better for my child when Im not able to control this other person who has significance in her life?


You and your ex-husband have moved on with your lives and married other people, letting the past be a distant memory with each passing day.

If only it were that simple.

Some doors have closed but some doors are opening — including the one that leads to new people entering your daughter’s life at the choosing of your ex. No doubt when children and co-parenting are involved you cannot simply say sayonara to a past spouse.

My hunch is there are lingering tensions in your relationship with your ex-husband. Subsequently, his new wife senses this and feels threatened by you. She may also be reacting to what he says about you (especially if things did not end so amicably) or the way he’s still emotionally influenced by you (especially if he struggles with aspects of the custody arrangement).

Let’s face it: It is common for new spouses to feel competition, jealousy or in the very least comparison to the previous spouse. It may be hard for her to accept the shared history you had with her husband and even more difficult to accept the child you will always share together. Alternately, her behavior could have very little to do with you; she might simply be shy or closed off to most people.

What you have the most influence over is what you model for your daughter. Display an attitude of friendliness and compassion whenever she talks about her stepmom or sees you interacting together. Ideally, your kind actions towards her stepmom could grow sincere — the “fake it until you make it” strategy. One need not be a parent to choose integrity and take the high road in these types of scenarios. In other words, model this for your daughter but also because it is what enlightened adults do.

Do not avoid this woman, but you also don’t need to go out of your way to interact with her. Ultimately, it would be a good idea for your child to see you all together on occasion. Otherwise events in the future (graduations, weddings and so forth) will be more awkward in a way that confuses your daughter or sends a message that the important adults in her life can’t seem to get along.

Letting go of control in our lives will always be a challenge. Especially when something as precious as your child is involved. But the alternative, which comes in the form of grasping, ruminating or other methods that only harm yourself, are exhausting and rarely change the outcome. So look at where you can surrender. There will be many people who influence your daughter’s life. Fortunately, as her mother you reign supreme and will be able to mold her more than anyone else.