by Dr. Dave & Donalyn Currie
“My husband and I are both on our second marriage. Our problem is his ex-wife. She’s always in his face, whether it’s about the kids, or money…if it’s not one thing, it’s another. We’re both so stressed about it that we end up fighting. I don’t want our marriage to be wrecked by her. What can we do?”
Dave: There is a good reason why second marriages have an even higher rate of failure than first marriages. Building a lasting marriage is tough enough in our world today, but when you add in the complexities of blending families and dealing with ex-spouses, the pressures on a remarried couple can be overwhelming. But there is hope: you don’t have to become just another sad statistic.
Donalyn: As you and your husband address this problem, you must do so as a team. You have an important supportive role to play. You can be his sounding board, the one he can unload his feelings with, and his biggest encouragement. He needs to have someone in his corner.
Dave: That’s right. If he’s feeling attacked, he needs you to be his safe place to land. But as you encourage him, encourage him in a positive direction. When his ‘ex’ escalates things, help him to not be intimidated, but also help him to not react out of frustration. Help him rise above it.
Donalyn: That’s not easy, because when your man is being attacked or hurt, you want to jump in and defend him. You may even want to excuse or justify his angry response, but in the long run it will only make things worse. So you need to find that balance between supporting him and helping him to act in a way that is more beneficial in the long run.
Dave: Stay out of the actual battles. I know that is hard, but disengage from the conflict as much as possible. If things are tense or directed at you, avoid contact. When you do have to interact with your husband’s ‘ex’, treat her with respect.
Donalyn: Help your husband come up with a game plan in dealing with his former wife. In fact, it may even be a good idea to go to a counsellor together to help you establish some healthy guidelines for communicating with her. Try not to let her rob you of your daily joy together.
Dave: If frustrations and stress grow, you may wish for her to just go away. The reality is that you will need to have a relationship with her for the foreseeable future. She is going to be part of your life. You can choose to be civil, to overlook offences, and to make the best of the situation. Or you can choose the path of bitterness, anger and conflict, which will put even more stress on your marriage and produce misery for everyone involved.
Donalyn: We’re not saying it will always be easy. You will have to bite your tongue on many occasions. Regardless of how another behaves, you can make the decision to respond kindly, civilly and in a way that if both Jesus and the children heard, they’d be proud of you.
Dave: This can’t be emphasized too strongly. Fighting parents are only hurting the kids and making an already very difficult situation worse. Continually remind yourself of the benefits of having as good a working relationship with her as is humanly possible. If she attacks you, try to extend grace and understanding to her as much as possible. As Romans 12:17-18 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Remember, it all doesn’t depend on you – do your part as well and as warmly as you can. And if it accomplishes nothing else, you will be a good model for your kids of how to make the best of a bad situation.
Donalyn: Speaking of the kids, keep in mind that your husband’s ex-wife is still his children’s mom. They still need to love her and honour her. Don’t carelessly hurt the kids with your actions and words. Don’t make them choose. Instead, choose to speak positively about her. Keep the problems and negative comments between the adults; the kids don’t need to hear the details, and they should certainly never be expected to take sides. The more positive you can be towards their mom, the more highly they will think of you.
Dave: That’s true. Don’t worry about casting blame or trying to make yourself look good. With every year that passes, the kids will see things more and more clearly. If you are treating their mother respectfully, they will see that.
Donalyn: Now, switching gears a bit, you stated that you don’t want your marriage to be wrecked by your husband’s ex-wife. To guard against that, you need to ensure that she does not become your central focus. Instead, concentrate on the good things that the two of you have going for you. Sometimes we get so focused on our problems that we forget about the good things we have, and our relationship doesn’t have a chance to grow and flourish. Limit the amount of time you spend talking about her and keep working on your marriage.
Dave: If you are struggling in your relationship with one another, ask yourselves if you are truly fighting over her, or if she has just become an excuse to blame your problems on. Carve out the time to cultivate a stronger relationship. Have fun together. Don’t let your life revolve around the problems with his ex, but give your marriage top priority. As you do this, you will be able to face the outside problems and pressures as a team, rather than letting them pull you apart.
Donalyn: There are some unbelievable resources on our DoingFamilyRight.com site to help you get a stronger marriage.
Dave: Ask God for help, for perspective and for patience. He is the one who tells us to love our enemies and to try to live at peace with everybody. Ask Him for wisdom and strength to handle the “Ex factor” in a way that would truly honour Him.