When things aren’t going well in our closest most intimate relationships, it becomes a constant worry on our minds. We feel that everything is turned upside down. Our relationship with our partners should be at the top of the chain and one of the most critical items to prioritize on our “to do” or “to done” list but somehow specific needs of a stepcouple get neglected and pushed to the side.
In stepfamilies, there is a natural and inherent tendency to put our relationships as romantic partners on the backburner. Many different types of couples struggle with this same issue, but stepfamilies struggle in particular because many times the rationale for not prioritizing your relationship is that the kids need to come first because there have been through so much already. The thought behind this rationale is admirable to want to soothe the wounds of stepchildren and to want them to suffer less because their parents have experienced divorce or a breakup; but the reality is when stepcouples begin to neglect the very reason they came together in the first place then everyone suffers, including the children.
The day to day tasks of going to work, paying bills, worrying about debt, helping kids with homework, cooking, cleaning and creating a safe home begin to wear down many couples. These tasks are essential and vital to providing for the unseen and often unacknowledged work of running a household. These tasks are crucial but sometimes can feel like they cast a shadow over other things in life that we value and cherish, such as fun, laughter, love, and friendship.
Many stepmothers entered into their role as a labor of love. They were single at one point in time, on the dating scene and looking to fulfill the dream of finding someone to share their lives. They wanted to find companionship, love, someone to talk to, and someone to laugh and cry with. They wanted someone to grow with and to share the ups and downs of life. They wanted the fairytale they wanted to be part of one of those loving couples who live “happily ever after.” We all know that “happily ever after” is a myth and that it takes hard work and consistency to make a good relationship flourish.
For many stepmoms, things were good, or maybe even great in the dating phase. You got butterflies in your stomach whenever you were with your new partner. The two of you would laugh, have fun, make time for one another and you gradually developed a feeling that things would work out and that all the complications of stepfamily life would be “worth the sacrifice.”
We all know that relationships take some level of sacrifice and compromise, but you didn’t anticipate how much you would sacrifice for the good of the family that came before you. Yes, you knew your partner had an ex and that ex would be in your life for as long as you and your partner are together. You knew that your partner had children from a previous relationship. You knew that your partner financially supported their children either on a full or part-time basis, but you didn’t realize that with all of these prioritizes would push your relationship to the bottom of the list.
Most of us are familiar with the saying “But first coffee” meaning that when we rise in the morning, we need a hot cup of coffee to help energize us to give us the boost we need to get through all the chores and tasks of the day. It’s a great saying, but often we don’t apply the same principle to getting and receiving positive energy from our significant others.
You might be in an emotional space where you are ready to throw in the towel because, on top of regular relationship issues, you have stepfamily challenges too. There are ways to improve this situation that you’re experiencing. You owe it to yourself and to your relationship to give things are another try.
Keep reading for 5 ways to prioritize your relationship as a stepcouple.
If your relationship continues to come last as a stepcouple
You might feel like the Evil stepmother for wanting to spend some alone time with your significant other. You might feel like you are supposed to put everything before the two of you. You might feel like you’re asking way too much to even suggest such as thing from your partner, after all, he’s paying child support, or arguing with his ex or going to events and activities for his kids and he works a full-time job, who are you to ask more of him? You’re his partner that’s who. You’re the one he pursued, and you’re the one in the trenches with him day in and day out. You’re the one who is sticking around despite his ex and the challenges of raising kids that aren’t yours.
You and your partner are stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to keep up with all the responsibilities and demands of life. You’re feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated because through his actions you feel that the message being communicated is that “your needs can wait.” It never seems to be your turn to be a couple. You feel selfish, but you have a right to a healthy happy romantic relationship.
All of us have needs, and stepmoms are no different. You need alone time, couple time, and reminders of why the two of you came together in the first place. It’s are essential to make one another feel special you need and deserve acknowledgment for your efforts and for the patience you have shown as a stepmom. Without prioritizing your relationship you begin to ask yourself, why are you doing any of this? Without working on your relationship and making sure it is solid your role as a stepmother suffers and ultimately your relationship suffers. Being a stepmom is a hard and sometimes thankless job, it’s not the most comfortable role to take on, but it’s even more difficult when you and your partner are not happy.
Prioritizing your relationship as a stepcouple
Your relationship is important to you. You want to feel happy and enjoy your life with your partner, but you feel like there isn’t enough room for you in his life. You want to feel like you’re not being short-changed when it comes to the life you are trying to build with your partner.
You want all the drama and sacrifice that is often present within stepfamilies to be worth it. You want to be acknowledged and appreciated for sticking around and for your efforts with a situation that is harder than anything you have ever done in your entire life.
You want your partner to understand that you are willing to take a back seat sometimes when it comes to the life he had before. You also want him to realize that you are not willing to always take a back seat and that it’s okay for your needs to be honored as well as his needs the demands of his ex and his children’s needs.
5 ways to prioritize your relationship as a stepcouple
Stepcoupling is hard and takes practice to get things right. Take a look at these 5 tips to prioritize your relationship needs as a stepcouple:
#1 Talk to your partner
The first step to getting your emotional needs met as a stepmom is to talk with your partner. It may seem intimidating to talk to your partner about your needs, but it’s a necessary conversation that needs to happen. You’re a caring person and don’t want to upset your partner or add more stress to their already complicated lives as the Bio-father within a stepfamily, but you can’t continue to ignore your own needs or both of needs as a couple.
You know your partner well enough to know when they are in a good or bad mood. Choose a time when they are relaxed and in a mental state to be more receptive to your message. Think about what you want to say ahead of time. You have probably been thinking about having this conversation in your mind over and over anyway. Use all those mental replays to practice what and how you want to talk to your partner. Take your time when speaking and remember to listen to their side of the situation as well. After both of you have spoken come up with some solutions that will help bring the fun and excitement back into your relationship.
If your partner is unreceptive to a discussion about your relationship try again at a later time. If they are still unreceptive to your discussion, it may be time to enlist the help of a licensed therapist to help mediate both of your concerns. Keep in mind, just because your partner becomes upset with the idea that you need more time, do not mean your needs are invalid. You can’t control someone else’s reactions to your needs.
#2 Kindness over sarcasm
Humor is essential in any relationship but when the jokes become hurtful or passive aggressive that can become a problem in your relationship. According to the Gottman Institute, the most significant predictor of relationship failure is contempt for your partner. Contempt can grow in many ways and using sarcasm, and unkind words toward one another is a recipe for building contempt and relationship failure. Sometimes it might be you or your partner engaging in these behaviors, either way; it’s a relationship killer. Inability to be kind on a daily basis to one another is the fastest way to add your relationship to the statistics of remarriages and re-partnerships that fail.
If you are the aggressor, please try to keep in mind that although you are hurting this is not the right approach to improve the connection between you and your partner. Sarcasm and unkind words or making jokes at the expense of the others can be costly and lead to feelings of resentment and mistrust. If your partner is the one hurling insults, talk to your partner. If the talks have not worked, seek out the help of a licensed therapist trained in stepfamily dynamics as well as couples counseling.
#3 Establishing a date night
The best way to take some time for one another is to prioritize a recurring date night. Many couples struggle with adding a date night to their already busy schedule. It’s okay to keep your date night’s low key and low maintenance. Dinner and a movie or a night in just talking and watching TV counts as date nights. The point is to be intentional and make time or the two of you.
Life can begin to feel pretty mundane without the excitement that comes from close relationships. Planning a date, getting dressed up and going out like two adults, without the kids is a great way to re-ignite your relationship. Take turns planning the night out or night in, trading off the task of preparing a date night will help both of you share in the responsibility of improving your relationship. The function of planning dates should not fall solely on your shoulders.
#4 Creating boundaries regarding the Ex
Stepmoms and families can get into a pattern of catering to the needs of the Ex. Many fathers who have experienced a breakup or divorce have a fear of losing their children to their ex and thus develop unrealistic boundaries with their ex-partners. Many fathers within stepfamily dynamics allow their ex-partners to call at all times of the night, and make hostile comments about their current partner. This sets up a dynamic where the ex-partner is manipulating your household.
Talk to your partner about your boundaries; there is no need to allow the ex to call in the middle of the night. Establish “business hours” with the ex-partner and allow the phone to go to voicemail if there are calls in the middle of the night. Talk to your partner and come to an agreement about how much you talk about the ex when you are spending quality time with one another. If you are talking about the ex and you’re supposed to be having fun, it’s like the ex is still there and taking time away from your relationship with one another. Please seek out legal counsel if you’re partner has a high conflict ex. It is also a good idea to seek out services with a licensed therapist to process this experience.
#5 Talk to the kids
Many stepchildren could care less about how much quality time you and your partner receive with one another. Try not to take this behavior or mindset personally. Many stepchildren have the fantasy that their parents will get back together and would prefer that you were not present. Its okay for them to have these feelings but it’s not okay for them to dictate the alone time you and your partner spend with one another. If you are a part-time stepmom, your partner might feel that all the visitation time should be used with their children. It’s true that your stepkids need time with their non-custodial parent, but the kids also need to see first-hand that you are part of their dad’s new life.
Expect some resentment and push back in the beginning from the stepkids. Your partner’s ex might even make comments to the kids about the two of you having date nights such as “Your dad is too busy with his new wife or girlfriend to spend time with you.” It’s your partner’s responsibility to correct these untrue statements with his/her ex. It’s also your partner’s responsibility to talk to his children about the fact that things are different and that he has someone in his life. It’s okay for your partner to have age-appropriate discussions with their children about the need for couple time. They may not like it, but it’s an important step to prioritize your relationship as a stepcouple. If your partner is not open to talking to their children and is not open to being affectionate or spending one on one time with you when your stepchildren are around; then it’s a good idea to seek out therapy.
If you are a stepmom, who struggles with this challenging role. Please reach out. I have experience working stepmoms at all stages of their stepmother journey. I understand how hard it might be to find a safe space to work through all the difficulty this role brings. Please click here to reach out for a free 15-minute consultation.