Updated: Mar 21, 2019
I want to share with you a picture painted for me recently by my husband that rocked my world; it made me rethink my position in the relationship triangle that is him, me and his son (my step son).
Before I give you the gift of perspective that my darling husband gave me, I feel it important to first give some framework for the place I've been operating from. I grew up in a high conflict household with lots of fighting and yelling. I grew up in a household where I was a step child as well as an only child. There were three of us, my Mom my step Dad and me. The odd numbered household often meant someone was being left out, someone was feeling pushed aside or chosen over (I know this may seem crazy with two adults and a child, but three is a hard number no matter who the players are), which naturally birthed a lot of negative feelings. (I would like to insert here that if you have a step child in a high conflict household there should be no stiff expectations of bonding). I also grew up a child of divorce with parents who were in court and custody battles for a lot of my childhood, and so my life was also orbited by that conflict and hatred as well. The constant, consistent fighting failed to provide me with the tools to know how to resolve conflict. Even as I type this, I draw a blank. Nothing stopped, nothing changed, nothing got resolved, ever. I was raised to believe that everything is a fight, and fight you must to survive (I now know I don't want that kind of life, truly). Fast forward to my marriage to my kid's father and the pattern continued; constant conflict with no resolution (on both of our parts). Nothing stopped, nothing changed, nothing got resolved, ever.
I say all that to say that the above history shaped me in the following ways:
I have had enough conflict for three lifetimes and I am simply no longer interested in participating in it with with anyone (unless you hurt my kids, and then all bets are off, but I digress). I ignore, I cut people out of my life, I stuff my feelings and most importantly to what I am writing about today is that I REMOVE MYSELF from any situation that I feel will take me down the road where conflict may await. I feel that very little is worth my engagement in conflict and so I am VERY choosy about picking my battles. When I do find myself having to be confrontational, I have a very physical reaction to it (I break out into hives, my heart races, I begin to get hot and sweaty; it's anxiety like no other...it's my body preparing for war and shutting down all at the same time...it's P.T.S.D. fun lol, but really though). And before you have to tell me, I know this is NOT healthy and I know conflict is part of life and I better figure my shit out (especially in my role in our blended family). And yes you can rest assured I am in therapy (and have been for the last many, many years).
One other piece of the framework I need to share is that of being a step-child myself. Much of my actions as a step parent now are informed by my own childhood experiences as well as my newly found empathy for my own step parents. I try to consider EVERYONE because even as a child, I observed the struggles both my step parents faced in regard to their marriages (even then I was obsessed with relationships and their inner workings). There's no competing with a child and if you try, you will never win (so don't do it). Competition here only leads to losing. There are a lot of hurt feelings for both step child and step parent when the spouse/bio parent is put in the middle to "choose" or "take sides"; it is often a win-lose-lose situation with the child winning, for example, and the step parent feeling like they lost out on some level and the bio parent/spouse feeling stuck in the middle on every level. It's an impossible situation at times, extremely draining and just an emotional roller coaster that can make you sick; if you have any other expectation, then you may need to adjust your mindset or you will forever be disappointed.
And so here I am; a step mom. How am I doing? Not as good as I could be as it turns out. I have chosen to distance and remove myself often from my step son and my husband when they are around one another. I do this so that I do not intrude on their time, so my husband does not have to choose or be put in the middle of us, so my step son has no reason to feel threatened or jealous, and also in avoidance of potential conflict, drama and hurt feelings that will likely happen all the way around. I do this out of a place of protection for all of us. Does it feel good to step back, step aside and put myself in the back seat? No. Is this fulfilling for me? No. Do I feel I miss out on my husband during the weeks he has his son? Yes. By making the choice to come in second my own, and removing that choice from my husband has always seemed to me the right thing to do (I hurt my own feelings instead of him hurting mine, which is a sort of protection for me and our relationship as well, if that makes any sense). But, I have always thought this "sacrifice" was "right" for our situation (all things considered, knowing who my step son is and what I perceive his needs to be from his Dad). I just never wanted to be the cause of bad feelings nor the cause of conflict like I have experienced so much of in my life; I don't want to be a contributor to that in my step son or my husband's life.
Now for the picture that was painted for me that rocked my little world: My husband and I were out to dinner at our favorite Sushi spot this last weekend reconnecting. We were discussing the kids, as we often do, and this whole topic came up about how my actions are as I distance myself from the two of them (as I acknowledged above). He told me that the further I go from him and his son, the further he has to go to reach me (because he wants me there) and that is even further he has to separate himself from his son to do so. We are all losing. My. Mind. Was. Blown. What I thought I was doing in sacrifice was hurting him in a way I never considered.
See why communication is so important?! I thought I was doing good, when really I was being harmful. I believe a lot of us can relate to that in a lot of different areas in our lives. When we come at a situation one-sided, with only one perspective, ours, we are missing the point of being in relationship.
If I am being honest, I am scared in what re-positioning myself will open us all up to, but when I got married I vowed to honor my husband and trust him. I choose now to give him the opportunity to lead me, and trust that no matter what he will make me feel safe, as rocky as the roads may get. I foresee us settling somewhere in the middle where I keep a closer distance and become more mindful about when I really lean in and when I walk away. I still believe that I have a solid perspective from being a step child and having step parents, but I need to back away from the extremity of said perspective and be more respectful of my husband's desires.
The last thing I want to bring up is this: the behaviors of your spouse stem from something. You may be reading what is happening in your household completely wrong. It is therefore, very important that you communicate with your spouse if they are doing something that is making life more difficult for you, because chances are, they are doing the best they know how to do from their individual life's framework. The purpose of blending a family and being married is to build a new life and construct your own frames from which to view the world from. Extend grace, embrace understanding and DO NOT JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS WITHOUT KNOWING THE WHOLE STORY.
Food for thought: You must be willing to bend, or you will break.
Peace and Love,