“…acceptance of our [family] unit from outsiders,” and that, “Teachers and other outsiders treat stepparents and non-custodial parents differently than [in traditional families] and this often reflects in animosity.” This seemed related to T’s sense of her stepfamily being less accepted or outcast in her community: “Everyone perceives us as ‘losers trying to make up for our mistakes the first time’ and presumes doom and gloom will overtake the unity we strive to maintain…”
The court orders brought periodic custodial rearrangements in this family. This, combined with the visitation schedule, interrupted their attempts to gain their own sense of family. The court orders also carried significant financial impact. There were financial strains due to child support payments, air fare for visitation, and their “court budget,” monies that they spent “to fight for their family.” T mentioned that they had, at times, left their mortgage unpaid in order to make legal payments, exemplifying the extreme financial consequences of their legal battles.
T attributed many of their problems to the “mind games” played by her husband’s ex-wife. She felt that their life, at times, was run on his ex-wife’s whims and that this affected not only their stepfamily as a whole, but T’s relationship with her husband, as well. She mentioned that one of their biggest challenges as a stepcouple was: “Not allowing the motives of an ex to interfere with our peace.” T blamed S’s ex-wife for many of T’s marital battles, related to his “not standing up to” his ex-wife.
T felt the impact of this ex-wife’s influence in her efforts at stepchild discipline. T observed that her younger stepson “…lashes out at my authority because he was taught that I am the cause of his parents’ divorce (although please note this is a figment of his mother’s imagination).” Her older stepson “…learned to manipulate from the masters (the grown ups in his life)…He found that playing on emotions was the way for him to take an easy path…” She felt that her own son observed his stepbrothers’ manipulations, making her discipline of him more difficult, as he “…pit [my husband] and myself against one another.”
This stepcouple was constantly challenged by outside influences affecting their stepcouple bond: “We had two exes that drained us of our love because we were always in ‘fight’ mode.” T described recurring arguments, which she viewed as a side effect of the negative emotions aroused from interactions with ex-spouses about the children. T felt she and her husband had nothing left to give their relationship because their emotional energy was spent on arguing with their ex-spouses.
T felt her husband’s ex-wife affected their ability to stepparent effectively together. She had observed from past experience that if she and her husband argued, her stepchildren felt anxious and shared this with their mother. T also attributed their mother’s “pumping techniques” to obtaining information from the boys. As a result, T blamed the ex-wife for causing further anxiety in her stepsons as their mother extracted reports from them. This directly impacted the stepcouple’s relationship: Her stepsons’ guilt from sharing information with their mother led to “more abuse from them and her…[bringing] more bitterness between my spouse and myself.”
No matter what the cause of an argument for T and her spouse, there was a detouring process: The argument left the stepfamily through the stepchildren, was carried through the ex-wife and back to the stepfamily through both the stepchildren and