Q: My husband and I have been married for a year and a half, and he has a 17-year-old daughter from his previous marriage. Our marriage is great except that his ex-wife calls all the time, sometimes two or three times a day. This is becoming an issue between us -- especially since this woman has told people she wants my husband back. When I've brought this issue before my husband, he says: "What do you want me to do? If I don't answer the phone, there could be a problem between me and my daughter!" Please help!
Juli: Second marriages and blended families are complicated! It sounds like yours is no exception. First of all, it's very important that you support the relationship your husband has with his ex–wife, if for no other reason than for the sake of your stepdaughter.
Research is very clear that a prime indicator for how children recover from divorce is the health of the relationship between their biological parents. You don't want to get in the way of that.
Having said that, I understand the need for you to establish boundaries between your husband and his ex-wife. Some appropriate boundaries might be that he not discuss your marriage with her or share things with her that he hasn't first talked to you about. I highly recommend that you and your husband meet with a counselor for a few sessions to talk this through and to agree on boundaries so that this does not become a trust issue between you.
Q: My sister and her husband recently divorced, and she and the kids are not dealing with it well. How can I help them?
Jim: Right off the bat, I'd suggest that your sister find a pastor or counselor who can evaluate the situation and offer advice based on her unique circumstances.
Next, there are some practical steps she can take to make this difficult time a bit easier. She should consider these seven survival tips for divorced parents, courtesy of author and Focus on the Family broadcast guest Laura Petherbridge:
1. Find a support group that offers encouragement and teaches coping skills. You need adult camaraderie so that your child isn't forced to be your comforter and counselor.
2. Make it clear to your kids that they had nothing to do with the divorce, and that you and your former spouse still love them. Be appropriately honest with them about the circumstances of your divorce.
3. Make changes slowly. Many people want to leave town and get a fresh start following a divorce, but that is not always wise. Divorce is hard enough on children, and if they lose the familiar sights and sounds of home, school and friends, it's even more traumatic. Try to prevent as many of these adjustments as possible.
4. Let at least two years pass before getting involved in another relationship. You and your kids need time to heal.
5. Allow your kids to love your ex-husband. Don't let your own pain and insecurity damage their relationship with him. It might be tough, but for your children's sake, refrain from negative talk about your former spouse.
6. Be sure to discipline your kids consistently. Many divorced parents feel guilty about what their kids went through, and as a result, they tend to be more lax in their parenting.
7. Remember to let your kids be kids. Try to keep conversations about child support, visitation and conflict with your ex at a minimum. Don't put your kids in the center of the drama. Protect and preserve their innocence as much as possible.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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