divorced mom stepmom conflict

Your Mind is Effing You Over – Not Anyone Else

Have you ever thought about how weird it is that so many people are divorced now?  

I remember when my kids were in elementary school and I was still married, we were surrounded by other nuclear families during drop-offs and pick-ups and school events. In junior high, not so much. In high school, neither one of my children had friends whose parents were married. Not one.

Think about that for a moment. Not a single nuclear family to be found amongst our circle of friends. I know it’s the same for many others.

This is shocking and should alarm us.

But perhaps not for the reason you’d suspect.

I’m all for kids growing up in an intact family, with two involved parents (stressed by work though they may be) and siblings (squabbling or not). I’m even for kids growing up with a hands-on, single parent (stressed by work though they may be) – or a stepfamily based on love (imperfectly “blended” though it may be).

What I’m not in favor of are all the lies we tell ourselves.

About who’s doing what to whom and why.

About how you’re not to blame, but the other person is.

About why any of it bothers you.

I’ve had to learn what I’m about to say the hard way and will continue to learn about it for the rest of my life.

The reason we have such a hard time with the other woman, our ex, or the other household is because we’re not right with ourselves.

We’re still caught up in old tape loops from long ago, about how we’re unworthy. How we’re going to be abandoned. We’re wincing when someone unknowingly scratches at an old scar, our skin still thin and tender and over-sensitive, or accidentally bumps up against a hard, but fragile scab, not yet healed.

We’re hiding from our fears, from a sense of free-floating shame, from a gnawing anxiety about when the other shoe is going to drop.

We’re pretending to feel more in control than we are. We’re trying to hold a big, wet soggy blanket of guilt up over our heads with locked, shaking arms and we’re so, so tired, wondering when we get to put it down.

We distract ourselves from all of it by leaping from one online lily pad to the next, compulsively getting lost in promises of entertainment or self-improvement, or whatever’s on TV or in the cupboard or any other way we tune out, just to get away from that weird feeling

As we fall asleep at night or wake up in the morning, we are occasionally faced with some clear, but uncomfortable alarm bells going off about those we love: I must do something about what’s going on with ____. The time is now.

But life always piles on, every day, and the ringing of the bell becomes so muffled by activity that eventually we can’t hear it anymore. Until we do again.

None of this is stuff we really know what to do with.

It’s deep and it’s big and it’s odd and it’s overwhelming.

Our family life was hard then, and failed for the same reason it’s hard now: because of what lives inside of us.

We are the problem, not them.

You ask, But how can you say that, when ______ (fill in the blank with the other person’s unacceptable behavior)?

Well… remember the last time you felt centered? When you felt strong and grounded? Not all amped up and ready to blindly tackle the world. Just calm, clear-headed. Humble, accepting of yourself.

Remember when you felt a sense of compassion and respect for yourself and all others? When you felt yourself humming and vibrating with the power of love and its ability to blast through all the muck of our minds, all the fear and confusion, all the grasping at control?

From that place, people create miracles.

From that place, you can look at other people’s difficult behavior and feel immune from unkind intentions - or know whether you’re misreading people in the first place. From any of it being a commentary on who you are, your worth as a person and what that means about who will or won’t love you because of it. From that place, people stop operating from the subconscious directives that sabotage their life:

You can’t really trust people – watch your back.

You will never truly be happy – life is too hard. Maybe later.

There’s something wrong with you, deep down – no one will ever completely love you and accept you, just as you are.

People will always, eventually disappoint you – that’s just the way it is.

You can never do anything important well enough – just look at how you’re always behind or have already failed.

Our subconscious minds are very powerful. The majority of our behavior is driven by these old “rules.” If your life is hard, you can actually thank your subconscious for doing such a good job, because it’s only carrying out its original instructions, like an obedient dog.

The reason this matters is because of what we are teaching our kids, what we are transmitting to them in a science fiction-like download.

During the first five years of their lives, our children and stepchildren spend most of their time in a hypnogogic state of delta and theta, soaking up everything without a filter. That’s the important part. There’s no discernment there. Just a red, blinking “Record” button that’s on. (Alpha is regular consciousness and beta is very active consciousness, where you’re focused and purposeful.)

They are learning new, immutable “truths” about two primary aspects of life:

  • How the world works, based on how their parentsor stepparents respond to their external environment.
  • Who they are, based on their parent’s or stepparent’s perception of them.

It’s our job to love and accept ourselves, so that our kids can do the same.

It’s also our job to reduce our sensitivity to perceived conflict, so that we don’t “program” our children to expect that life is hard and you can’t ever let your guard down or you will be screwed -- because they will grow up to play out those scripts just like a robot would.

What do you think your children or stepchildren are learning from you right now? What might their lives look like in the future because of it?

None of this is said to add to the weight of your existing soggy blanket of guilt or to increase your fear. These ideas are offered in the spirit of knowledge as power. Knowledge creates curiosity and a new context. A new context creates hope.

So reverse-engineer your life. Ask yourself,

What major negative beliefs is my subconscious dutifully carrying out?


How might the current problems I’m having with the other household reflect those negative beliefs?


Can you live with leaving this as a legacy for your children and stepchildren?

If the answer is no, then figure out how to change those beliefs.

When you do, you’ll create a new pathway into the future for your stepkids and kids with their own marriages (and that of your grandchildren and stepgrandchildren!). And you’ll be a hell of a lot happier. I’ll be writing more in the future about what’s helped me change mine.

Thanks for reading! (And thanks to Seth Godin for inspiring this post!)

© Jennifer Newcomb Marine

This old suitcase? Why your old baggage matters more than you realize...

As I begin decluttering my house in preparation for selling it and moving to Oregon, I'm struck by how many things I've hung onto over the years for reasons I can't even remember. The things themselves are tied to memories, dreams, and old priorities.

They're also tied to "issues" I used to have and some I'm still actively working on.

Back when Carol and I (and David, my ex) didn't get along, it used to be so easy to point to their ACTIONS and say this was the reason for me being so hurt, upset or angry. I'd provide all the gory details so my sympathetic listener could see how ANYONE in their right mind would be equally offended.

But privately, I also knew that there was something else at play, in the background.

And that was the amorphous ball of "stuff" we all recognize in our quieter moments. Baggage. Old wounds. Sore spots. Irrational patterns of reactions. That vague, embarrassing jumble we wincingly see before we fall asleep at night, while eating a bowl of cereal alone in the morning; maybe during the mindless hum and rhythm of exercise.


That old shit.

The stuff I have no idea how to fix!

The stuff that makes me extra sensitive, insecure, fearful or feel like crap about myself. It's as familiar as the back of your hand. But you'd be loathe to ever admit its existence, except with your closest friends (and even then...).

So much more convenient to just keep pointing the finger elsewhere.

But the truth is, when the other person's behavior continually sends you into overdrive, you have lost control of yourself. That means, there's a good chance something old has been triggered.

Blame the wrong thing and your problems will remain an enigmatic and seemingly impossible source of frustration.

Handle it and watch problems with the other household fade away into something manageable or maybe, just maybe, even something... good.

So, how big is YOUR suitcase? What are you dragging around? Are you willing to try and let go of some of its contents?

Some great places to start:


© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Impossibly High Standards

When it comes to how you expect the other woman to behave, could you meet those same standards?

Never say a single bad word against you. Always do what's best for the children (according to your private interpretation). Never be late (come hell, high water or bad traffic).

Never get angry, be snippy, play the victim, or be a flake.

Life is messy. You solve three or four problems and twelve others line up to take their place.

We all know it: everyone drops the ball on a daily basis.

Doesn't life just seem impossible, in some ways?

And one thing we do that helps is to vent about it. To our friends. To co-workers. To perfect strangers. Yes, even with the kids in our lives.

We connect. We gain support. Comfort and reassurance.

If we're doing it right, we use venting temporarily to release pressure, just like a pressure cooker's bobbing weight lets off extra steam. We let off steam with sympathetic friends so that we can then take action. We take action to hopefully, fingers crossed, fix the problem (while 11 others unravel in the background).

We're trying!

So if you nail the other woman's ass because she has the audacity to vent and present a skewed analysis of "the situation" as you see it, you will always be unhappy.

If you nail the other woman's ass because she dared express one of the "negative" emotions, such as anger, frustration, superiority, competitiveness, self-pity, or vengefulness, while refusing to consider whether she might actually be trying to find a temporary, empowering response to a difficult situation, then your own emotional reactions to her will constantly remain on Red Alert.

If you nail the other woman's ass over mistakes and situations that you would easily excuse in yourself because of the natural messiness of being human, you will constantly feel under siege, as if she's doing these things on purpose to make your life miserable.

She is, after all, just a person.

Like you.

Why is she expected to be perfect -- and you're not?

And what might happen if you held her to the standards you normally apply to yourself and those you love?

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Awesome Power of Thank You and Hello

good manners between stepmoms and divorced momsThey’re a social lubricant, a path through the thorny woods, an accepted mechanism for interaction in the world of people, sometimes very obnoxious people. Manners.... Remember those?

No matter where you are on the spectrum of ex-wife/stepmother relations, you can't go wrong if you use the basics.

Let’s say you’re stuck with Annoying Aunt Edna at the Family Reunion, or Creepy Boss Earl at the office party. In those two instances, you’d be in the type of familiar situation where you’d have to buck up, play nice, and grit your teeth and bear it - unless you wanted to jeopardize your job or become the next unwitting victim of a familial whispering campaign.

So you’d lean on your manners. And maybe lean hard. You’d put in the effort required to nod your head while the other person droned on and on; got too close to your face with spiked-punch breath or potato-salad breath, or asked inappropriate questions about when you were going to have your first/another kid. You’d nod, and say umm-hmm. You’d smile here and there, even if it was plastered onto your face like spackling. Maybe you’d ask a follow-up question to show you were listening, all the while looking for a way to make your getaway.

It’s not bad that you’re looking for an escape - after all, you’re not obligated to want to be Aunt Edna’s or Creepy Earl’s best friend just because they’re talking to you, but you’d do the right thing, put in your time, restrain the impulse to bolt from the room or picnic table with your arms flailing, and when it seemed right, you’d flag someone else down or excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.

You’d think of something.

Well, that same little dance of tolerance, that same age-old ritual is what’s required with the mother or stepmother in your life, at first, if you ever want to get along with her.

But why? you whine. Isn’t it enough that I’m already forced to see her regularly when I can’t stand the woman? Isn’t it enough that I have to hear her damned voice on the phone whenever I call their house? Or hear stories about her from the kids, or the ex-, or my partner, or from mutual acquaintances?

She’s already interjected herself into my life in a way that I never asked for. Now I have to be NICE to her as well?

We’re not actually asking you to dip down inside yourself and discover a veritable well of warm and fuzzy feelings, if the warm feelings just aren’t there. (Although, by this point, we are hoping that you’re starting to allow for the possibility that they might one day actually develop and surprise the hell out of you).

What we ARE asking you to do is go through the little ritual, the structured dance, even if you’d rather she lived on an island all alone, far, far away. Perhaps with just one coconut tree and very little in the way of shelter.

We’re asking you to greet her with the little pleasantries and fillers we all use to talk to people we don’t know or necessarily want to spend time with, (like the cashier at the store, a co-worker with habits that grate on your nerves, or an overbearing neighbor) — to think ahead a little bit, to be considerate. Use your manners. All of them.

Think about this: what happens when a store clerk is actively rude to you? Immediately, all your defenses go up and you do what you normally do, based on your personality (crumble, strike back, go over their heads to complain, do something passive-aggressive, etc.). YOU know when you’re not being treated with just the “normal”, requisite amount of good manners in an instant.

The ex-wife or stepmother in your life picks up on the exact same thing.

But what happens when that same clerk is at least saying “please” and “thank you” and “have a nice day” to you, along with their gruff manner, brusque movements and lack of eye contact?

If you can see that they’re making at least that rudimentary effort, suddenly it’s so much easier to depersonalize their negative behavior: Maybe they’re just having a bad day, you think to yourself. Maybe they hate their job or they’re dealing with a difficult marriage or bad childcare or they’re buried under a mountain of debt, working here.

Suddenly, you may have compassion for them. You may see them as a real person, someone who’s struggling to keep their head above water just like any old regular person. Just like you.

And so you reach into yourself and magnanimously offer a smile or reassuring word, perhaps putting some extra warmth or effort behind your own wishes for a nice day.

THIS is what manners can do: they let the other person know that they are valued simply as a human being. Manners equalize, depersonalize bad behavior, help one empathize.

Lean on your manners with the other woman, even when you don’t want to. Perhaps especially when you don’t want to!

On a subtle level, you’ll be signaling a softening up on your part to the other person, an intention to respect and connect. Some part of their subconscious will perk up and pay attention, as in, hmmm, something’s different here. I don’t detect so much “enemy energy”. What’s going on?

That heightened attention is a very good thing. It can pave the way to openness on their part and next thing you know, you might find yourselves creating one small moment of meeting each other halfway.

You can’t go wrong with manners, even if the other person initially doesn’t respond. You’ve set a new tone, created an opening, signaled a sea change.

What's the state of your etiquette?

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved


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How to Stop Hating the Ex-wife or Stepmom in 7 Simple Steps

ex-wife stepmom harmonyYou may have read in Friday's post about how Carol (the stepmom) and I (the ex-wife) went from cringing in each other's company to cackling happily over coffee. As promised, here are some (long-ass!) tips for creating such a bridge yourself — and reducing some of the angst and anger in your own ex-wife/stepmom relationship by following seven steps. Though it may seem counter-intuitive and hard to believe, the power to stop hating the other woman actually lies in your hands, not hers.

(Before we jump in, a disclaimer. Situations involving child abuse or substance abuse, or instances of clearly-delineated mental illness are obviously beyond the scope of this site. There are tons of free and low-cost resources out there for such challenges. Take advantage of them.)

What's at stake here for all these divorced/recombined families out there? Levels of both stress and cooperation amongst the adults; the quality of the parenting; the permanence of the secondary marriages or partnerships (60% divorce rate for remarriages), and most importantly, the happiness and security of the children.

But you already knew that, didn't you?

So without further ado: seven steps.

1. Change your focus 2. Own your own role 3. Decide 4. Strengthen your coping skills 5. Determine your walls 6. Take baby steps 7. Communicate and act with accountability

Change your focus Usually, in relationships where it's not going well, the focus is on the other person. And with stepmothers and ex-wives, the situation is just ripe for feeding the fires of conflict as both sides vie for territory and control. So… question for you: do you tell regularly tell horror stories about "the other woman" to friends and family? If so, you'll benefit greatly from this step, though you'll likely miss the drama and sympathy.

Bottom line, you're going to have to change your focus back to yourself. It's one of the few things you can control here — obviously, you can't control HER. If you could, you'd already be doing it. And don't tell me you haven't tried!

But wait! you say. SHE'S the reason I'm so unhappy — it's what SHE'S doing, not me! If I didn't have her in my life, I'd be just fine. The only reason I'm unhappy and I can't stand her is because it's her fault, not mine. Why make ME do all the work? Make her do it! Make HER stop being such a lunatic, giving all women a bad name! Why should I have to suffer even more, doing self-analysis and self-improvement and self-contortions when she's pulling such unbelievable crap ALREADY and getting away with it?


Well, put it this way….

If you were stuck in a prison in a foreign country for ten years and no one knew where you were and there was no chance of getting out until then; but you had a little window and a tiny cot and the chance to move around inside your little cell and were relatively unscathed, all things considered… you'd FIND a way to create happiness. You'd have no other choice but to work on your thoughts and emotions and you'd do your best to craft some sense of purpose and meaning and order for your days.

Lucky for you, you're only having to deal with a pesky (or granted, perhaps worse, but we'll get there in a moment) ex-wife or stepmother, not a 6X6 dirt floor in a prison cell. So make the best of it and work with what you have, which is mainly YOU in this situation.

As Buddha once said, "Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us be thankful."

If you still find yourself still wanting to point out to an imaginary judge that this is all still basically her fault, then you're perfectly primed for the yowza! of the next step.

Be honest about your role Next, take an honest at what you're bringing to the table that doesn't work.

Do you intensely dislike this other person? Maybe you're jealous. Do you feel competitive? Do you imagine scenarios in which you come out ahead and she's metaphorically face down in the mud (or worse!)? Do you feel vengeful, vindictive, intimately acquainted with the finer nuances of schadenfreude?

Perhaps you're surprised by your own newfound ability to concoct complex, passive/aggressive machinations in which she's doomed to fail. The idea of her continued antics fills you with despair. You're furious with her. You feel a cold, sharp hatred towards her that alarms you, or scares you in its intensity.

So be it. Just admit it, if it's true.

What if you can't really tell how much of this is her fault or yours? What if looking at this stuff so close-up just horribly depresses you?

Just do your best — pretend you're confessing to your best friend or an understanding little old lady down the street who's seen and heard it all. If you whitewash this part, then trying to create peace here will be like lying to the car mechanic when you take your car into the shop. You can't fix what's hidden. And getting down to brass tacks here is where the juice is. Own your own dirt and your motivation goes up; your resolve. Telling the truth energizes you.

Decide Decide to make things better between you two. Just decide, whether her behavior changes or not.

Accept that you're the only person you can really influence here. And decide to take complete and total responsibility for the situation you're created inside your own head and heart and brain.

Seriously, where else could you possibly start?

Decide that you're going to improve this situation, even if it's only for you first, then for your marriage or partnership (if you're in one, you may be single, dating or remarried). Then, do it for the kids, because you're the adult and you're the one who's supposed to be acting with maturity and consideration for the long-haul.

But what if she keeps doing crappy, unhelpful, manipulative things? I can't trust her to be fair and to make an effort, like I'm making! It's not fair!

Decide to end the war. Just decide. Even if the ex-wife or stepmother in your life is actively doing everything in her power to hurt you, your significant other or the children, see if you can make a decision from a clear place, your highest self, to do what's necessary to secure practicalities (more about those in a moment) then… move on from there.

This is like releasing a car with its wheels spinning. If you "try" to fix things without really, honest-to-go making this decision first, you'll still be looking for reasons to blame her and make it her fault when it doesn't work. There's no "Who's Better?" contest anyone's going to win here. There's no judge, no finish line, no trophy and no one's paying attention anyway (aside from all the complaining).

Now that probably sounds easy for me to say, given the problems I've outlined with Carol above. The worst I ever had to deal with was being threatened by a custody situation that never even came to pass. I'm sure many readers are having to bear much worse; outright lies, manipulation and deceit and substantial amounts of money involved.

Nevertheless, YOU'RE the one inside your own head. YOU'RE the one who shapes your reality. You're the one keeping up your own mental dialogue - you're both the organ grinder and the monkey, chattering away upstairs - defining and characterizing and categorizing. You decide whether things are good or bad, hopeful or hopeless.

So it's up to you.

Yes or no?

Just like with any long journey, you're going to require provisions. Which leads us to the next step.

Strengthen your coping skills Now what can you do today, right now — to create more peace inside your own heart and mind? What can you do to calm the waters of your thought processes? No one else is in there besides you; again — no matter what the other woman is doing.

What can you do to dissolve stress, to relax? What can you do to discharge negative emotions? Can you meditate? Exercise? Journal? Do you have any therapeutic processes you can fall back on to transform difficult feelings and situations?

If nothing else, you can take a deep breath. And then another one. And follow that up with several more.

Face it, being stuck with the other woman IS stressful — a lot of the control that would normally be in your hands isn't; it's the nature of the beast. Problems are going to occur, even disasters will happen. A few doozies might even come your way this year, or next. Unfortunately, we're all stuck with the constant chatter of our monkey minds, feeding kindling to the fires of discord.

It's in your best interest, and the interests of your partnership and kids to get better at this, as a matter of fact, to learn how to be even AMAZING at this. Make it a goal: get really, really good at reducing and managing stress.

Take a deep breath and get cracking! Explore, learn, research, ask around. Use the internets, my friend.

And know that if you're feeling a little too vulnerable right now, the next step should help.

Determine your walls Walls. We all have them. Some folks are tough nuts to crack. Others may as well have walls made of cheese. But definitely, walls, also known as boundaries, can be a good thing. I liken being "stuck: with an ex-wife or stepmom in your life to having an uncomfortably close relationship with a relative you might not necessarily like. (At least in the beginning….)

YOU didn't ask for this woman to be in your life!

But there she is, her name popping up at every turn. There are some ways in which you do NOT want her involved in your life, some areas that are off-limits. Determine what your healthy walls are.

You might want to think of this in terms of two walls.

One is strong and fairly impermeable because it protects you from hostile, unhealthy elements, such as acts of reckless irresponsibility, outright deceit, and parental neglect. If you're dealing with some of the really big issues, like substance abuse or suspected child abuse, get help.

You can figure out your walls based on values. What's important to you? What's nonnegotiable?

The other wall is more permeable and that's okay. Where are you willing to open up around the other woman? Where can you drop your defenses and not strike back when you feel like you've been offended? Where can you give a little?

Or even forgive?

Feel like this is overwhelming and puts too much of the responsibility in your corner? On the contrary, healthy walls need to be there and you should know what yours are. If they're murky, take a look, and see if doing so will help you troubleshoot ongoing problems and make some progress

Once you feel clearer about boundaries and protection and a semblance of safety, you're ready for the next step.


Take baby steps You can change your innards, but you may also be able to change the outer dynamics between you and the other woman if she shows even the smallest willingness, however teeny and miniscule.

Do you feel the slightest inclination to reach out to her? Not everyone will be receptive, and not everyone will respond to your olive branch with grace, understanding or vulnerability. For some women, it may just be one more opportunity to gain power or the upper hand, but often, people respond to genuine warmth with at first hesitation or confusion, and then… curiosity and then…. a fearful sort of openness. If all goes well, that can turn into a kind of melting between two people. You know what I'm talking about — you've seen it in movies, I'm sure you've experienced it in other areas of your life.

But what if she bites my head off? You may be thinking, I have absolutely no interest in making myself vulnerable to this crazy bitch!

Well, you're the only one who knows your situation. Just remember, one fuel that keeps a feud going is feeling like the other side hates you and the odd sense of shame and embarrassment that elicits. Are you hating her because you feel her hating you and you want to hate her back? Are you still trying to play "gotcha"?

That's why I'm recommending baby steps. Give her a gift, say something nice, apologize, do something surprising and kind. Change has got to start somewhere.

Experiment and adjust accordingly.

Communicate and act with accountability This involves the day-to-day ins and outs of living. How do you do things with the other woman? Are you flaky? Are you on time? Do you use your manners, even if you don't like her? Are you ever rude? Do you set her up?

Do you make it a point to keep her up-to-date with all the various details about school and dental visits and colds and lost notebooks and stuffed animals and whatever else is going on in the children's lives?

If you've got something to change or improve upon, do it.

Why should you if she doesn't have to? Why should YOU do everything with fairness and then just let yourself be pooped on?

It's the best way to keep a relationship running nice and clean, just like at work. You often have to work closely with folks you're not crazy about there — does that mean you're off the hook when it comes to doing a good job? Nope.

Plus, bonus! There's nothing to feel guilty about if you live this way, although — watch out that you're not doing it from a competitive space.

It's possible to act with accountability even in the face of some pretty non-reciprocal behavior too. Imagine for a moment that you're a saintly nun talking to convicts. A nun would be calm, patient, clear, even in the face of deceit, lying, manipulation, anger, etc. Go back to your de-stressing techniques if you need to after dealing with her. The whole point is to keep your own insides clean and organized and make your outer life reflect the same. And you don't have to be a saint either. Just put some effort into it and it'll make a difference.

There you have it.

Now… you can either be grim about the tasks before you, or you can dive headlong in with a shrug and a prayer and sense the company of the many other women around you, all struggling with the same issues. Buddhists call it Big Mind. Knowing you're in fine company helps you not feel so alone and can be a huge source of comfort and inspiration.

Earnest intention has its own awesome power. I wish you good luck!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved


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Drunk Buddhist clowns?

problems between ex-wives and stepmomsIn "Peace is Every Step", Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests periodically checking in with loved ones and asking, "Do I understand you enough?  Or am I making you suffer?  Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly.  I don't want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy."

For some reason, these words have been ringing in my ears for weeks now.  I finally went and found my copy of the book so I could reread that section (no, I did not have those words memorized, verbatim - and I don't recall them sounding so formal either, but they still work).

This blog focuses on creating better relationships between ex-wives and stepmothers, but by proxy, there are also many other relationships taking place inside these two families.  There are the relationships between the women and the children (sounds like we're about to get into lifeboats).  The men and the children.  The children and the children.  And the relationships of the adults with each other.  Ex-wife and ex-husband.  And in our case, there's also ex-wife's BF and stepmom; BF and ex-husband.

If this were one of those elementary-school quizzes where you draw lines from items on one column of the page to matching items in another column, we'd sure have a lot of lines, almost like those maps in airline magazines showing where the company flies, criss-crossing the world.  You start imagining all that air traffic and it sure seems like there should be more mid-flight collisions, doesn't it?

So I guess I've been asking myself: how well do I love all these people?  Am I loving them based on what *they* seem to need and want?  Or based on what *I* think they need, what I feel comfortable giving them?  How much are my actions based on *getting* what I want from them, in return?  A secret bargain, of sorts?

The answers aren't always pretty.

And for my own dignity's sake, I won't get into specifics.... (Damn, the readers say.  Spill your guts!  I need something lurid and entertaining to go with my morning coffee!)

I do know that life is made much, much more interesting when you have two teenagers living in the house (with the younger learning from the older's behavior), you're still close friends with your ex-husband (and pieces, or people, from your past occasionally rise up out of nowhere and highlight the life you used to share), you genuinely love and care for your ex-husband's wife (and want to support their family unit and partnership), and you have your own romantic relationship to balance, along with all the elements listed above.

And then there are all the friendships too: best friends, close-as-a-blanket friends, "middle" friends; people you'd love to see more but never seem to be able to; past paramours you still care about.

Are we all clowns in the circus then, juggling in the middle of the ring, under hot lights?  Are we scary clowns?  Are we happy clowns?  Drunk clowns?

How often do we drop the ball?

Just posing lots of questions.  Some of them ridiculous, some of them absolutely serious (but not morose, that wouldn't help anyone).

How much do you altruistically give to those you love, no strings attached?  In what ways are you stubbornly holding on to outdated ideas about what you feel is "appropriate" to give to others, even though they keep trying to to tell you otherwise?

What are you trying to *get* from people?

There is much to be gained from trying to understand what other people need and want, from their perspective, first....

And that's what love really is, isn't it?

Easily and simply, from the heart.



Michele said...


thanks for this reminder of how to love other people. I think it is also a good comment on how to love one's self - how to listen to your own heart and hear what it is saying. This came at an opportune moment for me today! Thank you so much for writing this!



June 4, 2007 11:38 AM  

Jen said...

Glad to hear it, Michele.. You're welcome. And you're right: all the same questions could be asked about your own relationship to your self. (Although the clown-options start shrinking, perhaps....)

Are we kind and compassionate, or exacting and critical?

warm wishes, Jen

June 4, 2007 12:27 PM  

penny said...

what Foxy photos of you gals! Love the concept - it is needed I daresay. I stopped in briefly to visit my ex's wife today and it is indeed nice to be nice to each other.

June 4, 2007 7:00 PM  

Kim said...


Will you be my therapist? :)

xo Kim

August 6, 2007 4:47 PM



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Ten Seconds to Peace Between Divorced Moms and Stepmoms with Eric Maisel - Part 2

conflict resolution for divorced moms and stepmoms(This is part two of our conversation with therapist and writer Eric Maisel PhD, author of the book "Ten Zen Seconds: Twelve Incantations for Purpose, Power and Calm." Part one is here.)


The relationship between mothers and stepmothers is traditionally considered to be helplessly antagonistic, but it doesn't have to be. How can the Ten Zen Seconds method help reduce those nasty feelings that mother and stepmothers often feel toward one another?

Each can come to an interaction between them calmer and more grounded by using the incantations as centering charms. Let’s say that you have a phone conversation coming up with your “adversary.” The first thing to do is to incant “I am completely stopping,” so that you get the chance to quiet your roiling thoughts and your roiling hormones and calmly prepare yourself to listen and to say what you need to say.

Next you might try incanting “I feel supported,” to put it in your head and your heart that you are not completely alone in your dealings with “this other woman” and that you have internal and external resources available to you. Then you might try incanting “I embrace this moment” to remind yourself that your intention is to be present, that you are not frightened of the interaction, and that, for the sake of the child involved and for the sake of your own sense of self, you intend to be present in this conversation.  Any—and all—of the incantations can be used to “put yourself in the right place” to interact with another human being.

Some of the hairier issues that often arise in the mother-stepmother territory are anger, territoriality and guilt. How can the TZS method help with those? Let’s take these one at a time. A great way of working with anger is by incanting “I am open to joy”; it is very hard to be angry and joyful at the same time! If you would actually like to not be angry—if, that is, you aren’t attached to your anger and holding on to it for dear life—then announcing your intention to be happy can go a long ways to dissipate anger.

With territoriality, there are often specific actions that you need to take so that there are clear agreements between all concerned, agreements about visits, rules, and so on, and here incanting “I am taking action” can prove a useful and powerful way to ready yourself to get these agreements made, as can incantation 10, “I am equal to this challenge.”

In dealing with guilt, the most important incantation is incantation 7, “I am free of the past,” as a great deal of our guilt is about something in the past, as opposed to something ongoing. There are things that you may want to do in the present that serve as correctives to things done in the past, but that is different from feeling guilty about the past and feeling burdened by that guilt. Incanting “I am free of the past” can go a long way to moving you from past-looking to present-being.

So how does one do this, especially on the fly?  Do you have to be some kind of Zen master?  I mentioned earlier that I keep my little crumpled piece of paper with me, but mostly, I can remember these….

The first step is always to go through the twelve incantations, slowly and mindfully, and find the one or two that feel most useful and resonant.  It is very difficult, verging on impossible, to incorporate all twelve in a regular way into your life, but it isn’t hard at all to incorporate one, two, or even three.

How can people learn more about Ten Zen Seconds?

The book is the best resource. You can get it at Amazon.

Or you can ask for it at your local bookstore. The Ten Zen Seconds website is also an excellent resource: there is a bulletin board where folks can chat, audio interviews that I’ve done discussing the Ten Zen Second techniques, and more.

My web master Ron Wheatley has also designed a slide show at the Ten Zen Seconds site that you can use to learn and experience the incantations. The slides that name the twelve incantations are beautiful images provided by the painter Ruth Yasharpour and each slide stays in place for ten seconds. So you can attune your breathing to the slide and really practice the method. The slide show is available here.

I would also recommend that folks check out my main site, especially if they’re interested in creativity coaching or the artist’s life.

What else are you up to? You’re mind-boggingly  prolific.

Plenty! I have a new book out called Creativity for Life, which is roughly my fifteenth book in the creativity field and which people seem to like a lot. I also have a third new book out, in addition to Ten Zen Seconds and Creativity for Life, called Everyday You, which is a beautiful coffee table book about maintaining daily mindfulness.

I am happily busy! But my main focus for the year is on getting the word out about Ten Zen Seconds, because I really believe that it’s something special.

Thanks so much for dropping by, Eric!  I hope our readers will actually give these techniques a try.  As always, your work is really inspiring.

Thank you, and thank you for having me here today!


© 2007 Jennifer Newcomb Marine


Ray and Bernadette said...

Enjoyed your interview, Jennifer. We applaud you and Eric in identifying how “a great deal of our guilt is about something in the past, as opposed to something ongoing.” If we are looking back there we are missing wonderful opportunities for creating meaningful relationships right here - and meaningful relationships come in all shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Some of the best ones are never ‘planned.’ Great site. Keep up the good work!

-Ray and Bernadette

Publishers, "Bernadette’s Pages: An Intimate Crossroad," www.enlightenedink.com

April 29, 2007 4:07 PM  

Aline Gaubert said...

Question: Is there a strong link between considering other people and considering ourselves? As a therapist, I specialize in women-in- transition and families-in- conflict I am so impressed with the sheer volume of work Jennifer Marine has done on herself. The wit and intelligence demonstrated over and over restores my faith in what I see as our culture's most glaring deficit: the ability to just get along. Clearly she is not afraid to look inside and tell us what she has dared to see in a way that is beguiling. Must be her enormous talent for writing!

I wish the Marines well and hope others will follow their shining example of placing their attention where it should be: making the world a better place for children.

Aline Gaubert Licensed Professional Counselor and Coach

September 12, 2007 12:42 PM


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