From 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce or separation, a rate that is quadruple the 1960 divorce rate. Approximately 52 percent of divorced men and 44 percent of divorced women eventually remarry. This trend means that for many contemporary women, a husband's ex-wife is a part of the relational picture, for better or for worse. Furthermore, according to the nonprofit mental health organization Freedom from Fear, children are involved in roughly 40 percent of all divorces, making the development of a good working relationship between current wife and ex-wife especially important.
Lay the Foundation
Resolve to let past issues remain in the past and to stay as detached as possible from events that occurred before you were in the picture. Accept that your husband and his ex-wife have a history that is all their own, and maintain a conscious awareness that you are under no obligation to assume the emotional burden of their relationship.
Meet with your husband's ex-wife, if she is open to that, and express your desire to establish a good working relationship with her for everyone's sake, especially any children who are involved. Convey through your words, facial expressions and general attitude that you are not willing to become engaged in discussions or debates about her past or current relationship with your husband.
Make it clear that you intend, as a stepparent, to be part of a child-rearing team, rather than a competitor or adversary. Acknowledge that, assuming she has primary custody of the children, you will be in a supporting role. Express your willingness to help the children feel secure and well-loved, rather than stressed by tensions between the two households.
Follow through on your stated intention to be an active stepparent. Be as available as your own schedule permits when the children need a ride that neither biological parent is free to give. Attend band concerts, school plays and other events. Remain supportive of the children and friendly toward their mother.
Allow birthdays and holidays to remain relatively stress-free by accommodating your husband's ex-wife's plans as much as possible, acting as a liaison when necessary to ensure that your husband gets time with his children on these occasions. Resist the temptation to let gift giving become a competition.
Avoid backbiting and criticism of your husband's ex-wife. Not only will that cause stress for the children, but it will undermine the relationship you are working to establish with their mother. Keep your negative opinions to yourself, even if they are valid, unless the ex-wife is causing actual harm.
Establish and maintain your own emotional boundaries. Resist any attempt to engage you in negative discussions about your husband or to pull you into ongoing issues.
Say no when necessary. The fact that you want a good working relationship and want to be a good stepparent does not mean you must be a martyr or become the proverbial doormat.
Practice good self-care. However much you wish to be available to your husband and his children and to develop a good working relationship with his ex-wife, nurture yourself as an individual. Focus as well on your relationship with your husband, exclusive of his children and ex-wife.