Transitions: Ex-spouses, Friendships and Blended Families

MtWashingtonChalet.jpgWhen two people get married for the first time, they seldom anticipate ever being part of a blended family. However, blended families, and how we transition into them, are facts of modern life.
 
On the first evening of a recent holiday weekend my wife Eileen and I headed off to a cottage on Mount Washington. About the same time three other cars were en route. Our daughter (Eileen’s) and our two grandchildren arrived. Eileen’s ex husband and his wife arrived with their son and Eileen’s and his son. Then their daughter from Ontario and her toddler arrived in the fourth car.
 
We all had a great time visiting and catching up. It was a gathering of old friends of all ages getting together for a reunion. We are family.
 
Unfortunately, Eileen and I couldn’t stay the weekend because of other commitments.
 
A few months earlier, with news my daughter had died suddenly, I flew back to Ontario. One son met me at the airport and took me to my ex’s home where I stayed until I returned home. She had recently lost her sister and her husband.
 
Although the occasion was a funeral, the gathering was a reunion. We had a festive dinner with my two sons and other daughter, her husband, my granddaughter by my deceased daughter, her husband and my two great grandchildren. The whole affair was friendly, caring and loving. One son followed us back west to spend a holiday with us. We had blended our families!
 
Was it always this way? Of course not!
 
When my ex and I split up, there was a lot of animosity in both directions. It took a few years of separation before we could be friends again. Of course, we stayed involved in our kid’s lives.
 
In Eileen’s case their children were young. Yes, there was betrayal and animosity. But to their credit they both maintained good relationships with the children and supported each other in doing so. Eventually their friendship rekindled.

Within weeks of beginning a relationship with Eileen, I had a meal with Eileen and her ex, his wife, their toddler and the three who would become my stepchildren. They all came with the package.

As we looked back at our transitions, Eileen commented that she had to stand up to pressure from well-meaning friends to “hate him forever.”  I got the same pressure. For myself, after the anger died down, I began to see again the qualities that attracted me to her in the first place. Now she is a friend, as is Eileen’s ex.
 
Eileen and I sometimes reflect on how fortunate we are that our previous marriages ended, however painfully. Our marriages had both reached a point where they just couldn’t go on. If we had stayed no matter what, we both would never have lived the full lives we now live.
 
Likewise, if either of us had dealt with our pasts by trying to deny the existence of ex-spouses, by interfering with the evolving friendships with our partner’s former spouses, or by not emotionally adopting our partner’s children, our lives would have been less. And what poor roll models we would have been to our children!
 
What was the life message each of us had to send to our self? It was simply, “Get over yourself!”
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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide. http://drneillneill.com

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