My wife, Tammy, and I had finished leading a seminar for blended families when a couple asked to speak with us. Nathan, the husband, began to talk about his daughter and the issues he and his wife, Kayla, were facing. At the mention of her stepdaughter’s name, Kayla’s demeanor immediately changed, so her words were no surprise: “His daughter is the apple of his eye! She always comes first!” Nathan heard a direct assault on his child, but Tammy and I heard the stealthy attack of jealousy.
Feelings of jealousy can drive stepparents to compete with a stepchild for their spouse’s attention. To make matters worse, the shame and embarrassment of feeling jealous of a child may keep stepparents from speaking about it until they’re ready to give up. Here are three suggestions for keeping jealousy at bay:
Focus on the root of the problem.
Although a child may be the object of jealousy, a sense of loss is probably the basis behind that emotion. A jealous stepparent focuses on something the child has that the stepparent does not — whether real or imagined. The spouse is likely jealous of the amount of time the biological parent is spending with his or her kids or jealous of their close relationship. If the biological parent is defensive or dismissive in the face of a spouse’s concerns, he or she isn’t responding effectively to the root of the problem — the need to give focused attention to the jealous spouse, offering reassurance that he or she is the top priority.
Jealousy thrives when expectations of parenting and marital roles are unspoken. But you can clearly define your roles by focusing on key issues such as when each of you will spend time with your biological children, when you will spend time as a couple without the children, and what happens when your parenting and marriage responsibilities collide.
Speak words of commitment and encouragement.
Many people are deeply wounded from a past divorce. Bringing those wounds into a new marriage creates a breeding ground for jealousy. You can help bring healing to your spouse and curb jealousy by frequently sharing words of encouragement and commitment. Your spouse will feel more confident in your relationship when you sincerely tell him or her, “You’re the most important person in my life.”
Todd Gangl leads Joseph Stepfamily Ministries with his wife, Tammy.
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