photo by Candy Box Photos

It’s easy to argue the benefits of loving your spouse and your stepchildren. It’s harder to argue the benefits of loving your spouse’s ex. Whether he or she is friendly or hostile, it’s certainly easiest to pretend they don’t exist. However, if we confess to love God, we don’t get the benefit of choosing who to love in our lives. He tells us to love everyone and so we must. Whether it is easy or difficult, a joyful journey or painful, this command remains.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you learn to be obedient to the command to love even in often very complicated relationship such as with an ex:

1. MAKE GOD A PRIORITY

God intends for us to commune with Him regularly. Humans were created to find their energy and strength from Him. Our #1 purpose in life is to glorify Him- everything else is easier and better when we give Him control.

While focusing on God, we should ask Him to show us the areas in which we need to grow. Loving someone who is difficult to love, or doesn’t want our love, will be much easier if we come from a foundation of humility. Being aware of our own weaknesses and sins will help us see the ex as a fellow sinful person deserving of God’s forgiveness and love. We cannot love them if our heart is hard against them.

2. PRACTICE SELF-CARE

The idea here is to ensure that our tank is never empty by intentionally refilling it on a regular basis. This will look different for everyone. It might look like finding a group of people at our church or in our community who can empathize with us. It might look like a secret stash of the good chocolate buried under the frozen peas. It might look like splurging on a personal trainer at the gym. Whatever you need to do to be the best spouse and stepparent you can be, ask your spouse to help you make it happen.

3. START AT HOME

Studies have shown that children from blended families are three times more likely to need counseling or psychiatric care and are 50 percent more likely to have health issues, according to World Village. The attitude of the parents and stepparents in their lives plays an enormous role in how well the children adapt to their new blended life.

One of the best things we can do for our stepchildren is to love the ex in front of them. Let them talk about her or him with you. Don’t speak negatively about the ex in front of the children. Be aware of facial expressions. Children are extremely perceptive. When our children see that we are not intimidated or in competition with the ex, it frees them from worrying about offending us. They don’t see their two households as enemies.

4. ACCEPT THEM FOR WHO THEY ARE

Remember that no matter what your opinion may be, they are the mother or father of your stepchildren. Often times, their decision holds great weight in the final decision with regards to your stepchild.  In many situations, there is no changing this unless there is abuse and the courts have been involved.  We must make peace with this.

Sometimes when the ex comes across as ruthless and confrontational, this is a defense mechanism. It may be a result of personal regrets, hurts and brokenness that they are nursing. And, we may be one of those hurts. Regardless of who initiated the divorce, we are now living with and loving the person they, at one time, built their life around. And we are loving, parenting, and building a relationship with their children. They are broken and hurting and in need of the love and God, just like us.

5. CONSIDER CONVERSING

The ultimate goal with a blended family is to get to the point where all involved parties are able to communicate and work together to create the best possible situation for the children. Your goal is to support your spouse first in this. If they aren’t ready for this step, then it’s not time yet. Keep praying.

If they are open to conversation, approach the ex carefully and considerately. Keep in mind that they are probably unsure of what to think of you. Just like it’s easier to maintain your bitterness toward them, it’s easiest for them to carry resentment and disdain toward you. Building a relationship is going to take a lot of work for you both. Don’t forget that we should be fighting for the same goal of lovingly raising children into healthy adults. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.

In some cases, the ex may be emotionally unbalanced and you are unable to nurture a healthy relationship with them. They may be defensive or manipulative or extremely confrontational. If this is the case, accept this and set this goal back on the shelf for now.

6. DON’T STOP PRAYING FOR THEM

No matter how you feel about your spouse’s ex, they should be high on your list of people you pray for. They are  the mother or father of your stepchildren and at times can have great influence in your relationship with your them. Most importantly, pray for them because God created them and He loves them as much as He loves you, so they are worth your prayers.

7. DON’T FORGET THE POWER YOU HOLD

Stepparents stand as proof of a broken world. We exist because a great sin or tragedy happened in the lives of people we now love dearly. But we are also a symbol of hope. We hold incredible power to love the scorned, heal broken hearts, and mend shattered dreams. We can be and should be the tools that God uses to bring forth healing because He is a God of redemption.