Working your relationship through the ‘ex’ factor
International actor Will Smith and his just-as-popular wife, Jada Pinkett, have done what many couples are unable to do - live in harmony with the ex-spouse of current partners, and Jada has even managed to cultivate a great relationship with his son out of that union.
However, the reality is that a lot of men and women are very uncomfortable with the ex being in their faces, so much so that they won't even consider fostering that type of respectful friendship. For them, it is inviting trouble, and more often than not, it ends up being a bone of contention in the relationship.
So, as a step-parent, is it possible to live in harmony with your spouse's outside child and ex?
For answers on the issue, Family & Religion reached out to Pastor Joan Gumbs of How Ya Livin' Now Deliverance Outreach Ministries. She shared that the wife's or husband's insecurity or unwillingness to accommodate the ex could depend on the circumstances surrounding the breakup.
"If the breakup was bad, then it is easier to deal with, because the odds are slim that 'old firestick will catch'. However, the problem seems to arise when the breakup was harmonious. But this should not be, Gumds states. "Having an open relationship - and this doesn't mean each person can do as he/she pleases - is the key for a successful and long-lasting relationship," she said, alluding to the Smith's relationship and noting that their willingness to make things smooth for the children ensured things worked out well for all involved.
According to Gumbs, communication and openness will always be the key when it comes to interactions between ex-spouses.
"If some form of visit needs to be done regarding the welfare of the child or children involved, then let your partner know about it," she advised. "You can even invite him/her to accompany you."
It would also be a good move, she shared, to get the partner's input into any decision being taken as it relates to the child.
WORST THING TO DO
Still, she points out, the worst thing a partner can do in a scenario where the ex is active in the picture is to start nagging and acting overly suspicious.
"The real obstacle in the relationship would not be the ex, it would be the spouse's inability to trust his or her partner, and in the end, that would be the biggest factor in driving a wedge between them," she said.
It is for this reason Gumbs emphasised that the element of trust must be exercised in the relationship.
"Trust in a relationship is very important. If your partner is informing you on every decision taken regarding the ex and the element of unbelief is still there, then, clearly, bigger issues are involved," she pointed out.
It is not all gloom and doom as Gumbs said the partner, instead of getting defensive, should invest time in digging deeper to find out the real issue.
"The spouse could be insecure regarding the status of the union, especially at the early stages of marriage - first two years. Or could somehow be feeling as if he or she does not measure up to the ex, especially if in his or her eyes the ex has more money, is more beautiful or outgoing," Gumbs argued, adding that it would be surprising what can trigger insecurities in a relationship.
"It is at this point that reassurances and reminders that your spouse is number one in your life and always will be, should go a long way in boosting confidence and reaffirming your commitment to the relationship," the pastor said.
Other ways of building a harmonious relationship in the union, shared Gumbs, is by ensuring that your spouse is as active in the child's life as the natural parent. Step parents should not be made to feel as though they are the "third wheel". She said it must also be pointed out to the child or children in question that your partner have every right to correct them in love.
Although the Bible does not talk about issues like those in details, the pastor said couples can be guided by its principles. There are also examples of families that did not put God's principles in place and suffered the consequence. Sarah and Hagar comes to mind. The dysfunction in that relationship is still being felt in the Middle East today.
"God, in His infinite wisdom, knew these issues could arise, which is why He gives us laws to follow. Due to sin, we have found ourselves in situations where there are exes left, right, and centre. However, believers should handle themselves with decorum," Gumbs said. The Word of God says, "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report ... think on these things."