So here’s the thing; all those articles and advice about not being accepted as a new stepmum, about being made to feel like the other woman, they absolutely ring true for you. Because it is true, you were the other woman.
I once read an article dealing with stepmother exclusion. In it were the words “of course you didn’t cause the break up (or at least, let’s hope you didn’t!)”.
The calling out of women in such a way was dismaying, as was the bold assumption it was making that anyone who had “caused a breakup” (a problematic term in itself) would not be looking for the sort of sage advice it was offering. It was a made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it sort of assumption, which is something we come across all too often as stepmothers, and we know painfully well how damaging such an un-empathetic generalisation can be.
Come on girls, the stats are already massively stacked against us in every aspect of our lives (read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez), let’s not lynch each other for circumstances we probably know very little about.
Home Wrecker is a very old fashioned, sexist term which has no place here. It’s a term historically designed to blame the crimson women who lured their poor unsuspecting male prey to their inevitable cheating doom.
Whilst I cannot condoning cheating, having been on the other end of it more times than I can count (bad judgement in my youth), you’re not here for excuses. You know it was wrong, that’s why you have that gnawing knot in your stomach, and you have a lot to deal with internally without all of society lumbering you with the sole responsibility of everyone else’s pain.
It might genuinely have been you that made your other half realise that happiness lay elsewhere, or maybe you came along just as the relationship was ending and the timing was just slightly premature.
Either way, it happened and now you’re looking for a way to move forwards. Kendall Rose’s The Stepmoms’ Club has a great section in chapter 3 about the sorts of situations you might be blaming yourself for. Her advice, which I’m very much inclined to agree with, is “get over it” (being the guilt).
And that is why I’m setting out the following roadmap to help you navigate the early days and murky waters of Being The Other Woman. It’s not going to be easy, but if you’re in this for the long haul (and if you’re not, get out, get out now!) then let’s boldly step forth.
The sex was wild. The chemistry was off the charts. Physical or emotional, it was completely irresistible to both of you and the consequences seemed a small price to pay for the happiness you brought to each other.
But now reality has hit, people you’ve not even met have started shouting, your partner is hurting in ways they can’t yet communicate to you, and whilst you will not accept that being together is a mistake, the circumstances now seem less than ideal.
Just as it’s highly unlikely that you planned on becoming a stepmother (although actually, it’s not unheard of), you probably didn’t plan on being the focus of so much bad feeling. There is nothing quite like the hate that women can hurl at each other when they feel wronged; the pitch forks are out and they hurt, dammit! This is not how you saw the love of your life coming about, and it is time to acknowledge that.
The honeymoon period is prematurely over, so take a deep breath, feel the fight or flight response to your fear as the deep end comes rushing up to meet you. The next days, months and even years are going to be difficult in ways that are not yet obvious, and you have permission to feel really sad about that.
If you have a sympathetic friend or family member, now is the time to call them. Be prepared for “I told you so”, or “you did WHAT?!”, but take the tough love and talk about it. It’s very important to have an outlet outside of your relationship in these early stages.
Write it all down; all the dirty details, what you’re sorry about, what you’re not sorry about. Write how you’re feeling right now. Read it, and then tear it up and throw it away (or burn it, if you’re inclined towards the dramatic).
If your phone, email and social media platforms are all blowing up, don’t fight it. Now is not the time to be on the defensive. Accept that you are not going to be the topic of happy conversation with the people in your partner’s life right now and instead, if you can, turn it all off and take a breather. There will be a time and place for those that matter to have their say, and (hopefully) for the laying of your bridges’ starting blocks.
This isn’t to say that you can’t block those people you genuinely don’t have any connection to; I once got likened to a dog under another woman’s table, eating her scraps, by someone I’d never even come across before. She was very much misinformed, in all senses of the word, but even if she hadn’t been she would still have been straight on that block list.
Do, however, bear in mind that there’s a difference between accepting the criticism you’re owed, and becoming the subject of bullying and harassment.
A sustained campaign of hatred, which doesn’t just say its piece and move on, can cause enormous stress, anxiety and mental health issues, and is not to be tolerated. Let your partner in on your experiences, and turn to professional support to look after your mental wellbeing. The National Bullying Helpline has some useful resources, including advice on cyberbullying and online harrassment.
3. Move On
You’ve worked hard to accept your culpability in what happened on an individual level, and to deal with the initial onslaught of negativity thrown your way (some of it deserved, some of it not).
Now is the time to take refuge in your new relationship, and to make a plan as a couple about your future together. These situations do not lend themselves well to a ‘wait and see’ attitude; you would not be dealing with the grief unless you were serious about each other, so own it and work at it from the get go. And if your partner isn’t stepping up at this point, it’s time to ask some difficult questions, because there is no other way through this; you are partners in crime now, and you have to be there for each other.
Look inwards and concentrate on building beautiful and strong foundations out of difficult beginnings. I may be hammered by the virtue police for saying this, but let the naysayers talk – it’s your relationship and yours only. Once you’ve got through that initial hurricane, the following article is for you. Good luck, stepmumma, you’ve got this.