The Stepmom and the Ex: We’re Bringing Bitchy Back

stepmother bringing bitchy back
Stepmoms and the Ex: Does familiarity breed contempt?
Picture by Anne Taintor

I’m bringing bitchy back

Them other girls don’t know how to act

Sometimes I think that stepmothers and ex-wives should have a t shirt that says, “We’re Bringing Bitchy Back”.  Maybe, I should create a rap video of the same name.  Let’s face it. Many of us act really bitchy towards the ex-wife or partner.  Why is that anyway?  Is it in our DNA?

It comes down to the relationship between women.  What is with us?  Why do we care what we think of one another?  Why do we bring bitchy back when we become stepmothers and exes? Why do we no longer recognize ourselves after step-mothering for awhile?  I bet that the ex feels the same way.

The answer to this question can be found within the boundaries of a courtroom.  Professionals who specialize in choosing jurors researched and learned a profound fact: familiarity breeds contempt. That is, the more we learn about others who remind us of ourselves, the more we dislike them. Huh?  Let me explain.

In doing research for this blog, it reminded me of my divorce court story.
When I got divorced, my case was very simple.  I had custody of my son and I paid all the bills.  My ex had disappeared and did not have a steady job.  How easy is that?  I just wanted the bills split in half.  I owned the home. When I got to court, I was assigned a female judge. The judge was probably around my age and (I found out later) of a similar background. When I saw her, I thought, “This will be easy.  Surely, she’ll understand.  Grant the divorce and treat me fairly.”  The judge looked at me and decided she needed more time. (More time for what???)  She looked everything over and assigned more than half the bills to me because I worked.  How does that happen?

Frustrated, I did a little research into how this could have possibly occurred.  I learned that the judge ruled against me because she related to me.  The more a judge or a juror relates to the defendant, the more they will rule against them.  Why?  They fear for themselves.  They envision themselves in your shoes and do not want to see themselves in that position.  It makes the world too scary.  As a result, jurors and judges will impose impossible standards on the person to whom they identify as being similar to themselves.  When choosing jurors, lawyers will often pick people who are different than their clients because that sense of distance generates more empathy.  From that day on, I vowed that I would only step in front of a male judge, preferably a responsible dad.

The same happens between an ex-wife and the stepmother. By definition, we are similar.  We are both females who have married the same person.  We share children in one way or another.  We are now sharing in-laws and family.  We are similar.  The stepmother sees herself in the ex and harbors fears of being in her shoes. Stepmom does not want to be divorced and will set impossible standards for the ex-wife to meet because we want to be ‘better’ than the previous wife.  The ex-wife does the same to the stepmother.  She fears that the stepmother will replace her.  She is on a campaign to prove that stepmom is not a better version of herself.  Both women desperately want to prove that they are not like the other.  Both women fear for their futures.  Both women want to separate themselves from the other because it is too scary and feels uncontrollable.  Our similarities are what tears us apart.  Remember, “Mirror, mirror on the wall?  Who’s the fairest of them all?”

Did you ever wonder why the relationship between the mom and stepmom does not get better over time?  Could it be that Benjamin Franklin was right?  He said, “Fish and visitors have something in common: Both begin to stink after 3 days.” Studies have shown that, overall, the more people learn about one another, the more they dislike each other.  Consider the idea that many women feel as if they already “know” each other. This ‘knowledge’ makes the aversion towards each other even more powerful.  Think about how a stepmother and ex-wife are constantly hearing about the other one. We learn more and more about each other daily.  (Or, so we think!)  Most of this knowledge is not information that either one of us welcome.  (As a side note, most of the information we receive is incorrect or inaccurate.)

If Ben Franklin is correct, the blended family becomes a hotbed of revulsion as all of this ‘knowingness’ flows in daily.  The more data that is conveyed the more fear builds up in the heart and minds of both women.  It is terrifying for both of us as our expectations for the other grows and grows.  No one can live up to the standards that we have set for each other.  As time goes on, we bring bitchy back. We say, “Them other girls just don’t know how to act.”  The truth is that we girls act similarly.  We know that we are alike in some ways, but will fight to the death to prove otherwise.  We don’t want to acknowledge that we see signs of ourselves and, as we expect excellence from ourselves, we expect it from the ex.  Most of all, we don’t want to be them.

The next time you feel the urge to bring bitchy back, fight the urge. Both you girls know how to act.

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