Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is when one parent turns the child against the other parent. PAS was first identified by Richard Gardner in 1985. His research shows that the parents who most often engage in alienation are mothers.
Very often we read how PAS affects children and also the parent. What we don’t hear about is how it affects the second wife. Obviously if the children are being conditioned to resent their father there’s a good chance that they will have resentment toward their stepmother as well. The effects of PAS on a stepmother and her marriage go deeper than just being disliked by her stepchildren.
PAS is like a cancer that grows and destroys. The children are victims and their youths get traded in for strong negative feelings typically reserved for adults. They are trained to hate rather than love. They become very loyal to their mothers, behaving as bodyguards.
Children’s natural curiosity gets misplaced by cynicism, their optimism gets replaced by blame and they are groomed to be perpetual victims. Once innocent, cheerful children, the victims of PAS often become aggressive, experience depression and have problems with self-confidence.
When mothers condition children to vilify their fathers, the results often have lasting effects. It can be difficult for these children to learn how to have empathy for others, how to accept others without being hypercritical, and know how to grow healthy relationships.
Fathers go through heartache as their children become estranged, denigrate them and echo their mother’s grievances. Their grief can last for years, particularly when PAS has a permanent hold on the children.
For a second wife, the effects of PAS are felt as well. The more the PAS takes hold, the more distracted and depressed her husband becomes. His grief can make it difficult for him to be in the present and put a strain on the relationship. Depression can influence mood, sex drive, sleep, interests – all things that could affect a marriage.
Often the more he chases his children, the more he gets rejected and his self-confidence can plummet.
This scenario for a stepmother can be overwhelming. It can be very difficult to maintain a loving relationship with a person who is reeling from conflict with his ex-wife and children. An ill-timed call from his ex can turn an otherwise pleasant weekend into one filled with sadness and drama. A skipped visit from the children can leave a father too sad to want to do anything else.
A stepmother’s hands are tied. She has limited to no influence with the biological mother or her stepchildren. As the enemy, all they want is her absence. Afraid of losing his children even more, a father will often choose how he will deal with his ex-wife and children and limit his wife’s input. Left with no way to protect her husband, solve the problem or stop the ex-wife, a second wife is often left on the sidelines watching the rejection repeat itself over and over.
While it’s easy for second wives to feel powerless in this situation, there are some things we can do to keep our marriages healthy and to maintain peace in our lives. Consider the 7 tips below:
- Listen but don’t pry. If you find yourself getting worked up when the ex-wife calls, try leaving the room when she does. If your husband wants to share with you the latest news, allow him to talk about his feelings. Shows him support and avoid the temptation to respond with anger.
- Be encouraging but know your limits. Resist the temptation to take over, lead him into a custody battle or pressure him to do something he’s not comfortable with. Doing so can backfire if it doesn’t work in his favor.
- Plan dates and turn the phones off. If his ex-wife has a habit of calling and starting a fight, protect the time you have out together. Insulate the time you set aside to be together by avoiding negative influences that could ruin it. Agree to not spend your date talking about his children or his ex-wife. Enjoy each other and savor the moments that you have together.
- Encourage him to get help. If your husband seems down for too long and can’t seem to recover, encourage him to see a counselor and offer to go with him.
- Stay on the same team. While you may not always agree with his choices, stay focused on the goal of maintaining a health marriage. Try to find a common ground, maintain a trusting relationship and support each other. His children’s actions may lead you to feel like they are the enemy; however, they are still your husband’s children. Being too critical can create a divide between the two of you.
- Know When to Give Him Space. Your husband may be reeling from more rejection from his children. If he signals to you that he doesn’t want to talk about it, respect his decision. Give him some time and don’t become consumed with the latest situation. This too shall pass. Pushing him to talk if he doesn’t want to could lead to him taking his frustrations out on you. Avoid transitioning the fight between him and his ex, to being between you and your husband.
- Take care of yourself. It’s easy to forget about your own needs when your spouse is hurting. However, if you neglect yourself you won’t be able to help him. Additionally, feelings of depression can influence the mood of everyone in your household. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by your husband, his ex and his children, seek outside help. Consider getting therapy or joining a support group. Keep in touch with friends and family for emotional support.
Communication is key. It can be a delicate balance to listen without reacting, particularly when you see your husband hurting. However, by treating each other with kindness, love and support, you can work through the effects of PAS together.