I just asked my wife how long she has been a stepmom. She knew almost down to the second. “Four years, four months and four days.” She’s done a lot in her life — run half marathons, earned a master’s degree, even changed the oil on fifty trucks a day for a summer job, but nothing has challenged her as much as being a stepmother to my two boys who come every weekend.

She has risen to the challenge remarkably, but it’s been a journey. Sometimes she has felt alone and misunderstood. To stand by her, I’ve had to figure out what she really needs from me. Having a blended family is still incredibly hard, but our teamwork and communication has gotten a whole lot stronger.

Here are 10 things to remember as you support your wife as a stepmom:

1. She needs time to grow in unconditional love.

This kind of love is twice as hard for her. It doesn’t flow naturally in her veins for your kids. You are able to forgive and have patience with them much more easily because they’re your flesh and blood. Don’t expect her to be a bubbling, joyful, loving stepmother all the time. Give love time to grow.

2. She needs you to listen patiently to her disappointments.

She is always settling for less than she hoped for. You may have been a great catch, but what tagged along shattered some of her dreams. No woman dreams of sharing finances between two households, or of always having another woman’s schedule and decisions affect her life. Her romantic ideals did not include having dates with you interrupted with text messages from your ex.

3. She needs you to be her cheerleader, not her critic.

The “evil stepmother” is the exception, not the norm. Most stepmoms work really hard at their role. They want this messy thing called the blended family to actually work. Your wife is probably already trying to improve. She might even feel like a failure. If you have to bring up a recurring problem, do it over a romantic dinner and first tell her how amazing she is.

4. She and the kids need time to work out their relationship themselves.

Men like to fix things but when it comes to blended family relationships, this can really backfire. Well-intentioned suggestions are easily taken as implied criticism and can make a stepmother feel bad about herself. It can also feel pushy to her and the kids. At the root of such suggestions is often frustration and impatience. This isn’t something you can fix quickly.

5. She needs your back-up.

Stepmoms don’t gain respect the instant they form a new family unit. Respect is usually earned over the long haul. If she corrects the kids or says ‘no’ to their latest request, tell them, “You heard what your stepmom said!” If you disagree, tell her privately and gently. If the kids act defiantly toward her, make sure they know you are just as much a part of the decision. Form a united front and don’t budge.

6. She needs you to notice her efforts.

It’s always a good idea to show appreciation to your partner, but when she’s a stepmom, it’s even more vital. She may not receive hugs and kisses or “I love yous” from the kids too often. Model appreciation: “Thank you for cooking this amazing dinner for us!” Remind your kids to say “thank you” as well. When you’re alone together, layer on the praise and be specific. “You sure work hard at putting those lunches together for school.” “Thank you for being so patient when this place becomes a zoo each weekend.”

7. She needs you to listen without taking things personally.

I’m sure you’ve been there—your partner is upset and telling you all about it, but then you suddenly get defensive. Your pride takes a hit because you’ve begun to take it personally. You feel like she’s asking for a life that you can’t provide. When this happens, remember she’s not attacking you. She just needs to express and process her frustrations with blended family dynamics. Keep your skin thick but your heart soft.

8. She needs you to respect her view of the situation.

Your take on the situation is incomplete. The way you see things has been shaped by your past experiences with your former spouse. You also have an array of emotions that affect how you communicate with your ex. Your partner can offer fresh perspective and valuable wisdom as you navigate decisions as a team or try to solve conflicts with your former spouse. She’ll feel validated when you seek her advice.

9. She needs a place to call her own.

Kids have a way of taking over a house. Every room becomes a playground and it can feel like they only have two volumes — loud and louder. We all need space to stay sane, but as a stepmom, your wife needs it even more. She may not be used to the chaos. Carve out an area that’s just for her and off limits to the kids, or buy her a new reading chair for your bedroom. Then she’ll have more energy to offer the family.

10. She needs you all to herself more than once in awhile.

With the divorce rate for second marriages even higher than for first marriages, it is crucial that you carve out time to be together. Book a night away. Keep a regular date night. Take a trip occasionally. Make sure to schedule it or it won’t happen. When you get away, just focus on each other. Don’t talk about the mess. Only respond to emergency calls or texts. Protect your time together so you can stay together and beat the odds.

As you work at remembering and prioritizing your wife’s needs, she will feel respected, understood and cared for. She will become even more motivated to become the very best stepmother she can. Your marriage will become a source of strength and joy as you face even the toughest challenges in your blended family, and your kids will have a greater sense of security as they witness what a healthy marriage looks like.

Our new marriage was already on the rocks. Read my story — Remarriage: Oversized Baggage.

This article was written by: Mike Jantzen

Photo Credit: Andy Malmin