Second Place to His Mom?
Q: I have been married to my husband for two years. I have two boys and he has a boy and a girl, and we all live together in their house. When we argue, he talks about me to his children and his mother (who lives nearby). He told his pre-teen daughter that I don't love her and that I never did, which hurt me very much. My husband is in the military and comes home on the weekend, so I have the children all week. His comment makes it hard for me to regain authority because if she asks me if she can go here or have this, if I say no she would think I don't love her. I don't have family here in the country. I want to move from the house he shared with his ex-wife, but I don't think he wants to leave his mother. He constantly puts me second to his mother and children. I feel abandoned. I just started working again so I am trying to save money, but it's hard because he doesn't leave money home so I have to use the little I have for my bills. What should I do? -- Dana, 37
Dr. Susan: I fear you're in a bind that is going to require work and compromise on both sides, assuming you can get your husband to pay attention to your distress. Stepfamilies can be very challenging, and you and your husband have already done some things that are making it much harder than it had to be. First, you're living in his old house, which is not ideal. It may not be possible to move now, due to his reluctance to make that drastic a change (and leave his mother). But you can put your stamp on this house by doing some simple redecorating and getting rid of more of the old stuff he shared with his wife. (Allow his kids to choose some of their old familiar pieces for their own rooms.)
Second, and most importantly, he has to be more supportive of your weekday parenting. He ought to let his kids know that you're doing your best to make a happy family with them, and even if you might have been upset with them in the past, it didn't mean you didn't cherish them. He must support your authority, and you need to try to leave actual disciplining of his own kids to him, whenever possible. Don't let his daughter have her way in everything just because you're afraid she will think you don't love her. Explain to her, preferably in the presence of your husband and with his agreement, that you're doing what's best for her, even if that's not exactly what she might want in the moment. Beyond those few actions, you can only ask him to see a family counselor with you, or at least talk openly with you, in private, about how unhappy you are and how unloved you feel. Actually, it sounds like everyone is having a hard time, so try to be sympathetic to his side also, as hard as that might be. Good luck!
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Advice for Her
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.