Q: My partner of almost 8 years has two daughters, aged 15 and 18. He met me while he was still married to their mother. He has been divorced now for nearly 5 years. They have never met me, apparently having refused to do so and my partner does not know how to change their mindsets. Their mother also refuses to acknowledge my existence.
The daughters live with their mother, but my partner has joint custody. He sees them most days, either at her house or somewhere else, but never at our house. He takes them on all school holidays. Because he cannot bring them to stay with us, he travels with them, often overseas to Europe or North America. They have been resisting the travel more and more. He feels that it is better to get them to see the world and widen their horizons, coming, as they do, from a small town on a small island.
On the last trip last month they went to the US (my country) for over 3 weeks. When he came back, I found out by accident that his ex-wife had accompanied them on this trip to Hawaii, LA and Alaska. I was not spying on him. I have always trusted him. I found out when his briefcase, which he had left in the walk in closet in the bedroom, fell over when I was putting it up on the shelf so that the area could be vacuumed and all the receipts fell out and there was his ex-wife’s name on the cruise receipt!
I was devastated. When I confronted him, he said his kids had refused to go unless their mother went with them. He did not have trip insurance and did not want to lose the money. He said that his ex-wife and he did not share a cabin or a room and did not spend much time together at all on the cruise. She was angry that she was even there. He told me he was afraid to tell me what was going on before he left because he knew I would forbid it. So he did it behind my back.
I now feel that I can’t trust him. Even before this event, I was considering getting counseling because this relationship (or lack of) with his kids is killing me. He plainly adores them and they are cruel and mean to him (and their mother, apparently). The oldest called her mother a “kitchen bitch” and told him to eff off. Both parents have refused to set boundaries for their kids and have allowed their kids to run their lives. For example, the mother, plainly not wanting to go, went anyway instead of telling her kids that should just go and appreciate the experience and honor the time-sharing arrangements with their father. And my partner keeps groveling to them and bribing them. He is already talking about the next trip he plans.
Right now he feels terrible about lying to me and knows how much he has hurt me. He wants to make amends. It seems to me that I should use this opportunity to get him to get some help. I love him and want this to work, but don’t think I can continue to live with this situation where the kids manipulate him and us. I also worry about the trust in our relationship. I fear that he will endanger our relationship again to do what his kids demand. Advice please?
A: You are in a tough spot. Eight years is a lot to throw away but it’s also a long time to wait for things to change, and they obviously have not.
It would be more encouraging if this latest issue had not happened. I might say the kids are almost grown and maybe things will get better once they are adults because many times they do. However, he now lied to you — or at least withheld crucial information for fear of your reaction. I don’t know about you but for me honesty is a must in a partnership. If you don’t have trust what do you have? It’s a make or break deal for me.
I always suggest that we all have bottom lines of what we will and will not accept and work through. This sounds like you are at one of those crossroads in which you have to make a tough decision about going forward or not. If you have been together 8 years and he is still not setting boundaries with his kids I doubt he will any time soon, which in some ways tells you where you rate with him. I can’t tell you what to do but I can ask if you want to continue being second fiddle to his kids. That may sound harsh but they are teens and are obviously calling the shots.
How do you want to be treated? If you aren’t getting it, then maybe it’s time to move on. Or at a minimum, it’s time for some couples therapy. Good luck.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Aug 2007
Counts, H. (2007). Problem with husband’s children and trust.. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 6, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/08/16/problem-with-husbands-children-and-trust/