Separated from my husband because of his daughter

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

My spouse of two years has a 21 year old daughter with whom for the last 10 years of so he has had an extremely heart-wrenching relationship. When we started dating, he told me about how the previous 10 years (after his daughter’s mother left him)with his daughter had been hell. It would take several pages to describe her behaviour, however, in a nutshell it ranges from hitting her head on the wall at age 14 to trashing anybody and everybody on a regular basis, to other family members, on facebook,etc. Most of her venom is directed at her father, who always seems to find a reason to explain her behaviour. Although he’s been the one to describe much of her bad or odd behaviour to me, he refuses to face her whenever she’s unreasonable and now (after telling him a year ago that this would happen), she has decided that I am the reason she doesn’t see more of her dad (she’s a psych student who lives with her BF and has a room at her mother’s (her father has kept her room at his (our) intact for the last 8 years since she left to live with her mother. He told me last month that he endorses her, ie, that he agrees that I’m the one keeping her away. After trying everything I could think of, including visiting a child psychologist for advice (she said the girl has problems and her father has to learn to set boundaries), I finally gave up and told him I had to leave the relationship before the inevitable happened, which would be him hating me for something I have no control over. (One particularly bad episode was last summer when she invited herself along on a 4-day road trip to visit family. On the return trip she exploded in the car (with my mum and 10-year-old daughter in the back seat with her) and accused her father of everything imaginable. Apparently this was triggered by her not getting to go to (yet another) fancy restaurant .. anyway, I’ve left him and he’s saying that the issue is between us and just refuses to bring his daughter into it. But my question for my own peace of mind is: How can someone who claims that I am the love of his life (we dated 30 years ago and he said so back then too) not be willing to face the true issue here (even an astrologer told him his daughter had the power to destroy his life when he had his chart read as a goofy birthday gift)and what can I say to myself to get through this intact? Thanks.

A: This situation is part of coping with blended families.  I have seen a dramatic increase in the last several years with exactly this issue. I am glad you asked about this emerging problem.

Your husband is enabling his daughter’s behavior by excusing the inexcusable to assuage his own guilt.  This makes the situation worse, not better.

His daughter has everyone and everything in orbit around her.  This is not good for you or your husband, and it sets up a very dangerous precedent. Her inability to appreciate the needs of others is deficient. It is easy to predict what will happen.  She will systematically be dissatisfied and use anger and intimidation to try to force people into doing what she wants.  The impact of this is to eventually alienate herself from others. Some of this has already happened. You leaving meets her needs, but destroys the relationship between you and her father. In the long run your husband is likely to end up with a poor relationship with his daughter, and none with you.

There is nothing you can do but exactly what you have done.  This isn’t your issue to fix, and by setting a boundary for your husband’s lack of responsibility in this matter you have left the issue where it belongs: with him.

If it were possible to get in to see a good family therapist I would make an appointment as soon as possible. If not, couples therapy would be a good idea. The find help tab above will help you locate one in your area. But the child psychologist was exactly right.  If your husband doesn’t change his behavior with his daughter, there is little to go back to.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Sep 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Separated from my husband because of his daughter. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/09/05/separated-from-my-husband-because-of-his-daughter/

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