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I’ve been married to my husband for about a year. I don’t have any children, but he has three children who stay in our home several times a month as part of the shared custody arrangement he has with his ex-wife. I get along well with his kids and it seems like they feel good about me. I try to make our home a comfortable and welcoming place for them when they are here. My frustration is not necessarily the kids, but what happens to my husband when they are here. As soon as they arrive, it’s as if we’re not even married anymore. He schedules things that don’t include me, he won’t acknowledge me when I enter the room if he’s hanging out with them, and he generally becomes more cold and aloof toward me. It’s so confusing and frustrating. I thought our marriage was strong, but I’m beginning to wonder how strong it is. He doesn’t seem to recognize this when I bring it to his attention. I’m not sure what to do.
Divorce, remarriage, and blending a family is disorienting for even the most earnest and aware parent. There are genuine efforts to meet all of the competing demands and be there for those they love. However, it’s more common to have difficulties and messiness as the process unfolds. I have no doubt that your husband is a great partner and probably a great father, but isn’t sure how to blend the two worlds.
The fact that he doesn’t recognize these patterns isn’t all that uncommon. We all have blind spots and believe we are doing the best we can. The bigger question is whether or not he is open to your feedback and influence. When you bring these concerns to his attention, does he dismiss them as unimportant? If he’s open to your observations and feelings, then stay with it and continue to work with him until it’s working for everyone.
It’s understandable that you would feel shocked and confused when he becomes consumed with his children’s affection at your expense. I know this will be difficult for you, but I encourage you to not play small and shrink away. Own your place in this family and move toward your husband and his children instead of pulling back. If they don’t want you there, then that conversation needs to happen. My guess is that they aren’t actively rejecting you, but instead, clueless about the need to include you.
For example, if he schedules something without you, let him know you want to attend with them. If they’re playing a game and don’t acknowledge you when you walk in the room, sit down and ask if you can join. Continue to pull your husband aside in private moments and let him know how important it is for you to be included, even though they are in your home.
Your husband has membership in two cultures (your marriage and his children) and ideally should be the bridge between them. However, if he’s slow to respond or doesn’t have the skill set to know how to pull this off, don’t be afraid to jump in and be part of this new world.
Make sure you don’t join in these interactions with resentful or “poor me” attitude. This isn’t a time to be dramatic in front of the children. Save your frustrations for your private talks with him and let the children see that you’re glad to be with them. The children aren’t doing anything wrong by not including you.
Also, please recognize that it’s okay for your husband to have time alone with his children that doesn’t include you. They share a history and culture that was threatened by the divorce and remarriage. Sometimes the children need a break from trying to figure out a new relationship with their stepparent and just want to relax and be with what feels familiar to them. It’s a sacrifice for you, but it’s a generous offering you can make to allow him and these children adjust to all of the changes that have happened in their lives. He may not even know that he’s unintentionally creating these conditions, so let him know you support it when he feels he needs that time alone with them.
Keep talking about this with your husband. Don’t go silent and make conclusions about him or his children. Ask him to stay open to your feelings while you work to be flexible with the adjustments everyone is making in this new family configuration.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.