Vanessa is 51 and divorced. Her teenage daughters are rude and sarcastic to her new partner, and it could end their relationship. Divorce specialist Charlotte Friedman gives her advice
My husband left me for my best friend several years ago. Over the years I have come to terms with it and am now happy and independent with a home of my own.
We have three wonderful children, a boy aged 20 and two daughters aged 16 and 17. They all live with me and have a great relationship with their father. The one thing my ex-husband and I have done well together is made it as easy as possible for the children to see both of us and move happily between us.
The kids see their father a lot and, now that they are older, make their own decisions with him about when they see him. All of us, including the children, are pleased about the way we have worked through this divorce as a family.
However, my ex-husband and I are both very sad and concerned that other aspects of the separation have not worked well.
I have a new partner, who moved in with us in 2010. My son is completely fine with him, but the girls seem to hate him. At first they got on with him, but in the past six months or so, the girls have been saying he doesn’t treat me as they feel I should be treated.
They are rude and sarcastic to him, and accuse him of doing nothing around the house and of not making any valid contribution.
In spite of their antagonism, he is very respectful of them and doesn’t retaliate. But their relationship has deteriorated to such an extent that he doesn’t feel welcome in our house any more.
We both feel helpless. I am hopeless at taking sides, as I feel very torn between them and him. I love him and he loves me, but it has got to a stage now where he is questioning whether we continue as a couple or if he should move away or we should continue our relationship at a distance.
I have suggested counseling but the girls have refused. I do not want to upset them, so it seems that my relationship will slowly disintegrate to keep them happy. Their father has also talked to them, but that has made no difference either.
Reading your email made me wonder about some things. First, I wondered how your daughters have assumed such a parental role in your household (“He doesn’t help enough around the house”). Has something got a little muddled, where you are trying to please them and they are calling the shots?
You have to assume the parental role again, and they need desperately to inhabit their roles as young women who are your children.
In the fear of losing them, you have lost the ability to parent them. They need you to do that. It is not for them to tell him or you how he treats you (so long as it is not abusive) or how involved he should be in the domestic chores in the house.
How much power are you going to give your daughters? They are pushing the man you love out of the house and are well on their way to pushing him out of a relationship with you. That’s not OK.
Put your foot down
I suspect this is not an us or them situation. This is your daughters asking you to put your foot down and establish some boundaries. They are in the process of finding their own feet and becoming independent and leaving home, which they will do soon.
Do you really want to be left without your partner when they have gone to university or left home to live their own lives?
You have to sit down with them and tell them you love this man. Be clear that he is your long-term partner, is not trying – and never will – to replace their father, and that their behavior to him and therefore to you is making you very unhappy.
Tell them you are entitled to your own life and that it would please you very much if they could be nice and polite to him, in spite of their feelings. Explain that you are sure they don’t want to hurt you but that their behavior is doing exactly that.
I think you need to talk this through; not the detail of what he does that they dislike, but the overall effect of their behavior on your life and your relationship. They have too much power, which is not good for them and will make them more aggressive instead of less.
Take back the control and, once you have had the discussion, tell them that this is his home, too. You won’t lose them. They love you, they are your children and they are looking for you to lay down the law a bit.
Charlotte Friedman runs the Divorce Support Group