My husband and I have been together nine years. We were both married before and ended up cheating on our spouses, which is how we ended up together. Even though we both regret doing that to our families, all these years later, we’re still together and have a good marriage. We’ve tried to make amends with his children, but they still treat me like the other woman. We have gone through years of small, loving, slow steps, where for the most part, I still have been rejected, kept away, or kept at-bay. We’ve moved forward, hoping that time will heal, provide forgiveness, and soften their hearts. We’ve supported his children’s relationships, finances, marriages, and now, the first grandchild. His daughter only wants him to come visit their new child. He told her that we would come visit the grandchild, which was upsetting to her. My husband and I have had many talks and feel his children are being disrespectful to him, his life, and me. We feel he needs to have a face-to-face with them so we can have a truthful and realistic starting point for where to go from here and what’s acceptable and what’s not. But it just isn’t happening for him. He says he will talk with them but does nothing so he doesn’t stir things up while they might be getting better. I know this man truly loves me but is admittedly conflicted about taking a stand for us. I feel uncared for about this and don’t know how to help move us out and forward.
Even though nine years seems like a long time for his children to hold a grudge against you, it’s important to stay accountable and honest about what really happened. You both were a significant part of dismantling the family his children counted on for safety and stability. You don’t get to decide how quickly they should heal. I understand that you and your husband have moved on and built a life you love. His children have also adapted and built lives that make sense to them. Each family is doing what makes sense to them, so let’s talk about how you can respond to them.
You were able to move forward and redefine your life with your new husband. This was something you both controlled. On the other hand, children who go through divorce are completely powerless. They don’t get to have a say. Their parents make the decisions about where they will live, who they will spend time with, and what their life will look like. From a child’s point of view, divorce is one of the most unfair things that could happen to them.
I recognize that some divorces are necessary. However, after counseling with couples and families for almost twenty-five years, it’s my believe that most divorces are preventable if adults would take personal accountability for their behaviors and do the work necessary to make individual changes and build a healthy marriage. It takes tremendous personal humility, unselfishness, sacrifice, and commitment to build a strong marriage. I don’t know the circumstances around your divorces, but I do know that infidelity is a choice that produces a train of consequences that don’t always disappear after nine years.
Instead of demanding that these children respect you, I recommend you offer compassion and work to understand what it must be like to have their parents’ marriage fall apart because of another woman. Additionally, introducing a new grandbaby to the family can upset whatever emotional balance they were able to achieve. It creates strong feelings joy and happiness along with feelings of loss and grief. Elizabeth Marquardt found in her longitudinal research on adult children of divorce that even decades after their parents divorced, most adult children still hoped their parents would reunite.[i] This new baby might be a reminder that the family isn’t intact anymore.
If you feel compassion and sorrow for the impact this affair had on them years ago, then I recommend you support her wishes with her new baby and show her that you don’t have one ounce of entitlement. This moment doesn’t have to be about your husband making a stand for his relationship with you. You guys already did that nine years ago when you formed your relationship. You had your time to show the world that you were a couple. Now, it’s your time to make this about her new little family. Don’t put your husband in the middle of having to choose between her and you.
If you want her to feel close to you, then show her the appropriate accountability and respect that she needs to feel safe with you. She needs to know you’re not a threat to her and that even though you’re going to stay married to her dad, you understand how hard your presence in the family still is for her. You can write her a note expressing your joy for her new baby while also acknowledging the sadness and loss you imagine she’s feeling. She must live with these opposing realities and your willingness to join her in that will be more honest and compassionate than expecting her to embrace you and move on.
It’s true that forgiveness, letting go, and acceptance will improve her life. You and your husband aren’t going to be the people who pressure her to get there in any certain timeframe. Your accountability and compassion will go a long way toward improving conditions. And, if she never warms up to you, then recognize that all you can control is how you respond. My hope is that she’ll eventually warm up to you, but it may not happen as quickly as you had hoped.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] See the book, “Between Two Worlds”, by Elizabeth Marquardt