Question

My husband has a daughter from his previous marriage who is eight years old. I also have an eight-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. In the beginning of our relationship everything was absolutely great!! We were totally on the same page with all parenting issues. Well, here we are three years in, and I’ve noticed something has changed completely with his relationship with my daughter. He spoils his daughter I think due to regret about his divorce. She is so whiny and gets her way no matter what the situation. Don’t get me wrong, as I spoil my own daughter. I mean, what parent doesn’t, right? However, it’s to the point where every argument between our daughters starts from his daughter and then my daughter finishes it. His daughter will completely push every button my daughter has and then at the end of the argument my daughter is always the one who gets punished. His daughter runs crying to us tattling over everything and he tells me I need to straighten her out.

My husband also ignores the house rules for his daughter around schoolwork. He doesn’t care if she doesn’t do her homework right. I require her to sit down and complete it correctly and he gets upset at me for parenting his daughter. I’m getting to a point to where I almost resent her because she has literally ruined my happiness that I once had with him. We are constantly battling out who’s right and who’s wrong. It ends with neither one of the kids getting in trouble because we’re arguing and not getting along. Every time I try to talk to him about it or point out things that I would appreciate, he gets so furious with me and turns everything around on me. He also points out every bad thing my child does but whenever it’s his child that does something it’s still my child’s fault. I’m at a loss of what to do.

Answer

You and your husband certainly have a difficult and wonderful opportunity to raise two same-age daughters together. I’m sure you both imagined it looking very differently when you joined your families together. Let’s talk about how you can not only strengthen your daughters’ relationship, but more importantly, help you and your husband unify your efforts and heal your marriage.

You’re correct that the long-term trauma of divorce is hard to measure and can impact parents and children for years. Many divorced parents are often hesitant to discipline their children for fear of losing their connection with them or having their child choose the other parent. Obviously, this isn’t healthy, but it’s common and can be addressed through compassionate conversations.

Instead of fighting your husband on this, you might ask some thoughtful questions to see how he has been impacted by his divorce and how it impacts his feelings towards his daughter. You can let him know that you have misjudged him in the past and you want to understand him better. You don’t need to ask these questions to only have things go your way. It’s more important for you to understanding his struggle so you can better support him as he parents his daughter.

Of course, it’s also important for you to examine your parenting values and beliefs. Some parents become more passive in the aftermath of divorce and other parents become more strict and controlling. Instead of trying to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong, see if you can work together to find common ground for the benefit of these girls. ask your husband if you can call a timeout on the parenting gridlock and start over by learning how to work better together in this blended family.

There are great books, courses, and other resources to help blended families. For example, you can take a free step parenting online course through the Utah State University Extension (https://extension.usu.edu/hru/courses/smart-steps-for-stepfamilies). You and your husband don’t have to struggle to figure this out on your own. There are effective strategies you can implement about how to best navigate blending your two families.

As you already noted, the biggest struggle here isn’t the relationship between your two daughters. It’s the relationship you have with your husband. Your daughters will respond to whatever unified front you give them. They are still very young and can learn how to respond to each other and each of you as parents in a loving environment.

Sibling rivalry is normal and doesn’t have to split your marriage. Conflicting loyalties are normal in blended families, but you can learn how to manage your own reactions and check your assumptions and biases so you don’t pit yourself against your husband. Instead of trying to resolve individual issues, I strongly encourage you to spend your energy and time as a couple building a strong foundation for blending your worlds. You’ve had three years of learning, growth, and experiences to help you better appreciate and understand the needs of your family.

Instead of criticizing your husband for how he treats his daughter, let him know that more than anything you want to have a close marriage and so you can both provide stability for your daughters. Take responsibility for your own feelings of resentment and struggle with these situations. Ask him if he’s willing to work with you as a team instead of trying to blame and criticize each other’s approaches. It’s always more effective to invite someone to a better place rather than criticize where they’re stuck.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]  

Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument

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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.