Why is it that DH doesn’t understand that just because ss19 is treating everyone with disrespect that I shouldn’t be upset about it? I don’t have the unconditional love as the BM and DH have with the son so when it’s directed at me, even if it was the same two minutes before with DH, it hurts because I am afraid of losing what I have spent several years building with ss. I also get angry and respond in a way that I shouldn’t, (maybe saying something hateful or yesterday I actually slammed a door). I talked to DH about things and I get the same old, “they’re just teens, he is dealing with something and he treats everyone that way, don’t take it personally!” What? How do you not take it personally?
In addition DH seems to get mad when I try to explain to him how I feel. He says he isn’t mad but the little pulsing muscle in his jaw is telling me he is so upset with what I’m saying he would rather stick a sock in my mouth than help me deal with my feelings.
I also get very upset about not having time with my DH. If he isn’t at work the SSs (2 ss14 and ss19) are with him. SS19 moved in about a year ago and there was never any discussion about it, one day he just came over and never left. Ok. But I didn’t exactly sign up for that when I married my DH. Roll with it, I have and now I’m feeling a little discouraged with the way things are. I don’t like feeling rejected, disrespected and unwanted in my own home. I work very hard and long hours and I feel like I should come home to a less stressful situation.
SS14 is unable to make decisions and unwilling to say what he wants which lead to the door slamming yesterday because as he was saying I don’t know in answer to my question he was answering me by not responding with a yes or no and doing exactly what he wanted without telling me what he was doing. ie leaving the dog with me to care for while he left with SS19. This is fine except I feel like he should have just said will you keep the dog instead of telling me I don’t know 5x when asked if he was taking the dog with him. Now this sounds so picky but it isn’t the dog that is the issue it’s the consist inability of setting a plan and confirming that it’s ok before dropping the bomb and everyone having to work around the schedule without being asked and without being given notice.
BM is the same way so I guess he gets it from her. DH complains all the time about the ss19 not taking responsibility for things but never does anything about it and certainly doesn’t do what he says he’s going to do about any of it.
I want to disengage from all of it. Speak when spoken to which means I get to be very quiet. Stop doing everything for everyone and not get anything in return. Thank you’s are not common. I’m just expected to do what I’ve always done, cook, clean, wash clothes and make sure everyone gets everything they want as soon as I can possibly arrange for them to have it.
I want one of these three males in my life to acknowledge what I do and why and to do something for me, anything, just make sure they say I did this for you because I love you, I respect you, I appreciate you.
I want my DH to stop buying gifts for me or MIL to stop buying gifts for me and pawning it off as the boys wanted me to have it, as if they had any idea that it was being purchased for me at all. B’day, C’mas and M’day gifts. Sure I appreciate the gifts, I don’t appreciate the implication or out right lie that the boys had anything to do with the thought or the purchase. I don’t believe it. The kids have learned how to use me and make me feel obligated to take care of whatever they want or need without being asked to do or thanked for doing it.
I guess I’m on here today because I feel that my DH doesn’t understand that he can’t make me feel loved by his sons by telling me they are not treating me any different than everyone else or by pretending that his thoughtfulness was actually theirs. I want them to care about me and let me know it on their own and I want my husband to command respect from them for himself and for me. These are good kids and I want them to have a good life and not turn into kids with their hands out for help every time they don’t want to take care of themselves.
What can you tell me? Sincerely, “Looking for Advice”
Dear Looking for Advice,
You have a very complex situation going on. I really feel for you for there was a time when I felt much of what you describe here. The issues you bring up are common, hurtful and very important. Thanks for writing to me. Given the time and space I have to reply, let me break your letter into a couple of parts (dealing with your stepsons and dealing with your husband) and let’s see how much we can cover in this hour together.
Rereading your letter, there are a few themes going on in the situations you describe:
Wanting to have your feelings understood, valued and supported by your husband.
Wanting more quality time with your beloved.
Feeling respected by your stepsons and looking for new ways to respond to them
Looking for ways to respond to all the things that happen, that are out of your control.
Wanting to find ways to feel safe, loved and respected in your home home.
Now as you can see, these are all topics that we could spend hours and hours on. I say this because I want to help you AND I want you to know I honor the “bigness” of each issue recognizing I can’t give them all justice here. Where to start?
Let’s talk about your stepsons and their impact on you first. Here are a few ideas and insights that may help you: I’m going to number the sections to make it easier to separate the ideas.
1. You’re right that their disrespectful behavior is going to have a different impact on you than on their bio-parents. Good for you to see that. While it’s always terrific when our husbands stand up for us and set boundaries and consequences for their kids’ actions, “divorce guilt” and “father fears” can blind our husband’s to our needs and their responsibilities to us-which we’ll talk more about soon. The key thing right now is for you to find things you can control…your actions and your attitude. In my experience there are 2 things that you can do about this situation. Learn more about teens (which will impact your actions and attitude towards them) AND help the parts of you who feel hurt and angered by their actions.
2. To learn more about Teens, I highly recommend the book, “Get out of my life, but first could you take me and Cheryl to the Mall.” It’s by Anthony Wolfe and worth it’s weight in gold. One concept that jumps out at me is his explanation that teen boys prefer to disconnect from their parents (you are in this category) While girls prefer to stay connected even when the connection is arguing). He suggests the adults look at all the times the hurtful behavior from the teens comes from our attempt to connect with them. If so, one way to reduce some of the “guff” we get from them is by resisting the urge to connect via questions, trying to talk with them about their day, etc. Even though it’s showing interest and you’re trying to be loving and kind, all they want to be left alone and in charge of the times they will connect with us.
When I stopped trying to connect with my stepson, the opportunities for him to lash out were greatly reduced and I was less hurt because there was no interaction. You can take this one idea and see how many times you feel hurt by their reply to YOUR instigating connection. Hear me, you are not wrong but it is kind of like dealing with a rapid dog, you would approach with caution, even though they were once very sweet. You would take measures to protect yourself. Knowing they are looking for solitude and that it’s not personal, perhaps you can save yourself from some future hurtful reactions.
3.You ask, how do you not take their hurtful behavior personally? Good Question. Several ways to do that-harder to do at times than others. As you understand more about what they’re thinking and how they see the world, you’ll become wiser about finding ways to connect that work well for you both. If you read the Smommentary about “Dealing with Disrespectful Teens” you’ll get a therapist’s suggestions for ways to be consistent and this is something you may wish to print out for your husband as well. Her major issue is to not let them have the power. They have the power when we give it to them and I found her suggestions about when to walk away and not talk very helpful. I’m one who has always believed anything could be resolved by talking it out, I’ve since learned there’s also power in not talking. Please check that out for some more ideas.
4.I’m wondering if it’s time for you to begin saying “No.” Yes, I understand you want to be included however the all too common result of our enthusiasm is that we begin to feel more like maids, than wives and Stepmoms. We grow up looking forward to one day being in charge of our home and then find ourselves indentured help. This is an enraging and hurtful place to find ourselves. Been there, felt that myself.
You can begin to do things ONLY that you can do without a “thank you.” You can stop doing things just because they want you to. A friend once told me that “saying NO, makes your Yes more meaningful.” I never really got that until a few years ago. So, spend some time thinking about all the things you do, and make some conscious choices about whether you want to continue to do them…or not. Stepmothering is a slippery slope to martyrhood and the more aware we are of what we are doing and why, the better we get at serving our needs (not just everyone else’s).
5.Being a Stepmom, and lacking the biological connections to the stepkids also brings up every childhood wound we have. We’re not blinded by that unconditional love, so we feel things differently. I’ve recently learned a valuable lesson that was painful to admit to myself. We can’t make anyone love us!! Isn’t that hard to accept? It sounds like you’ve been very good and kind and gracious to these boys and that right now, they’re not returning the appreciation or the affection as you wish. This is painful. And as we accept that we can’t force love from another, we begin to shift our attention to ourselves. Am I being as loving as I can? Can I look to others for the loving connection I am looking for? How is what’s happening here reminding me of old childhood pain? How can I be in their presence and feel good about myself, while they appear not to care about me at all? I bet they do love you, yet right now, YOU are the one who is going to have to decide what is and is NOT alright with you. You may need to be less available, if that gives you the space to get what you need from others or spare you more pain of rejection.
Fearing being unloved and/or being at the mercy of unloving actions can feel terrible and unfair in the moment and, as mentioned, this kind of treatment brings up any unresolved pain of your own childhood-big time. It’s too big a topic for this long letter but I encourage you to honor the hurt you’re feeling, see what changes you can make to spare yourself their hurtful impact and to get some therapeutic support-if that feels appealing to you. It was life changing to me. You’re not wrong to feel the hurt, it’s just about recognizing that other people are often unconcerned or oblivious about their impact on others. Your stepsons are concerned with their own confused emotional world and not yours-sadly but often true with teens. As you understand that they’re only thinking of easing their own discomfort and looking for ways to feel in control-when their world feels totally out of control, you may find yourself less angry and perhaps with more compassion (and your own teenage memories) and this may help some of their actions slide off your back more easily.
How does this apply practically? Well, you have read, “The Four Agreements” right? pages 47-61 memorized right? With this as your background, begin to look at what they do that hurts you and come up with a new reply or response that honors your feelings. For example, before each request of them, ask yourself-do I need to ask this at all? Can their dad do it? If you ask and get a rude reply, Tell them, “That reply is not OK with me” and move on (smommentary gives you lots of details on this technique). If they ignore you, look at what you CAN do, NOT knowing what their answer is, rather than repeatedly asking them. One SMOM i Know got tired of asking the stepkids to pick up their back-packs off the kitchen floor. She told them that if they went to sleep with the back pack still on the floor, she was going to throw the packs away. Next night, backpacks still on the floor-backpacks into the garbage. Horror and drama in the morning. Next night, one (of two) backpacks on the floor) in the morning, backpack contents poured out into the garbage. Horror and drama. After that…no more backpacks on the floor. SHe changed her approach, she had her husband’s support, they followed throgh and the teens chose to change their own behavior because they didn’t like the results. That was a good plan.
You might want to revisit the concept of natural consequences. This is a tested but often overlooked way to teach kids about the impact of their own choices. You may want to look into that. Many parents today don’t give this a chance but it might be a good thing for your situation.
It’s time to review all that you do and say to them and ask yourself, “Am I doing this to connect? Am I doing this to try to control? Am I doing this to be included? There are no wrong answers, it is about being aware of what you are doing and then being in control of choosing what you do in the future. YOU are the one who can help yourself in these situations until your husband wakes up to his role in supporting you. in the meantime, find ways to feel more in control and less like their servant. Your intention to change this doesn’t have to come with anger. There’s power in a quiet decision to no longer be at the mercy of another person’s bad behavior. As you begin to realize that you are a powerful woman, who will no longer seek those unwilling to be kind in return for your kindnesses, you will feel a shift. You can try many of these things without saying a word to anyone. See for yourself and try them on for fit.
7. In terms of feeling safe and respected in your own home. I sure understand this one as well. You may need to spend more time in other parts of the house. Not because you are being banned or excluded but because you reconnect with the part of yourself that says to yourself, “hey, I don’t like this now, I’m going to find some fun or I’m bored with this, what else can I do right now?” You may decide to seek out other friends for company, you may decide to put your foot down about some things. What you are looking for is a worthy and reasonable goal. Your husband is going to need to help you on this one. Let’s hope he will wake up soon. I can’t tell you more specifics here, just want to endorse your right to want and have this kind of home life.
There’ s a lot here and the subject is huge. I hope you will read the pieces suggested. I’ll also hope that your husband will not insist you serve them when they are rude to you.
Let’s move on to your husband and what you might do differently to help him be different.
It’s perfectly understandable that you want your husband to understand you. It’s one of the hardest relationship issues to deal with in a stepfamily situation. As I mentioned earlier, the symptoms you describe fit something we refer to as “divorce guilt.” I added the “father fears” as I find that fears underlie much of their actions (or inactions) as well.
What can you do? You can keep asking your husband to support you AND you can begin to look deeper into his actions and your actions to see what’s going on. Many times the Dads feel caught in a triangle between their kids, their wife and sometimes add a difficult bio-mom to the mix and they end up feeling like a victim in their own life. Add to it their fear they’ll lose their kids’ love (which is often used by kids to effectively manipulate their parents) and we have a guy who can often appear as a stubborn “Wimp” and not the terrific, attractive, strong guy we fell in love with. Have you ever noticed they can even sort of look different when they are under the influence of guilt and fear?!
So, it seems all I can do for you is help you understand what he may be feeling so you may take a different tact when trying to connect with him. For some reason, some guys have a tough time admitting they’re afraid, instead of telling us what they fear, they skip ahead to their plan to assuage it and expect us to be all excited about something that, we see doesn’t do anything but delay or avoid or deny what’s really going on. When husband’s are under the spell of divorce guilt, they just do not seem to be able to see situations, clearly. We, as the closest ones to them, often take the brunt of things. Often, we are the ones who take the crap, because they know/trust we’re more likely to forgive them.
It’s like the dynamic of how kids often lash out at the one they know truly loves them because they can do so and not risk the love. It isn’t fair but it’s human nature. When our husband’s are blind and under the pressure of fear and guilt, continuing to approach them with our needs feels like more pressure, more words, more pain and more “NO WIN” stress they’re trying to avoid. We’re trying to talk to them and all they hear is “Blah, Blah Blah-as they think, Please God make it stop! Again, this isn’t right or fair, but it’s common and sounds like you’re experiencing that with your husband.
What can you do? There are a couple of things you can try, hoping that he will hear you with his heart. Some ideas:
Ask him to pick a time when the two of you can have a couple of hours, just you two. while you may have asked before, ask again from the place of lovingkindness and a desire to connect with him. Often, if we ask when we are hurt or resentful, they only see it as stress and not as a chance to have a loving, nurturing connection with the woman they love. It can be helpful to start the conversation by reminiscing about a fun time you have shared, then say how much it would mean if you two could have a date, share some alone time, etc. Start from a different place as if it was the first time you were asking.
Create, “Ex-free, skid-free” zones of time where you both agree not to talk about anything that has to do with the stepkids or ex. This can be a challenge as some of us find ourselves wanting to talk about issues when we finally get our husband’s attention. If you two can agree on times when there will be no stepkids/ex talk, it can work wonders for a couple. Examples are, Sunday mornings til afternoon, or Friday evenings-no talk until after breakfast Saturday. It’s also helpful to agree not to talk about any problems in the bedroom. Anytime you can create fun for the two of you is going to help shift the tide from frustration to re-connection. I know it can be hard when you are so hurt. Again, it’s important to honor your feelings. I’m suggesting shifting some of your anger into trying new actions. This will shake things up a bit and hopefully your husband will soften so he can hear you.
I wish you had an advocate for you and your needs in your situation. Have you read my articles, “Overfunctioning: Natural pitfall for caregivers?” Or “Comforting Ourselves” They might be helpful.
It seems that new boundaries would be helpful for you as well. Sometimes doing less bumps up against our beliefs about what we need to do to consider ourselves “Good Wives or Stepmoms.” This is a place where you can look at your beliefs and make some changes. “Where to draw the line” by Anne Katherine is a terrific book filled with practical ideas. There seems to be a world going on around you without anyone stopping long enough to check in with you. Can you find a new way to use your voice so he understands how his actions impact you? Maybe your actions (lack of actions) will speak louder than your words. Is it scary to think about the potential consequences of you no longer serving them? I understand this one as well. You write about so many examples where YOU are not considered, but are expected to go along-well what if you stop going along? A good therapist will help you with the skills you need to stand up to them. I feel like I want to set off a bull horn and make everyone “Freeze” long enough to see what they are doing to you. However, I’ve learned, looking to yourself to be different is the greatest instigator of changing others.
Have you read my Smommentary, “Cue card for Husbands”? Does he have a good sense of humor? If so, you may want to print out and give it to him. Perhaps even with a few of your own cue cards.
Regarding the gifts he is giving you, seems they are indeed attempts to connect and I understand what you’re feeling when you receive them. What about making a list of the 10 gifts you’d like to get from the man you love? I mean write it out on a notecard and see what the list looks like. Some things that occur to me are the following: I’d like people to say “Thanks” when I do something for them. I’d like people to say, “Please” when they want something from me. I’d like to be asked, instead of being told, about something when it is going to impact my life. I’d like to have a romantic 1-minute kiss before you leave me for work each day. I’d like to have a few hours each week-where you and I do something I like to do. What would be on your list? It’s just a list and why not have him work off this list the next time he wants to give you a gift??
I imagine your husband wants you to love his kids and wants his kids to love you. Sadly that is one of the many things you two can’t control. What you can control is being kind to each other. What your husband can insist upon is you being respected, not loved or liked but respected or they answer to him and there are consequences. It will be wonderful if he gets to a point of believing that both you (and he) deserve to be respected, even through the teen years. As you two realize you share some of the same fears (losing the kids love) perhaps he will be able to be more compassionate and supportive of you. Again, in my experience men resist admitting fears as they somehow feel it’s weak. When they wake up to see the negative impact their avoidance and denial behavior has had on the woman they love-there is deep remorse and shame before the forgiveness and healing can occur. I sure hope he wakes up very soon to how lucky he is to have you in his life. In the meantime, as hard as it may be, I suggest you turn your attention to you, how you can become wiser about the dynamics of what is happening, what you need to do for yourself in each interaction. This attention towards yourself will lead to insights that will help you change. Again, nothing changes until you do. Once you change, things around you will too.
This is long and wordy and hopefully something here or in the suggested readings will help you feel more in control of your future. Please be very gentle with yourself and very firm about your rights to a supportive husband and a happy home life.