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Ever feel like you are giving up everything? Check this out.
This is a particularly moving post from a stepmom I’ll call SMOM1. I’ve changed her screen name to protect her identity even more so.

She entitled it...“Feel like I gave up everything.”

I was moved to reply in depth and wanted to share it here because her feelings are shared by so many of us to varying degrees at different times in our stepmom lives. SMOM1 gave me her permission to offer my thoughts about this.

SMOM1 Wrote:

I have been on this forum for a while, but rarely post. I just graduated and really want to get a dog. My friends dog had puppies and I want one. They will be ready to go to homes in 4-5 weeks. My BF is saying no and gets very angry and grumpy when I bring it up. We have been dating for over 3 years and living together for a little over 2 years. I honestly feel like we moved in together too soon. I just feel like I am sick of giving up things for him. I had a bunny that I loved and I gave him to my parents because BF is allergic. I wanted to get a dog while in school, but waited because he didn't want one yet. I wanted to go into the peace corps after graduation, but didn't because he couldn't. This is just a rambling vent. Sorry. SMOM1


Dear SMOM1,

For whatever reasons your post really stirred up a lot of emotions for me, which is why I asked if you were interested in my thoughts before taking the time to write to you. Your post may be just about a puppy but I feel it may indicate something much bigger and more important for you, your well-being and your life. Maybe I just needed to write this out for someone else who may read it.

Before I being with some thoughts about what may be going on, I want to acknowledge and honor that I believe you’ve already given up so much, given in so often and that you’ve been doing all this to be as helpful and loving as you can be to your BF. I want you to know that right from the start. It seems like your BF has the final say, gets all the tie breakers when there’s a conflict. While you may have been AOK with lots of these decisions in the past, it seems this puppy issue may be the “straw that breaks the camels back” so to speak. If this is true, I get that! Everyone has a limit to what they can tolerate, no matter how hard they try to ignore or endure something.

To be clear, this relationship issue doesn’t make him an awful person. It is probable that his wounds and beliefs, bump right up against yours and/or dovetail with yours so that things fit, even dysfunctional or painful issues can fit together for a while. Nobody is wrong or bad here. I hear that you love him and I hear that his actions and choices are causing you some stress.

His actions and choices tell you a lot about his upbringing and his beliefs and about what he believes he has to do to keep himself emotionally safe. It makes him someone who appears to believe that for whatever reasons, HE has the veto power in the relationship. It also sounds like he’s a good talker, repeatedly finding ways to convince you that whatever he wants or doesn’t want is really better for you both. (Based on your post about how he talked you into believing that waiting ws better for you both.)

This is very common and very painful for the one in your role in the relationship. I know this, because until 3 years ago, I had lived with this hierarchy of power in my childhood and through 2 marriages. Happily, my DH, even after 13 years, was willing and able to wake up (as I did) and we have forged a new kind of relationship...together.

The title of your post speaks loudly to me.
I’m hoping to be helpful and I’m totally OK if you reject or ignore all of this. For some reason, I’m compelled to write to I’m trusting this impulse. Here we go...

It’s very painful to have our wants and needs overridden by someone we love and by someone who we’ve been so openly vulnerable with. The good news in all this in that by becoming aware of what is causing the pain/anger/distress we can begin to do something about it so that it doesn’t haunt or follow us into our future. This incentive motivates me and if you are motivated also, perhaps what I write will be helpful.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Because I don’t know your situation or you or most of the details, I’m going to share a few thoughts and feelings that surfaced when I read your post. Please know that I”m only offering these comments with the intention of trying to support you by giving you some things to think about. Please sift and sort through all this and pick out only that which makes sense for you OK? OK!

You may want to grab a cup or glass of something because this is going to be a long one and it’s going to take some time to share my thoughts and feelings. Are you comfy?

My reaction to your post (especially the title of your thread) was that the issue you’re dealing with here is bigger than any one particular thing. It feels like a relationship issue and more specifically an emotional, energetic power struggle between you and your BF. It also sounds like this “struggle” has been going on for awhile and over other things small and big (like the peace corp).

These kinds of silent (or not so silent) power struggles can be complex and sometimes something snaps within us and we find ourselves putting our foot down over one thing (the puppy?) Sometimes the one thing is almost beyond logic and reason (which makes it hard to stand up for when someone calls us unreasonable) but it happens because some part of us is so darn tired of someone we love controlling us or telling us what is and is not OK in our own lives.

Sometimes, without even realizing it, we find we’ve given up, given away and given in so much that some part of us rebels (healthy part of us). Some part of us is looking at our emotional stress to try to show us that we’ve lost the balance of our own rights and power in a relationship. I believe that relationship distress, upset, worry, hurt, anger, resentment, etc are all trying to tell us that there is some important insight we’re not seeing or need to see. Make Sense?

If these feelings could talk to us, I believe they would say something like, “Hey Honey, Please pay attention, something’s not right for you right now! PLEASE stop and be brutally honesty with yourself about how you feel. I know this is scary but Please use your vast wisdom and courage to look honestly at what you want or need. What do you want? Please take a stand, take some action, maybe do something different because this is not good for you right now!”

I believe these feelings are trying to get our attention and help us understand something in a new way. The feelings are often trying to break through the childhood conditioning (brainwashing) that taught us we HAD to accept certain things in a primary relationship or we’d be devastated.

NOTE: If you want to learn more about what our emotions are trying to tell us, please listen to or read Karla McLaren’s Book, “The Language of Emotions.” She is wonderful and I highly recommend the audiobooks just to hear her voice and to do the meditations with her guidance.

We all grow out of our childhoods with hundreds, if not thousands, of beliefs about what is and isn’t OK. We all carry beliefs about what we should and shouldn’t do around people we love. Beliefs about what it means to be loving, to be a good mate, to be a good person, to be loved, loving and lovable.

1. Sometimes the beliefs are passed down.
2. Sometimes the beliefs are empowering.
3. Sometimes the beliefs are faulty and limiting.
4. Sometimes we create beliefs that are the opposite of what we experienced.
5. Sometimes we create beliefs so we can survive the pain we can’t handle as children.
6. Sometimes we learn by observing without a word ever spoken directly.

Most often we’re entirely unaware of the beliefs that we carry about intimate relationships or that we have a choice about what to believe. How can our childhoods be so impactful to our adult relationships? Isn’t that a bunch of huey? Why do we want to open those old boxes of experiences? Why are our adult intimate relationships so effected by our childhood primary relationships?

All good questions!
None of them simple to answer.

The very nature of intimate adult relationships makes them one of the most important ones in our adult lives. Just like our parents (or caretakers) were the most important relationship to us as a child. This is why they are similar. This is why many things that happen to us in our adult relationships, trigger stuff from the past, even when we don’t remember the situation.

Both relationships are the one relationship we fear losing the most.
When divorced parents fear losing the love of their bio-kids, this same primal fear kicks in. It’s because we value this intimate connection so much that we’re more likely to compromise, settle, sacrifice for it, out of the fear of losing it or to keep it. This is not a rational thing we’re talking about, it’s a very emotional and charged issue.

The reality is that the more we love someone, the more fear we’re going to feel about losing it. That’s the way love works. We can’t have love without feeling fear. Many don’t want to acknowledge this deep vulnerability, because it’s too darn scary, but it’s a truth (according to my beliefs, training & experience). Opening our hearts to another gives them the ability to cause us pain and many of us have gladly given away our power in exchange for the hope, the wish, the delusion, that they will not hurt us if we give them this power. This is usually not a conscious choice, but one that we have had to make as a child and then forgot about.

This dynamic (giving up power in exchange for less pain or the promise of love) is important to understand because the intensity of an adult intimate relationship is going to bring up all kinds of vulnerable feelings from childhood, even if we aren’t aware of what’s happening. Emotions are energy and just because we’ve forgotten how we felt then, doesn’t mean the emotions are gone. This is why being in the role of stepmom, in addition to being in an intimate relationship has many many chances to trigger old feelings.

More about the fear of losing love:
Whenever we fear losing love, not being able to keep love or not living up to deserving love...

we have 2 choices...we can act on common and understandable short term tactics of numbing, controlling, ignoring, denying and trying to conquer the fear OR we can look to strengthening, reinforcing the love, which in turn will result in reduced fear AND a deeper love connection. That’s the goal for most of us but fear has a tendency to get our attention first and then we panic...understandably.

I write about all this because sometimes we do things out of fear, which can blind us/distract us from what WE truly want or need. Fear is such a powerful motivator and others have used fear, since the beginning of humans, to control other people. (If you want to learn more about this, please read my articles about control-there are 3-4 of them, in the relationship article section of the Open forums.)

There can be a fine line between lovingly giving to please another (at no cost to your well-being) and the kind of giving that depletes or hurts us or giving that can lead to martyrhood, resentment, depression, etc. Healthy intimate relationships are about finding a balance of exchange, from the foundation of honoring the needs of BOTH people equally, no one more powerful than the other.

The challenge, when needs or wants appear to conflict, is to to NOT give in until you’ve created a solution that works for both people and this takes creativity, a willingness to open to new or different possibilities, a fierce refusal to give up on whatever each of you want and the commitment to support each other’s needs as much as your own.

It’s about having the overarching SHARED SPOKEN belief that no matter what, we will not stop trying to resolve as issue until we find one that is acceptable and good for BOTH people. This is a triumphant belief. It’s an “Nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong- what’s best for us BOTH” relationship.

Sometimes this means saying “Heck with social behaviors or the beliefs of our parents. We’re going to create a life that is filled with the decisions that fill our unique needs and wants.” Stepfamilies are blazing new pathways for families and relationships and stepmoms are mapmakers...if this journey appeals to you.

“Helloooo! Earth to Cathryn! Get real!”
I feel like I can hear some of you thinking this.

OK, It’s very possible that I’m making too much of your situation and maybe it’s just about the puppy and the peace corp for you two. If that’s the case, I’m hopeful that the other replies posted here are more helpful than this long missive. However, if any of this is resonating with you and you’re interested in learning more, please continue reading.

Some of the questions to think about:

1, Why do our adult intimate relationships pull us so strongly in some ways and often hurt us so deeply in others?
Isn’t a certain amount of pain to be expected in all loving relationships?
3. Don’t we have to give up stuff in order to get along?
What would it be like to have a relationship with someone who valued my needs as important as his needs?
Wouldn’t it be selfish to make what I want more important that what my lover wants?
6. Can I be a good person and still insist on standing up for my right to make my own choices?
7. How is it possible for two people to move forward over something that seems like a “win/lose” situation?
8. Is it possible that I’m in a relationship that’s not truly a healthy one for me right now?
9. Am I willing to believe I have a right to equal emotional power in my intimate relationship?
10. Do I believe that our love will survive me taking a new stance for my own rights and needs?
11. Do I believe that I can survive losing my relationship, if I decide the price of staying in it is too much for me?
12. Can I make a commitment to make my own well-being more important than my need to connect with the one I love? If not, can I make it AT LEAST AS important so that I can stop this emotional pain?

The reality is that all these questions are worthy of reflection and many of them can be scary to ponder and agonizing to acknowledge initially. However, there is great personal wisdom and insight and freedom to be gained if you want to get to the truth of whatever you need and want in your life.

SMOM1, it seems that you’ve given up a lot because the man you love tells you “No.” Could this dynamic, be anything like what it was like for you as a child? Was there a key figure in your young life who had the power to override your wishes when you were too little to do anything about it? is it possible that the little girl in you is believing that this adult relationship has to be the same as her parent child relationship? Was there ever someone who gave you the clear message...if you want to be loved you have to give me your power?

I realize that this is a big topic and one that I don’t take lightly.
If you’re feeling upset by my comments, it’s possible that I’m completely off-base or maybe this is what’s happening and it’s a time to be extremely gentle with yourself.

You don’t have to read anymore unless you want to.

I know it took me a long time (with help) to let in how much I’d recreated the emotional dynamics of my childhood with my present and past husband. I can tell you that I believe it was worth enduring the pins and needles of waking up. The question is, is this what’s right for you now or what you want?
There’s never a guarantee that your BF will want to wake up, but nothing is going to change unless you do. Many times taking a new stance creates the space for change and that can be very good for everyone. This seems to be the gift and the burden of so many women in relationships.

How to understand this more completely?

Reading “The Drama of the Gifted Child” or “The Truth will set you free” or Free from Lies” all by Dr. Alice Miller” is a good place to start. She will explain this in more detail. Let me tell you a bit more about it so you can decide if you want to pursue this now or later or not at all.

I’m a huge believer in the work of Dr. Alice Miller. She wrote many profound books about how our child-rearing and the details of the emotional survival strategy (we needed to create to survive) is something we forget about while we’re still young. She writes about how the beliefs and strategies we needed to survive as children become imprisoning beliefs and strategies as adults. This is so profoundly true, in my experience.

She explains that until we’re conscious and aware of the strategies we used as kids, we’re going to fall into similar emotional patterns as adults. She calls this, “the unconscious compulsion to repeat.” It’s not a bad or wrong thing, it’s a human nature thing. It means that we can be unknowingly, sometimes inexplicably drawn to someone with whom we experience similar feelings (from childhood) with the unconscious hope that THIS time things will work out differently. Sadly without becoming conscious of what is happening, we only do it over and over again, feeling the same pain each time with a cumulative impact. This is why, in her view and now mine, that seemingly simple upsetting things can be felt so strongly and deeply without us understanding consciously what is upsetting us.

I could give you 20-30 examples from my own life, that demonstrates this principal. I’m not going to (Phew!) but because I’ve uncovered so much of this for myself and so many clients, I believe that it’s worth a look when anyone is experiencing emotional discomfort in a relationship.

Shall we have a look at your situation now?

If we were talking, I’d ask you a few questions.
NO right or wrong answers, just questions that may shed light on things in a new way for you. This is how we make unconscious things conscious. It’s like shining a flashlight into a dark room full of stuff that we didn’t know we had. It can be fascinating, surprising, temporarily horrifying or painful and always very freeing and empowering once we understand it. Being awake and conscious is always more empowering than that which we can’t see or know about.

I’d ask you the following and you can reply if you wish...never any pressure.

Can you think of any times from your childhood where you were needing someone else’s permission to do the things you wanted to do, but the other person always had the Veto power over you? If so, how does it feel in comparison to how you feel when your BF says “No” to you?

Are there times now, when you don’t say or do whatever you want to say or do to your BF, because you fear, know or worry that it will make him angry at you, maybe spoil the mood or cause you hurt feelings?

If you could do or say anything you wanted to, without fear of your BF getting angry, leaving, punishing you in any way and/or if you KNEW that he would be supportive of whatever you wanted, what would you say or do? Please think about this for a moment and write them all down, if you are so inclined. My sense is that giving yourself the freedom to act on your gut instincts, your needs, your wishes with uncensored speech and actions is not something you’ve had a lot of experience with in your primary relationships. Any truth to that for you?

If any of this is ringing true for you, what can you do about it?

There are a few choices you can make and the choice is something you have control over, that’s empowering! (See my article, ‘Are your choices based on fear or courage?” for more about the power of having choices.)

Some Options:

Do nothing different and keep hoping you can find new ways to endure, accept and handle things the way they are between you and BF. It takes a lot of energy to try to get others to go along with what we want but trying can keep our well-being just above water and we can survive. Sometimes there are other reasons we accept relationship stress. No right or wrong here.

You can take a deep breath, in the privacy of your own heart and mind and ask yourself “What do I want from my intimate partner? Am I getting this from my BF? What, if anything, do I want to do about this?” Trusting your gut and your heart is always a good way to go. It’s a time to be rutally honest with yourself to make sure you’re listening to your heart and gut not your fears or your childhood programming.

Get to the bottom of what beliefs you have that cause you to be “OK” with (allow) the way your BF is interacting with you and your needs/wants. This means self-discovery work and while this is challenging it’s also extremely healing and insightful.

You can take inventory on any and all things that are not ok with you in your relationship with BF and you can sit down with him and create a new plan for going forward. You can choose to tell him (not asking him) that the dynamics of power between you two HAVE to change and that you want to craft something that works for BOTH of you as equals in the relationship.

NOTE: If your BF is a narcissist, this is NOT going to work as Narcissists are not willing to have Win:Win relationships, they must have the “One-up relationship” Please read or listen to “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists” by Eleanor Payson for more about narcissists. Chapter 1 (free) is available on the top of the BB and by listening for 26 minutes you will know if he is a narcissist (or just has narcissistic qualities) or not.

Whatever you decide, it takes courage to wake up and become conscious and to see what you really need, what wounds you still carry and what limited or faulty beliefs you’re still holding on to unconsciously that you can uncover so you can make new conscious choices. We’re so much more skilled and experienced at enduring, tolerating, ignoring, rationalizing or taking the blame for things that cause us pain, distress, rage ,etc. We’ve done so much to be close to the people we love and it’s been painful at a level often hard to imagine at first. Sometimes the backlog of unresolved pain can feel overwhelming so having some support is a good thing.

Whatever you chose to do, I want to encourage you to hold onto the belief that you do HAVE CHOICES, that you are WORTHY of having a tremendously loving relationship with someone who joyfully puts your needs right up there equally with his, just as you have done for everyone you have loved.

I want to remind you that you have the right, as a bright, generous, talented, loving adult woman, to make decisions that are right for you and to live life the way YOU want to live it, all the while loving and honoring someone giving you the same consideration. As an adult, unlike when you were a child, you now have the ability to take care of yourself (to thrive) even if someone you love decides they can’t or won’t join you in the relationship that you want.

Puppy or no puppy, peace corp or not, it feels to me that you may not believe, deep down, that you have the right to make your own wants and needs as important as those around you AND believe that you will have someone to love you all at the same time! I wish this for you. I wish this for all of us on our challenging journey through this lifetime.

I know there’s a lot of info here.
For some reason, as I wrote at the beginning, I felt compelled to write this.
If I’ve overstepped in any way that makes you uncomfortable, I’m sorry.

This is what is in my heart, receive it as you will.
May you find more empowerment, peace and well-being on your journey.
All the Best, Cathryn


Thank you for your insight. I hope to respond as soon as I can, however it will take some thought. Merry Christmas!


HI there, Thank you for your holiday greetings! Please know that there’s never any pressure to reply. The stuff you are dealing with is life changing and so I want you to honor your timing! I'll be here, as will your sister SMOMS if you decide you want to work on this stuff.

I'm going to turn this into an article soon so others can read it. I will take your screen name off of it and just call you "SMOM" so your privacy here on the board is protected as well. It will also clear up some space at the top of the Board.

Love to you, on this transformational journey.
May you find the courage and the support to do whatever is best for you.


Wow! I feel like you've just told my whole life story in a nut shell. My relationship with my dh used to be very much like this. I think it started when i gave up my job to stay home with my sds and my daughter. It seemed like it was partly my decision at the time but then my friends got left by the wayside and pretty soon i felt like i was living in a tiny box and i couldn’t do anything with out his permission. It got to the point where i couldn’t even leave the house with makeup on. And it wasn’t that he told me i couldn’t it was more that every time i did something he didn’t like, it was a huge fight and i’m not a confrontational person so i didn’t want to fight so i would just stop hanging out with people he didnt like and pretty soon i had no friends and then i wouldnt wear makeup as much until i wasn’t wearing it at all. It was gradual and so it took me a long time to notice it and realize how unhappy i really was. I just kept giving and giving and eventually i was a shell of a human being.

Eventually i talked to my therapist that i was seeing about the death of my eldest step daughter about it. I was ashamed...i was surprised really by how much shame i felt. I didn’t want her or anyone else to see my dh as a bad man. He’s really not. He’s an excellent father and he is my soul mate. I think whAt happened is he lost control when he lost his daughter and he needed to get control over his life somehow and he achieved it in an unhealthy way through me.

Anyway, i started talking to him about it over time even though i was fearful. I tackled one issue at a time and each time we had a conversation or fight about our issues i gained a little bit of my power back. I remember the first time i talked to him, i said "this problem isnt completely your've been controlling but i also allowed it to we've gotten into this cycle of you not wanting me to do certain things and me just saying 'ok i just wont do that anymore'." He was angry at first but i think by taking some of the pressure off of him, it lessened the blow.

We spent many nights arguing. He was very resistant to admit he had a problem but now things are back on the right track. Its not 100% but its much much better. I do things with friends again. I wear makeup whenever i feel like it and i am unafraid.
I think the biggest obstacle was the conversations i had to have with myself. I had to say " what you want is important and its ok to fight for it sometimes" and i had to practically chant to myself " don’t back down...don’t give up. Your world won’t crumble if you tell him the truth about how you feel " i told myself that the worst thing that could happen is he leaves and if that happened i would survive it.

I guess the thing i really wanted to say was thank you. Your post really touched me. It was very insightful and nearly everything you said rang true for me. Cant say enough how much this site has helped me in the short time I’ve been a member.
Thanks again, SMOM2


Dear SMOM2, Thank you for sharing your story with us. You've been very brave and it's great that you're able to see things changing as you take a stand for yourself. This is so empowering. I know the same fear you talk about. As we begin to speak up and the person we love sees that we're not going to be pushed around about this or that anymore, the dynamics change. Yes there's often an argument but it's usually the other person doing an energetic tug of war for the power they can somehow sense they're losing. It may be unconscious but it is often palpable.

Raising a voice, turning a cold shoulder, arguing are all controlling bullying tactics to varying levels.

It indicates fear in the bullying person and once we decide we have equal rights in our relationships and once we decide to stand up for whatever we're feeling things will shift. Sometimes are unpredictable actions and strength can trigger an initial counter measure from the other person. Sort of an, "I'm going to try to get you back to the person I can control" attempt. However, when we can stand strong and if the other person is willing to listen to us, things can change.

It's also very powerful to know deep in your heart that you CAN survive if the worse thing we fear happens.

One could also say that staying in a relationship where we're not free to be our true selves IS the worse thing that can happen, but until we really know and feel that we are adult women who can Survive and one day be even happier, is a very powerful awareness. I know how that feels and you've shown it can work. Ironically being willing to leave is sometimes the very thing that gets the attention of the man we love, resulting in true change. Not as an ultimatum, as that is counter-controlling tactic, but it shows a true emotional boundary and the belief that we deserve to be treated as an equal partner in life.

It's wonderful that your DH is coming around to seeing that you have rights and that your rights don't have to hurt him or punish him at all. If you want to learn more about control, check out the few articles about it in the relationship section of the site. "Testing and Proving Love" is one I'd start with.

Congrats for all the changes you're making.
Again, thanks for sharing. It's great to have you here. I bet you've inspired others here.
Here's hoping that your situation continues to improve and that as the control melts away, there's more room for the love to flow between you.
It's very kind of you to share your good thoughts about being here. That's the goal, to support you all and to give you a place to support each other.

Please keep up the great work.
May 2013 bring you in touch with even more of your glorious powerful loving self, Cathryn

Thank you for responding. You definitely had some very powerful insights. And i appreciate you taking time to think of me and my situation.
You are a great inspiration to me.
Sincerely, SMOM2

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