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Feeling more lost and alone as time goes on as Stepfather


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My wife (31/F) and I (33/M) have been married a few years, and dated a few years prior to getting married. My wife has two daughters (10 & 6) from two separate men from two separate marriages. We dated for a while before I met the girls, and took it slow from there also. We dated more and more and would spend more time together on the weekends she didn't have them. Slowly started seeing the girls more and more. Everything seemed to be going well. It seemed like we were making good judgement calls about how to go about the whole process, and our relationship blossomed into something we both loved and we both saw it turning into something more serious. Things got more serious and we found each other spending most all of our time together. We lived in two separate houses, but after the first two years I started spending almost all my time there. We got engaged, and then married, we had a few arguments and things along the way but nothing I thought of as being out of the ordinary. Just the type of stuff, where maybe we were both in a bad mood and argued a little. Nothing where we were screaming or being mean to each other or anything like that. After getting married we moved into my house in the same town, and she sold her house. Everything went well I believe for the first year or two, there were some growing pains for all of us, but nothing serious. Towards the third year of being married there seemed to be more of a negative atmosphere than positive within the household. We stay pretty busy taking the girls to and from things, helping with schoolwork, etc. So it was kind of easy to just roll with it, and not really point out that things weren't going so well.

 

I didn't realize it at the time, but one turning point where to me it doesn't seem like where it all really started to unravel was when I stopped smoking and switched to vaping. I realize it was a poor decision now, but when I started vaping I would occasionally vape inside when no one else was around. Not really secretively or anything, just when the kids weren't around. For instance, if the kids were gone for the weekend and we were watching tv I would vape. But I would still vape most of the time outside. She eventually asked me to stop, and we kind of debated as to whether or not it was really harmful at all. At the end of it, I told her that even though I didn't think it was as big a deal as she was making it out to be, I would stop. I was mainly arguing the point that I didn't think it was bad and didn't want her to think I was doing it because I didn't care about the kids well-being. However, she took it as I was arguing that she was wrong, which I wasn't really trying to do. Just that I wouldn't willingly do something I thought was harmful.

 

So I stopped vaping inside entirely for a few weeks, then a few weeks later I woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to go outside to vape. We have a large house and my lazy butt halfway to getting outside decided I would take two puffs, and go back to bed. Well, she heard me apparently as I guess she woke up with me getting out of bed. I went back to sleep and noticed she was acting weird the next few days. Then finally she goes off on me ranting and raving about how she knows I have been vaping inside and can't believe that I would just sneak around and lie like I have been. She is going crazy at me and is telling me she can't trust me anymore and doesn't know what to do, that I might as well have cheated on her with another woman because in her eyes it is basically the same thing. I am in complete shock, that it's like I am just completely in the dog house and am being screamed at as if I am some lying cheating scumbag. I tried to explain that I was sorry and that yes I had vaped inside, but it wasn't as she was painting it out to be, that I was sneaking around doing it whenever I could and that type of thing. I told her that it wasn't good, but to cut me some slack. That it was hard to kick the habit. She didn't want to hear any of it, and took the stance of she could no longer trust me and I would have to earn her trust back but didn't know if I could.

 

We were kind of stand offish for a week or two but when about our normal routine with work and the kids. And eventually everything seemingly got back close to normal, but normal was now kind of engulfed in a consistent sense of negativity. Where she thought I was always being too hard on the girls, for needing to clean up their room, or pick up after themselves. This wasn't a stance I took on my own, it was a stance I took over the years slowly with helping her parent by her request. I think part of it may have had to do with the girls both having some anxiety problems, and sometimes (although I didn't realize it) when she was worried about them and feeling bad for them it was hard for her to watch me say something like, "hey, these dirty panties don't belong in the living room, you need to put them in the hamper". I didn't raise my voice, scream, or scold. To me it was just typical stern parent voice, directing action. Which was something I slowly learned over the years with my wife.

 

She developed this overall since that I was basically just like some drill sergeant mean person I guess without me realizing it. By the time a few months go by and I realize this has built up to a lot of animosity between the two of us, we talk about it and basically she just immediately takes it on as screaming and yelling, which I had only experienced the one time before. She is just full on attacking me, and I go back at it and raise my voice back to her defending myself saying that I was doing the same thing I had always done in helping with parenting, since she asked for my help in years past because she started to say that doing all the parenting had really taken a toll on her, and she wanted me to step in more often. Then, even though it wasn't a wise decision I point out to her that if she is so worried about the girls and the problems they are having with anxiety, that has she ever thought it might have something to do with her coming unglued and screaming bloody murder and spewing profanities at them when she has had enough. Which had gotten to where it was happening about once a week or once every other week. By this point the kids were both going to see a counselor to cope with their anxiety problems that were showing in school and physically with them biting nails to the point of bleeding and pulling their hair out enough to have large bald spots. The oldest daughter eventually got to the point where she was completely bald, and Mom shaved her head to make it look better.

 

I'm not saying the kids problems were all my wife's fault as I am sure having talked with the counselors and using my noggin that a lot of it also had to do with coping with their parents being separated, moving to a different house, and so on. I was just pointing out that why was she acting as if I was some disciplinarian bastard dictator or something. The kids and I always got along and had a great time, they respected me and didn't get upset when I told them to do something like picking up their clothes out of the bathroom.

 

However, after this fight she told me not to tell the kids that type of stuff anymore and that I needed to lay off. So then over the next few months the relationship between myself and the two daughters seemed to dwindle. My wife started letting them do things that they use to not be able to do, most of the rules were hers that I agreed to, not mine or even ours to begin with. Stuff like watching tv in their bedroom during the school week, eating snacks in the living room and their bedrooms. They didn't pick their stuff up around the house anymore. It slowly grew into what seemed like they were just super happy to see Mom everyday and could give a crap about me and just saw me as some mean old stepdad that Mom saved them from where as before. They didn't see me as mean at all, I think they both respected me as a parental figure that I had worked at for years to grow and establish that relationship of trust and respect. We would play a lot. Not anymore though, I basically felt like I was just a imaginary person or maid or something. Not in the sense that I cleaned up after all of them, but I didn't do anything but fix things, take out the trash, cook dinner off and on, which the girls no longer looked forward to since they mainly had take-out most of the time now.

 

This goes on for a while and I start drinking at night basically to cope, even though I knew it wasn't a good idea. I got to where I was drinking pretty much every night, or taking sleeping pills to go to sleep. I couldn't go to sleep because of all of the racing thoughts in my head. After a few months of this and acting fake in front of people in public I was at my wits end as to what was going on and begged my wife to go to counseling. We started to go to counseling, and after we had been a few times, all of these weird things came out that we ended up focusing on. I was bursting at the seems with wanting say what I thought the real problems were but my wife did most of the talking and I didn't want to change the subject and make it seem like I belittled the concerns we were talking about. So what we were focusing on was stuff like she needed to hear verbal compliments for her self esteem, and she had told me this and I started to do it, then stopped, and now she has gotten to where she doesn't where makeup because she is so distraught that I am always accusing her of cheating on me. This freaked me out, because I realized she had toned down the makeup but she had told me it was because by the end of the day it was always making her eyes water and different things like that. So she still wore makeup just not as much. On the other hand about the cheating for the first few years she talked to me several times about needing positive affirmation about the way she looked and that it would be really helpful if I could regularly tell her how beautiful she was or that I liked her outfit, earrings, etc. I did that for a while, and eventually didn't like it because it just seemed so robotic that I felt stupid and fake, and wondered how she could even like me basically keeping up with a task list of spacing things out. Like I didn't tell her every single day I liked her earrings, so I would compliment her every two to three days about her earrings, or another piece of jewelry, I would do the same with her outfit, and simply telling her she is beautiful. With this technique I developed, I complimented her in some shape or fashion pretty much ever day, but not every single day. So, like I said after a while I grew tired of this practice, because it was like a chore of keeping up with it, and I had come to never mean any of it. Now I never even had a genuine thought of telling her she looked particularly ravishing, because it was always said so much and forced I basically lost out on that ability to sometimes wake up and just look at her and let her know how much I loved her and how beautiful she is.

 

As a way to try and change this up for both of us I decided to kind of start saying things in jest instead. I would say things like, oooo baby, looks like someone is going out tonight, or who's the lucky guy, and saying things like she is getting all dressed up for work and looks nice enough that she must be going on a date of some sort. At first, when I started I said it a couple of times and she just kind of laughed, after that she asked why I had started saying that. I told her about the old way of complimenting her feeling like a chore, and I thought maybe this could change it up.

 

Well somewhere along the line she apparently forgot that is why I was making those remarks, and is telling the counselor that she can barely live with herself because she just balls her eyes out on the way to work because she doesn't know what to do to keep me from thinking she is cheating on me. That she doesn't wear any make up at all, she dresses slouchy, and doesn't talk to any men at work now.

 

After a little bit the counselor asks me what I think about it and I proceed to explain why maybe she thought I was accusing her by explaining the complimenting thing, and that I guess she forgot. My wife just says she feels dumb, and then the counselor moves on to give advice on maybe some better ways that I could compliment her without it being misconstrued. So we go on with stuff like that over a couple of more weeks at once a week meetings. Which as I realize none of the stuff I wanted to go to counseling for is getting brought up, it is just all this stuff that she has with problems with me about. Which pretty much all are things that the counselor sees are communication problems. Where I said something and hadn't had malicious intent, but she took it another way. Another was that she said she had to slave away all the time because I wouldn't help with the kids, I wouldn't wash their clothes, help make dinner. That's when we got closer to what I wanted to go to counseling for.

 

I explained why I didn't cook as much anymore and wasn't as involved and so on. The counselor wanted me to get more involved, and I explained that I didn't feel comfortable if I was suppose to take on the responsibilities and chores of a parent, but not get the respect of one. That I felt like the bond of respect and trust had been broken between myself and the girls, primarily by their mom.

 

We keep going to counseling and we keep having problems, because of different issues. Like her brother calling me one evening wanting to know what is going on because my wife had called him boohooing because she couldn't take the stress anymore. That I demanded she cook every week night, and wouldn't help with the children. I briefly explain to him that is not the case, and we talk about us going to counseling a bit. I talked to my wife about it and to the counselor and say that at no point in time have I ever said my wife had to cook at all. She never had to cook for me, and if she wanted to cook for the girls then that is up to her. We had a schedule worked out where we took turns cooking dinner Monday through Thursday. The rest of the meals were simple prepared foods or eating out or the girls had it at school (lunch during the week). So we are talking about cooking four times a week split between the two of us. That's how we were doing it until things changed and they were eating out most of the time so I got to where I would only cook once a week or not at all and my wife wasn't cooking any nights of the week. There had been a few times where I started dinner and she came home with take out, and since it seemed like no one wanted to have anything to do with me anyways, I stopped cooking. But where she came up with the thought that I was some demanding husband that demanded she slave away in the kitchen every night is beyond me. I just really don't get it. The counselor chalked it up to communication problems, and continued to give us advice on how to communicate better.

 

I have to stop writing for now, I guess I am kind of venting. I am not trying to make my wife look bad, I just don't know what to do anymore. I didn't finish with what I have on my mind, but ultimately we are still having problems. And basically have deep rooted issues now. Any advice or insight would be greatly appreciated.

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Very poignant description of what goes on in a blended family and marriage.

 

This description of the counselor telling you about doing more verbal affirmations is fascinating. Particularly devising a "schedule" to mix up the compliments so it didn't seem as contrived as it really was.

We started to go to counseling.So what we were focusing on was stuff like she needed to hear verbal compliments for her self esteem, and she had told me this and I started to do it. she talked to me several times about needing positive affirmation about the way she looked and that it would be really helpful if I could regularly tell her how beautiful she was or that I liked her outfit, earrings, etc. I did that for a while, and eventually didn't like it because it just seemed so robotic that I felt stupid and fake, and wondered how she could even like me basically keeping up with a task list of spacing things out. Like I didn't tell her every single day I liked her earrings, so I would compliment her every two to three days about her earrings, or another piece of jewelry, I would do the same with her outfit, and simply telling her she is beautiful. With this technique I developed, I complimented her in some shape or fashion pretty much ever day, but not every single day. So, like I said after a while I grew tired of this practice, because it was like a chore of keeping up with it, and I had come to never mean any of it. Now I never even had a genuine thought of telling her she looked particularly ravishing, because it was always said so much and forced I basically lost out on that ability to sometimes wake up and just look at her and let her know how much I loved her and how beautiful she is.
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There's some deep stuff going on here indeed. Communication often gets blamed for marital problems when it is actually a symptom of something else going on. The way she screamed at you those few times sounds quite abusive. There seems to be some contempt there, or at least a distinct lack of respect. The emotions were hurtful enough that it drove you to drink.

 

It sounds like her primary love language may be words of affirmation, and complimenting her is very hard for you & feels uncomfortable. Get a copy of "The Five Love Languages" and learn to speak hers. Acts of service may be her secondary love language.

 

Get to the real stuff in counseling as soon as you can. If you're not willing to speak your truth, the whole thing will be a useless sham.

 

I think her daughters don't respect you because she doesn't respect you. Isolating and withdrawing and being passive about the situation hasn't done you any favors. If you're going to make this work, you've got to be an active participant. You've got to engage.

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.... I explained that I didn't feel comfortable if I was suppose to take on the responsibilities and chores of a parent, but not get the respect of one. That I felt like the bond of respect and trust had been broken between myself and the girls, primarily by their mom.

 

 

No advice, but you are definitely not alone. My ex-husband had five kids. Four boys and a girl. I step-parented those kids for eight years, and though I loved them, things such as you've described here are the reason I will never go on so much as a first date with another single dad. Stepping was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. You get all the stress and responsibility of being a parent, without any actual power or ability to change things if they start to go wrong. You get reminded that you aren't the "real" dad (or mom), and told to lay off, that you don't really understand etc etc etc. You get turned into the bad guy.

 

We parented well together at first. He was also prone to yelling and swearing at the kids, and they quickly learned they could get a more understanding and sane response from me about most things. I was the one who taught them to drive, gave the sex talk, comforted them when their teenaged romances imploded. I was the one who said, 'if you are ever with friends who are drinking, do NOT get in the car. Call me and I will come get you, from anywhere at any time, no questions asked." I was the one who went to the P/T conferences, emailed with their teachers, and helped them with their homework. I thought at first he was a good father, but the longer we were married, the more I realized the untruth of that. When things started to change between us, he suddenly became resentful of my involvement with the kids. He told me to leave them alone, and created resentment between me and the kids. Since I was no longer allowed to parent, and he couldn't be bothered to, they ran wild. Drugs, disrespect, dropping out of school. It all happened very quickly. But my ex had no complaints about anything the kids were doing. It was all me. All my fault somehow, even though I was no longer directly involved.

 

The solution to our situation ended up being divorce, partly due to all the misery and drama, but mostly due to him being in a 9 month long affair. The start of his affair also marked the time when things really began to deteriorate for our marriage. I learned later, after much reading, that he was a narcissist, and things turned for the worse when we entered the classic "devalue and discard" phase. I'm not saying this is what your wife is doing, but honestly much of what you describe here is very familiar to me, very similar to what I experienced. Divorce was horrible at the time, but honestly.... it's a relief now. The drama with those five kids (not to mention their nutty birth mother), has continued non-stop. Now that they are older, the problems are bigger and more serious, like jail time and pregnancies. I still love them and wish them well, but from afar. Every day I am thankful that I am no longer part of that three-ring circus.

 

I wish I had advice. Attending counseling is really all you can do. But nothing will change unless your wife allows it to, and part of that includes acknowledging her role in the problems. My ex-husband would never have done that. He will go to his grave thinking the demise of our marriage was my fault, and had nothing to do with his parenting issues or his affair partner, whom he left me for. I hope for you whatever outcome will give you the most peace and eventual happiness, whether that be an improved marriage, or freedom from the pain through divorce. Good luck. You're not alone.

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Very poignant description of what goes on in a blended family and marriage.

 

This description of the counselor telling you about doing more verbal affirmations is fascinating. Particularly devising a "schedule" to mix up the compliments so it didn't seem as contrived as it really was.

 

Yea, I'm not sure if it is the same as what you are getting at, but I was surprised. I tried to keep from sounding whiny and complaining, but when I found out the counselor basically thought I should try and work on this some more it was very discouraging to me. I thought the whole process that I was going through was a bit absurd. I ended up saying that I didn't want to do it anymore, and there was some disagreement about it. The counselor didn't understand why, and I explained that at this point it was just too weird for me. I explained that I would understand if I was the type of guy to never compliment, but I naturally would quite often. Not everyday, but once or twice a week. I would always comment on a new outfit or something of that nature. So that is what I have gone back to, is just saying things as they come natural to me, which seemed to have create some resentment from my wife that they weren't as structured and don't occur more than a few times a week. It's not something she has brought up in a while, and I guess because of all the other problems we have that has become a small thing that has been somewhat forgotten. I just felt so defeated to hear that it was something I needed to work on, and while not a huge problem it was being posed as something I was failing at. Especially after I felt like my attempt to make it a bit more natural by being creative had been twisted into this awful thing that made it seem like I had driven my wife into a world of despair where she agonized about "what in the world can I possibly do to get my husband to stop accusing me of cheating?". It made me feel like I was in crazyville, with me looking at her thinking where is all this coming from. We talked about it several times, because she first asked why I was doing it and I explained it to her. Then she asked later why I decided to change, and I explained it. She somehow forgot and it turned into this whole other thing, and it is somehow my fault. Just really rubs me the wrong way.

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Wow, that sounds really difficult. when your wife flys off the handle at you or at the kids is she purposely mean? Is she trying to hurt?

 

Before, I don't really think so. I mean it did hurt the kids, it seemed to turn their world upside down and cause a lot of stress. But I think it was just her at her wits end, for other reasons of feeling overwhelmed. Not necessarily what was going on with the kids. However, that doesn't happen as much anymore since it seems like she has changed to keeping them as close to her as possible. Now it is kind of like they can do no wrong.

 

However, between me and her that is the significant change that I have had a hard time coming to terms with. When had fought, while it wasn't pleasant there was never a sense of really having ill will towards one another. We were just frustrated at each other or just frustrated at something else or ourselves and it made for some quick and petty arguments which were quickly overcome once some steam was blown off. Now, it seems like she has ill will towards me at times where we aren't even really arguing. Just an overall sense of 'screw you and what you think, I don't care about you'. A lot of derogatory and patronizing comments directed at me, which has also caused me to become distant.

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No advice, but you are definitely not alone. My ex-husband had five kids. Four boys and a girl. I step-parented those kids for eight years, and though I loved them, things such as you've described here are the reason I will never go on so much as a first date with another single dad. Stepping was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. You get all the stress and responsibility of being a parent, without any actual power or ability to change things if they start to go wrong. You get reminded that you aren't the "real" dad (or mom), and told to lay off, that you don't really understand etc etc etc. You get turned into the bad guy.

 

We parented well together at first. He was also prone to yelling and swearing at the kids, and they quickly learned they could get a more understanding and sane response from me about most things. I was the one who taught them to drive, gave the sex talk, comforted them when their teenaged romances imploded. I was the one who said, 'if you are ever with friends who are drinking, do NOT get in the car. Call me and I will come get you, from anywhere at any time, no questions asked." I was the one who went to the P/T conferences, emailed with their teachers, and helped them with their homework. I thought at first he was a good father, but the longer we were married, the more I realized the untruth of that. When things started to change between us, he suddenly became resentful of my involvement with the kids. He told me to leave them alone, and created resentment between me and the kids. Since I was no longer allowed to parent, and he couldn't be bothered to, they ran wild. Drugs, disrespect, dropping out of school. It all happened very quickly. But my ex had no complaints about anything the kids were doing. It was all me. All my fault somehow, even though I was no longer directly involved.

 

The solution to our situation ended up being divorce, partly due to all the misery and drama, but mostly due to him being in a 9 month long affair. The start of his affair also marked the time when things really began to deteriorate for our marriage. I learned later, after much reading, that he was a narcissist, and things turned for the worse when we entered the classic "devalue and discard" phase. I'm not saying this is what your wife is doing, but honestly much of what you describe here is very familiar to me, very similar to what I experienced. Divorce was horrible at the time, but honestly.... it's a relief now. The drama with those five kids (not to mention their nutty birth mother), has continued non-stop. Now that they are older, the problems are bigger and more serious, like jail time and pregnancies. I still love them and wish them well, but from afar. Every day I am thankful that I am no longer part of that three-ring circus.

 

I wish I had advice. Attending counseling is really all you can do. But nothing will change unless your wife allows it to, and part of that includes acknowledging her role in the problems. My ex-husband would never have done that. He will go to his grave thinking the demise of our marriage was my fault, and had nothing to do with his parenting issues or his affair partner, whom he left me for. I hope for you whatever outcome will give you the most peace and eventual happiness, whether that be an improved marriage, or freedom from the pain through divorce. Good luck. You're not alone.

 

I appreciate your input. I understand your thoughts on not going on a date with another single dad. I have had similar thoughts myself which make me feel bad, but I kind of think if I were to go back in time and be able to talk to myself, that is something I would say. I would just give a big blunt warning to not date or get involved with a single mother at all, that it is too complicated, and that I can't manage it. I don't necessarily care of the fault, like maybe it is just me, maybe I am just not strong enough to handle it. I am not sure. Because, I feel bad thinking it and don't like the idea of having that negative of a view point towards single parenthood. Regardless, that is the feeling I am left with, is if I had the chance I would blare a siren and tell myself, I don't care if it is the single parent, or you, or whoever, it's just a bad idea, stay away.

 

Thanks for sharing your experience, it helps to read and make me not feel alone. It does sound like you had a very hard time. It seems like it would be much harder since you seemed to be a nurturer and really caring about the best for the children. And how tough it must be to seem them go in a direction you were really trying to get them not to. I hope you are doing well. Thanks again.

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There's some deep stuff going on here indeed. Communication often gets blamed for marital problems when it is actually a symptom of something else going on. The way she screamed at you those few times sounds quite abusive. There seems to be some contempt there, or at least a distinct lack of respect. The emotions were hurtful enough that it drove you to drink.

 

It sounds like her primary love language may be words of affirmation, and complimenting her is very hard for you & feels uncomfortable. Get a copy of "The Five Love Languages" and learn to speak hers. Acts of service may be her secondary love language.

 

Get to the real stuff in counseling as soon as you can. If you're not willing to speak your truth, the whole thing will be a useless sham.

 

I think her daughters don't respect you because she doesn't respect you. Isolating and withdrawing and being passive about the situation hasn't done you any favors. If you're going to make this work, you've got to be an active participant. You've got to engage.

 

It was quite abusive, and I don't think I got to it in my post, but after that type of arguing started. I started to hurl the negativity right back, and it turned into a whirlwind or anger and disrespectful comments. That has stopped for the most part now. That was the breaking point for me, that I just couldn't handle it. I didn't like who I had become in those arguments, arguing like that is something I had never done and was pretty much unaware of happening outside of seeing similar situations in movies or things like that.

 

We were in counseling for right at 16 months, both together and separate. We stopped about 6 months ago, since we had stopped the terrible arguing and learned some things to improve communication. The counselor I feel like thought she had helped as much as she could, and at this point we needed to use the dialogue she had trained us to use to work on future problems. Which we have been trying to do. However, now I feel like there is just a deep rooted issue with lack of respect and trust that even though we can get along, it has really caused irreparable problems between us. Which I still hope they can be prepared, but to be completely truthful that is the way I feel at this point.

 

Thank you very much for your input, advice, and perspective.

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