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M.D., The Divorce Coach
Dear Divorce Coach,

I have been dating a man for a year. He has been divorced for over 8 years and has 2 daughters who just turned 9 and 13. He and his ex don't cooperate very well even though they've tried. Our problem is that his children don't want him to date. Specifically his oldest. He hasn't been very insistent that they follow the custody agreement so they don't spend the night on his weekends. His ex doesn't want them to spend the night and rather than argue in front of the kids, he has bent on his custody agreement; he's having a really difficult time with them staying over after all this time. The oldest is very jealous. I had known the girls for awhile before we even held hands around them and they just tear them apart. They consistently say rude things and can be very difficult when I'm around (only if their father is present). He will not do anything at all to change this. He says they're children and I'm the adult and I shouldn't take it personally or pull away from them. I'm supposed to let them treat me this way. He totally cannot see that not teaching them to respect people is harming them. They are very judgmental about people who don't meet their standards (the garbage man, factory workers, etc...) Their parents don't make a lot of money, so this is totally out of character for their family. How do I learn to be the punching bag and not be angry for his thinking that "time heals all wounds?" He will not discipline them or do any positive behavior modification. He cannot or will not understand my point of view, that children need to be taught to respect everyone, including me. He wants us to be one big happy family and I know that it takes years to build that bond and memories with a stepparent. I'd love to get married, but the children who are only around every other weekend are going to ruin our relationship.

Dear Future Stepparent:

Excellent questions. I'll try to answer as best I can, and I'll start with one simple statement. Get used to it! If you decide to marry your boyfriend, you are in for a long haul. Unfortunately, this is real life and not Hollywood where these situations are wrapped up neatly with everyone living happily ever after. I'm immediately concerned about one thing in particular for you. He's been divorced for 8 years. That means there has been more than enough time for things to improve between your boyfriend and his ex, and more than enough time for him to put aside his fear and guilt and parent his children in a healthy manner by setting very clear and firm boundaries. Sounds like his girls are running his life, and likely there is more than a little behind the scenes encouragement from their mother. I wish I could tell you things will get better, but I wouldn't predict that happening. In fact, I'd bet on things getting worse if you get married. Your boyfriend basically told you he has no plans to change things, so I'd believe him.

When you marry someone who is divorced with children, you will (in most cases) have to deal with the ex-spouse as part of your life, and in this case that doesn't sound very pleasant. The reality is, second marriages end more than 70% of the time in divorce. One of the primary factors in those discouraging numbers is directly related to existing children and ex-spouses. I don't recommend anyone attempt to "learn to be the punching bag." Starting a marriage that way is a formula for disaster. As for "time heals all wounds," it just isn't true. If it were, there would be a lot fewer bitter people in the world. Time and work, now that's a different story. You cannot create a "happy family" by hoping or wishing. In a blended family that can only happen with pure determination, patience, and hard work. Look at it this way- What you see is what you get, and from your letter I would guess that you don't like what you see or what you know you're going to get. I wish I had happier news. Good luck. M.D., The Divorce Coach

M.D., The Divorce Coach

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