How to deal with a husband who actively rejects my daughter and me?
September 6, 2016 11:37 AM   Subscribe

What more can I (or should I) do in this family situation? There is such an imbalance of love and affection going on, I don't know what to even do any more.

I have been with my husband for six years. I have a 7 year old daughter from a previous relationship who was very young when my husband and I began dating, moving in and getting married. My daughter visits her Dad once a week and every other weekend. My husband and I had a son three years ago. The two kids have always been close and get along very well. I feel like I have a very strong attachment with both kids.

I understand that feelings and bonds can be so different in these situations, but it has slowly grown to the point where my husband actively ignores or rejects my daughter and showers our son with laughter, attention, and affection. I see my daughter try to join in to get affection, and he sometimes makes an effort, but it seems awkward and the joy just disappears. The attention he does give her is typically neutral or negative. This pattern, growing in intensity to the point where he will not even greet her in the morning or after work, seems to (understandably) drive her to seek me out for just about anything. She has started ignoring him at times in conversation, but will still make efforts to connect with him. To make it worse, he refuses to talk about it with me. He becomes very upset and defensive and blames the situation on me. I did back off for a time (about 8 months) to really see if the situation would improve, but it has gotten worse.

In the past year, I feel that some of this behavior has also started toward me. He will walk in the door, greet our son, and ignore us. He often ignores our questions and statements around the dinner table, focusing his attention on our son. If he does talk to us, it is often in a very different manner (monotone) than he uses with our son. He's stopped showing me any affection at all.

I am an adult and can handle this temporarily, but I am so stressed that my daughter is being emotionally harmed by this. I also worry how it might affect her and our son if we separate/divorce.

We try to talk about things in general, but he gets so mad and tries to blame me for everything. It is hard for him to own up to his role in these dynamics and also to really listen to how I feel. This is such a stark difference from the person I married, but right now I just want to leave. I don't know what else to do.

I am in therapy myself, and I have tried to pursue family counseling with my husband, but he refuses.
posted by retrofitted to Human Relations (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I also worry how it might affect her and our son if we separate/divorce.

My parents didn't get along for a long time while I was growing up (they're better now). It took me a long time (and one failed marriage, complete with child) to realize how much that had fucked me up. Do you want to model this sort of behavior as acceptable in an adult relationship?

I have tried to pursue family counseling with my husband, but he refuses.

Give him an ultimatum. It may be the only thing that gets through to him how profoundly unhappy you are. If he says no, you will know flat-out whether he wants you to be happy.
posted by Etrigan at 11:42 AM on September 6, 2016 [50 favorites]

Leave. This is damaging your daughter. If he can't man up and parent both kids then you must leave.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 11:42 AM on September 6, 2016 [117 favorites]

This is not okay. You are right that this is damaging to your daughter. And the fact that he won't talk to you about it is just ... game over.

Leave. This marriage is done, and he doesn't deserve to play any part in your daughter's life or YOUR life. Don't teach your kids that this is normal or okay behaviour in a relationship. Stand up for yourself and your daughter and leave. Your son will no doubt benefit in the long run from it as well by learning how NOT to treat people.

Note: I am a step parent. I get that for a lot of people it is hard and that they don't always develop a super deep bond that is similar to the bond to their bio-kids. But jesus christ, he isn't even treating her with a drop of RESPECT.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:43 AM on September 6, 2016 [45 favorites]

For me, this would be a deal breaker, if he continues to refuse counseling. Your children are growing up thinking that this is acceptable, that this is OK in a relationship, and OK for parents to act like this. This is when you day therapy or you are leaving. He could be depressed, but he can't keep teaching both kids that this is normal.
posted by kellyblah at 11:44 AM on September 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

Based only on the words that you typed that I just read on my screen, and with absolutely no professional (or even amateur) credentials, it sounds to me like he resents your daughter and no longer loves you. If this is the case, and you should probably get more than Some Guy On The Internet's opinion on this, then I think you deserve better. It will be far less damaging to your kids in the long than if you were to stay in a loveless marriage.
posted by bondcliff at 11:48 AM on September 6, 2016 [35 favorites]

This is damaging your daughter, you and your son. I grew up with a parent who would intermittently act as though I did not exist. It took years to realize it was not normal and many more years after that to unravel the damage it caused me. Yours sounds worse than my situation since mine was intermittent. There seems to be a lot of missing information here, but at face value and as written...this is abusive.
posted by murrey at 11:48 AM on September 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

If ever there was a need for the acronym DTMFA this is it.
posted by bleep at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2016 [28 favorites]

Also, this is the sort of behaviour that gives step-parenting a bad name and why "evil step parent" tropes exist. As a step parent I'm bloody furious at him for being such a horrible example of a step-parent. I love my step-son more than breathing and I couldn't love him more even if I had pushed him out of my vagina. Step-parenting is work, without question, and comes with its own special basket of stresses and difficulties that bio-parents don't have to deal with, but it is so worth the effort. But not everyone is able (willing) to put in that work and effort for a child that isn't biologically theirs. Not everyone is cut out for being a step parent. This person you married? Not cut out for it. He doesn't even deserve the PRIVILEGE of being a parent to your daughter.

God, I'm so angry.

Trust me when I say that you can find someone better who loves you AND your children, regardless of their genetic contributions (or lack there of). You deserve better, and so do your kids.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:54 AM on September 6, 2016 [32 favorites]

It's not just you and your daughter who will be negatively affected by this if you let it continue. It will hurt your son, as well. Seeing that kind of disrespect for the women and girls in the family is terrible for young men.
posted by praemunire at 11:55 AM on September 6, 2016 [93 favorites]

We try to talk about things in general

OK, but you need to find a way to talk about this in specifics. You have to force the issue. Even if you manage that, your odds do not sound great. But if you're looking for the intermediate step before DTMFA, that's your play, longshot though it may be. And if you're ready to blow past that and leave him, then there's your answer.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:04 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

how it might affect her and our son if we separate/divorce

And what effect will staying have on them? This is damaging not only your daughter, but your son as well, not to mention yourself. Show them that such behaviour is NOT ok, or they'll both grow up thinking it is. Do you want your son do such a thing to his own potential future family? Or openly disregard girls in general?

Sorry, but DTFMA. You're better off on your own if this is the alternative.
posted by gakiko at 12:17 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Maybe try couples counseling? Google "emotionally focused therapy" and see if you can find a practioner in your area? Be open to trying more than one therapist until you find a good "fit."

This would be ultimatum time, but do try to deliver that message gently. If it's really a no-go, the next step should be mediation with an eye towards separating and divorce. Gosh no, this dynamic can not continue. You're an awesome mother for facing this and taking action.
posted by jbenben at 12:20 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hold on for a second.

I've actually been through this - as a child in this type of marriage and breakup. And, let me tell you, leaving DOES have consequences for the kids, no matter what the text books and advice columnists say. It took years and years to get over the loss of structure that a 2 parent provides. Try your best to first find a solution that fixes the situation while returning to the earlier success of your marriage. One option is to do an intervention. They can be highly effective with men.
posted by Tanzanite at 12:20 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Look, outcomes differ, but divorce can be tough on kids. That said, I don't see that you have much choice here. What he is doing to your daughter is worse. If he isn't willing to even discuss this with you or go to counseling, then I don't see what alternative you have.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 12:24 PM on September 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Whatever you do, consider some counseling for your daughter. She may only be 7, but she feels this. And she needs a voice. Talk to your therapist about this and see what they think or advice they have. Ideally, you get your own relationship on the straight and narrow with marriage therapy so you know where things stand but your family is dysfunctional and looks to continue down a bad path. Your daughter needs loving and fair adults in her life.
posted by amanda at 12:25 PM on September 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

I feel so terrible and sad and angry on your daughter's behalf. I have been in a position very similar to hers, and I know just how hurtful it is. You know how much she is being hurt. You know how disrespectfully he is treating her, and you are rightfully upset by that.

You also seem to see how much his treatment of you is hurting you. Being ignored like that is hard. It is hard for a child, and it is hard for an adult. But I want to make sure you also think about this: he is disrespecting you as well. He is not willing to talk to you about important matters about your shared life together. He does not acknowledge you when any respectful adult (let alone loving family member!) would. He does not respect you.

Children need love. They need respect. And they need to see what it means for adults to respect one another. What your husband is doing is not okay. It is not okay how he is treating his step-daughter. It is not okay how he is treating you. And it is not okay how he (along with you) are modeling adult interactions for your daughter and son. Don't make yourself, your daughter, and your son stay in a situation that is not okay--and don't let them grow up believing the situation you're all in is anything but not okay.

You deserve respect. Your daughter deserves respect. Your daughter and son both deserve to see what it means for adults to respect one another--and also what counts as an appropriate response when one is disrespected by another.

You want to leave, and you seem to understand why it would be good for all of you if you leave. Good luck. Everyone in this thread wants the best for you and your children (and even your husband--I hope he is someday able to figure out what is going wrong and actively seek to better himself). Our hearts are with you.
posted by meese at 12:39 PM on September 6, 2016 [16 favorites]

This will be a bit of an emotional response, because my dad's long-term girlfriend was frequently unfair to me when I was 8 to 11--things like harsher punishments for the same offense, and being visibly more affectionate and patient with her own daughter. It wasn't nearly as bad as what you're describing, and it still really messed me up. Like, I'm over 30 and still talking about it in therapy, and my dad's inability to acknowledge what happened has seriously damaged our relationship.

Kids are very perceptive about unfairness, and what your husband is doing is unfair and deeply cruel. It sounds like he started to reject his stepdaughter when his bio-child was born, which is so awful. I feel so bad for her.

I don't think you should try to reconcile. This is emotional abuse and absolutely a good reason to leave someone. You and your daughter deserve better... and so does your son. This is horrible behavior for her husband to model.

You didn't say what kind of relationship you have with your daughter's dad, but if it's OK, he might be able to help out a bit here--maybe just taking her for some extra time while you get things in order. I'm sure he's noticed a change in her behavior (or maybe she's told him some things), so it would be good to be on the same page.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 12:43 PM on September 6, 2016 [31 favorites]

I grew up in a less-harsh version of this where I was your daughter. My stepfather wasn't cold to me - in fact, I think I was the one initiating more of the distance between us as I got older, although once it was there he didn't have the first clue how to deal with it and withdrew further from me in response. But our family definitely, over the course of my childhood, became increasingly a "us-against-them" sort of thing where there was an unspoken division between me-and-my-mom and my stepdad-and-half-sister. Some of it I was aware of at the time; some of it took me years of therapy to unravel later. Some of it worked itself out in my adulthood and some of it never really has.

I can't tell you what you should do about your marriage. While I tend to jump to "try to fix it first", it's hard to imagine how that will work if he won't engage with you in a conversation. Maybe you need to see if he'll do couples therapy with you; maybe you need to leave.

Mostly I'm just here on behalf of the your-daughters of the world to say that whatever you do, please do consider some counseling for your daughter. She needs to have someone purely on her side and letting her know that what is happening is not her fault. (And, perhaps, that she does not have to keep trying if he won't meet her partway. She does not have to be the grownup here just because he refuses to be.) I'm sure you're doing a lot of that yourself, but the situation itself sounds like it might be such that doing so is in some ways just deepening the us-against-them divide. Which isn't to say you should stop reassuring your daughter, just that it might help her to have someone else on her sides whose reassurance is less fraught.
posted by Stacey at 12:51 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

1. Put your daughter in counseling.
2. Divorce him.
3. Treat both your children with love and affection for the rest of their lives.
posted by French Fry at 1:08 PM on September 6, 2016 [15 favorites]

I don't think you can live like this forever. Nor do I think you should live like this. It isn't good for you, and it isn't good for your kids. I don't know what is going on in his head or what triggered this nonsense.. but if he won't work on this with you, then you really don't have a relationship any more. In my opinion, both people in a relationship need to give their 100%. How much effort that 100% is can vary wildly due to life circumstances, but from what you've posted, he's not giving his 100%. To me, this is a clear situation of 'ok husband, start offering (and following through with!) solutions here or I divorce"
posted by Jacen at 1:11 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Tell him he goes to couples counseling or you're leaving. His behavior here is 100% unacceptable and it's on him to fix this. It's up to you whether you give him that second chance or you just walk. You'd have good reason to give up on him right now.

I strongly agree with the suggestion that you should get your daughter into counseling. In the meantime, assuming you decide to try and stick with your husband, tell him he needs to start showing the kid some love and respect NOW. No more silent treatment shit, no more weirdo hostile criticism. That's not parenting, that's abuse.

I suck at confrontation and I know it may seem impossible to deal with all this, but every day that this goes on it may be doing awful, life-long damage to your daughter. She could be 60 years old and still crying about this to her therapist, or married to some man who treats her like garbage. And God only know what this may be doing to your poor son. Maybe he'll grow up thinking this is how to treat women. Maybe he'll grow up with horrible guilt, wishing he'd done something about it (even though he was just a kid) and feeling like he doesn't deserve anything good. Maybe he'll grow up an entitled monster. And this has all got to be torture for you!

I was a child of divorce and I take separation very seriously. But this isn't a case where it's better to stay together as-is, for the sake of the children. Your husband is harming the children, and you. He needs to make huge changes now, or he's got to go.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:13 PM on September 6, 2016 [21 favorites]

There is a lot wrong going on in the things you are describing, but I really want to focus in on the fact that he won't
"own up to his role in these dynamics."

His unwillingness to accept responsibility for how his actions and behaviors impact others is just not okay. In a healthy relationship the appropriate response to conflict or difficulties is not to cast blame, but to listen for understanding and then seek out solutions. Counseling is great for helping people build the skills for doing this. But first he needs to accept personal responsibility for himself.

It might be helpful for you to talk to your therapist about preparing to have a conversation with your husband about how his behavior has changed and how his actions are impacting you. You can practice being dispassionate and focusing on the actions and consequences of what he is doing. And then you can lay out your conditions for continuing in the relationship which would include - attending counseling, consistent acknowledgement of your and your daughter, and end to minimizing your feelings, an end to blaming.

You could certainly instigate a trial separation before going the full on divorce route.
posted by brookeb at 1:20 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd call it contempt, and it's a marriage-killer. I would separate, maybe try counselling. I'm so sorry you're going through this. Your kids are lucky to have you.
posted by theora55 at 1:21 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a stepfather, dtmfa. His oldest child deserves to be treated as such and deserves better than this. It isn't just harming her, it's harming you, and it's harming your son.
posted by Apoch at 1:34 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Please remember that if you do give an ultimatum, you have to be prepared for him to reject it as well.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:39 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really cannot stress enough that what he is doing is SO damaging. Damaging to you, damaging to your daughter, damaging to your son.

Nothing good can come of this.

Whatever you decide to do, you must do something soon. This is emotional abuse at its very worst and this could f*ck your daughter up for life. My heart breaks for all of you in this situation - he sounds like a nasty piece of work to be honest.
posted by JenThePro at 1:50 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Send him packing.

It's bad for your daughter. It's also bad for your son who thinks this is an appropriate way to treat women.

Since he won't discuss it and won't go to counselling, he has made his decision. He is completely OK with treating you like this in front of your kids.
posted by 26.2 at 1:55 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

So, your husband is making a point of demonstrating to the three of you that he is more than capable of treating any of you with respect, affection and attention, but that only one of you (the son) deserves that kind of treatment from him, and the other two of you do not. It's not that he isn't an affectionate or attentive guy in general and doesn't grok the idea of being there for family members, which would at least be forgivable as a character flaw. But this goes beyond a character flaw, and straight into the territory of manipulation and abuse. When a parent establishes a hierarchy where family members have to compete for something as fundamental as acknowledgment of their presence from the person upon whom they depend for their basic needs to be met (clothing, food, shelter, love), that is incredibly damaging.

I would put this in the category of, "We are going to talk about this tonight, and you will either change or leave" kind of problem. Children shouldn't have to grow up wondering why Dad loves one of them but not the other. And they shouldn't watch Mom being treated that way either, or accepting it as the status quo. They are children, you are the adults, and your husband has a responsibility to the three of you. He does not get to just decide that this is how he's going to act from now on--not without serious consequences. Time for him to know what those are.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2016 [45 favorites]

I've been the kid in this situation (well, one that was more actively hostile to my existence), and it did me a lot of damage. If my parent had recognized that my being in this situation was hurting me-- by leaving, by helping me access counselling or other supports-- well, I can't even imagine how much of a difference it would have made in my life. The fact that he stayed in that situation, and I had to as well, hurt me really, really deeply in a way that I continue to deal with as an adult.

In my early twenties, I also dated someone with a kid, and I found that I was not able to connect with that kid and to be in her life in a positive way. I found myself being distant and resentful. It was not okay, and I removed myself from the relationship.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:25 PM on September 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Hold on for a second. I've actually been through this - as a child in this type of marriage and breakup. And, let me tell you, leaving DOES have consequences for the kids, no matter what the text books and advice columnists say. It took years and years to get over the loss of structure that a 2 parent provides.

I have been through this too. My parents are divorced and it was much better for me growing up after the divorce than before. In many cases, such as my own, the consequences of not leaving are worse. Would it have been better for me growing up if I had two stable, loving, parents who were supportive and nuturing? Yes, but I did not have this and OP does not have this, and from what OP has written I am not optimistic that change is possible.

Your daughter will learn a lot about relationships with men based on what you and your husband are modeling for her. For me it was very hard to envision a good loving relationship and that made it hard to seek out the type of man who could provide that.
posted by seesom at 2:50 PM on September 6, 2016 [15 favorites]

Please seek legal and therapeutic help before pulling the trigger on the divorce. Not because this is something you should put up with (this is abuse) but because you need expert evidence to build a case for him to only have supervised access to the children. As bad as it is now to watch your children being abused by him, you don't want have to agree to joint custody due to lack of third-party evidence and allow this abuse to escalate without your presence moderating his behaviour.

Leave, but first get all your ducks in a row. Life will get better now you are able to make positive choices.
posted by saucysault at 2:57 PM on September 6, 2016 [37 favorites]

retrofitted, you've already gotten lots of good advice that I agree with. I just wanted to let you know that nobody deserves this, not you, your daughter, or your son (because watching other people be hurt is also a traumatic event; if nothing else, it teaches you that the love you are getting is conditional and might be withdrawn at any time).

And whatever reasons your husband has, which he may drag forward when he is cornered by you leaving, he also has a responsibility to all three of you that transcends his pain. Being a parent and a spouse means dealing with the baggage you have that might prevent you from being good at those things. It's a basic job requirement.

A person who is not willing to even face their own problems and abusive actions, much less change them, is not ready to be anyone's spouse or anyone's parent.

And you can't do that for him. He has to do it himself. If he won't do it, then he leaves you no choice; you have to choose yourself, and your kids, over him.

All the best to you. We weird internet people are rooting for you.
posted by emjaybee at 3:05 PM on September 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

Child of divorce here. This is utterly unacceptable. I'd give the ultimatum of counseling or separation/divorce. And I'd have my plans in place for either alternative. Also, your daughter deserves supportive counseling.

Thinking of you.
posted by bearwife at 3:06 PM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think counselling would work especially if you could get your former husband to join a course of sessions. What your husband is doing is not irrational, but he somehow has made the decision he is not going to try with your daughter because she already has a father. The Fatherhood Institute in the UK has a number of resources that helped me immensely to rise to the positive male role model / mum's boyfriend I am today with no hint of sarcasm.
He can learn not to hold back affection and show the difference through example. He needs to know that her natural father won't be offended and won't object if her stepfather shows her affection, reads to her, puts her to bed, buys ice cream, and millions of other things one does for and with their kids.
A few months ago I was at a baby's birthday party and there was a little girl probably a year younger than yours who was throwing a rubber ball against the ground and ricocheting it around the kitchen and I caught it, and said do you know how to throw a ball? She was a fast learner and when she caught the ball she jumped up for joy and ran to get her daddy. He didn't seem to know what to think, kind of looking at his daughter like she wasn't really real and so we threw the ball from me to her to him and him to her and I never saw such a happy child. We left them playing catch in the front yard. It is possible he can connect if he understands he has the same obligations as her father to your daughter.
posted by parmanparman at 3:06 PM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

This is not an accusation of you, or in any way an attempt to excuse your husband's behavior (especially to your daughter).

What you describe seems like it would only make sense if your husband felt betrayed by you somehow. Does he have reasons to suspect infidelity? Was he not on board with you getting pregnant with your son? Have your work/financial situations changed drastically over the course of your relationship? (forgive my question history spelunking: if your now-husband is also the "truly great guy" of 2012, could there be unresolved issues from that (temporary) breakup?)

Again -- not an accusation or excuse. Even if the answer to every single one of these was "Yes," the way he's treating you and your daughter is unacceptable. This needs to be fixed, either through counselling or divorce, but you can't keep living in a broken household like this, especially as your son grows old enough to really internalize these dynamics.

If there's some unspoken thing underlying what's made him so angry, he may be pushing back against counselling because he doesn't believe that counselling can fix that thing. He's probably wrong, but if you can do some work to figure out what the thing is, and propose directly addressing that in counselling, he might be more open to it.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:53 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Damn your question broke my heart. I mean, my stomach is literally churning after reading your ask. Please for the sake of your daughter and your own pride leave him. This will not get better and I don't see how you can expect your daughter to have healthy relationships if you're modeling this kind of shit is acceptable. And your son may grow up to think he should treat women like this! That's not even mentioning that you deserve to be in a relationship where your SO respects and loves you as an equal, not just a baby machine creating little likenesses in his image for his enjoyment alone.

I mean, yeah you can ask/demand that he go to counseling, with or without you, but I predict you'll be right back here in a few years, if not worse. I'm so sorry.

So take some time, lay your plans properly, then get out.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 4:13 PM on September 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Wow, what an immature jerk. No matter what is happening in his head or in your marriage, an adult should know better than to take it out on a seven year old. You've listed a number of very specific actions that you've asked him to perform, like greeting her in the morning, and the fact that he's not even willing to go through the motions shows his complete lack of compassion. This guy is teaching your daughter that she is not worthy of love and respect and risks damaging your son's view of what a normal relationship is supposed to be. And then there is his callousness and disregard of you and your feelings...

Get out before the damage is irreparable.
posted by rpfields at 4:15 PM on September 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is abuse, and you are jeopardizing your relationship with your daughter by subjecting her to it. Your husband needs intensive individual therapy, and he needs to not be around your daughter while he's doing it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:17 PM on September 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is a heart-breaking problem.

It's great you're seeing a counselor. Have you confided in anyone else -- your family, your friends? Do you have a church group? This issue is a big burden for one person. I hope you can lean on a few trusted friends...

Is it possible to talk to your husband's family? Perhaps they could give insight.

Also, you might call your local domestic abuse hotline. Not to report him. But because they might know of useful resources. His behavior does sound like a form of emotional abuse.

So many mefites are urging you to Leave Him. This seems precipitous. But you might make a timeline and a plan. Get your finances in order. Get recommendations for an attorney and meet with attorney. You need to think and prepare about finances and custody-- just in case. Perhaps you can pick a date when you will tell your husband you need a separation. Have your attorney help you write a letter listing your reasons for separation. This action might induce your husband to take action and change his outlook. If not, then you have already prepared your exit.

I agree with others that your daughter should have counseling. Your son also. This situation is also very bad for him.
posted by valannc at 5:35 PM on September 6, 2016

This is a horrible situation. My stomach dropped when I read this, because I went through this as a child. My parent had several blow up fights with their spouse over it, and they went to counseling. The spouse continued to freeze me out, and I eventually gave up on my relationship with that person... and here's the hard part: I also had to pretty much give up my relationship with my own parent, as well. I'm not welcome home at holidays and I wasn't invited to my sibling's wedding. I am a full grown adult now, and this still feels gut-wrenchingly awful. I have a great life (and I was a good kid-- I never "caused" this abuse by being naughty, just by existing).

I really feel for you in the spot you're in, and a separation and/or divorce will be traumatic, but just know that if you don't separate, you may lose the relationship with your daughter altogether.

The older I get, the more I look back and resent my parent for not protecting me from this awful treatment. Now that I have kids myself, I truly cannot fathom it.
posted by bonheur at 5:44 PM on September 6, 2016 [36 favorites]

I am sorry you're in this horrible position. I'm firmly in the "kids come first" camp where there is no excuse for this behavior from your daughter's step dad. This seems beyond the possibility that he's just in an emotional rut if this has been going on longer than 8 months. Everyone who has commented about the lasting impact this has already had on both your children is correct.

After my mom died, my dad was married to a woman for four years. The damage she did with behavior like your husband's (and worse) towards me has been irreparable, even 16 years after their divorce. My self esteem is very low and impacts my career, friendships, etc. I struggle to find the will to maintain a relationship with my dad and sister who were permissive of this woman's behavior throughout this ordeal.

I implore you to be the strong one in this situation and not let your fear prevent you from putting your children first. Demanding change now is important. Kids need to come first in this way. I do look back and realize how depressed my dad must have been in order to be with this person, and I understand how tough it is to make an ultimatum that could go the wrong way. I just think your kids need this to be resolved as soon as possible.
posted by Katie8709 at 5:47 PM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

He's teaching your daughter that she should be invisible.

He's teaching your son that women exist to be silent and servile.

This kind of damage is going to be far, far worse than anything a divorce is going to do to them.

I'm a child of divorce with a wonderful, caring and attentive stepdad. It doesn't have to be like this. Get your house in order then leave. He's got what he wanted from you - a son - and is trying to erase you from his life without having the guts or the honour to let you be free.
posted by Jilder at 5:51 PM on September 6, 2016 [23 favorites]

I really recommend seeing a lawyer and a therapist to put together a safety plan before you bring up separation/divorce. I'm concerned about the abuse and how it might escalate. Sometimes we downplay things in abusive relationships and it can help to have another party give us some pointer about safety planning.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:10 PM on September 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

I feel very sad for your daughter and for you that your husband is treating you in this way. It is unacceptable to show such blatant disrespect, and it must be especially heartbreaking to watch your daughter cope with that. I am tempted to agree with others that if he will not at least try therapy, you should leave. Primarily to set an example for your daughter that she doesn't have to be treated that way, and for your son, to show how important it is to respect everyone.

That being said, if therapy is an option, here's a podcast from Dear Sugar on the difficulties of loving step-children - it features letters from mothers (unfortunately not fathers in this case) who confess that they don't feel as though they can love their step-children as much as their biological children. It's deeply uncomfortable, and I know there are some people who will just never understand this point of view, but there are some interesting takeaways, and suggestions for families in therapy over similar situations.

At the end of the day, I think it's most important that you stand up for your daughter.
posted by gollie at 7:27 PM on September 6, 2016

Is it possible he is having an affair ? I notice 3 years ago you posted about his much diminished sex drive toward you. Did that ever pick back up? There is definitely something amiss here be it some sort of depression or secret he is keeping.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 8:50 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

My parents had a terrible relationship that showed a very real lack of affection or respect between them. I desperately wished they would get a divorce, and then thankfully they finally did it. Dealing with the divorce and their behavior during/after it was awful, but it was so much less awful than living with them when they were together.

Re the situation with your daughter, I'm less sure, though it certainly doesn't bode well. I can't think of any situation where your stepfather blatantly ignoring and excluding you is a good thing.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 PM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

If he is shutting you out because of something you did, you have the basic right to know what that is. Whether he is doing this purposefully or without realizing it, the fact remains that he makes you feel this way. The same goes for his behavior towards his stepdaughter. If he gets angry and refuses to listen to how his behavior makes you feel, then I would guess he either feels guilty or doesn't respect that emotion in you, either from his disbelief that you feel it or that he doesn't care that you feel it. Any of the three of those options are not good enough. You deserve to feel loved and respected in your own home. Your daughter deserves to feel loved and sheltered by the adults in her household. If he is unable to even acknowledge that he is ruining home for two of his family members, then he is going to keep doing it. You don't have to live like that and your daughter doesn't have to live like that.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:37 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

His behavior is his behavior. No matter what his "reasons" are, they are scare-quote reasons because treating an innocent child this way is inexcusable. Mature adults do not take petty revenge on other mature adults via children. They speak together without the children present and do what they can to come an agreement – including solutions such as divorce.

EVEN IF something happened to where your husband has "reasons," it does not change the fact that he is behaving cruelly and inacceptably.

Nthing speak with your therapist and a lawyer before bringing up divorce with your husband. You need to put your kids first. Then give him the ultimatum. Sometimes that's what it takes for people to understand that their actions have consequences.

I too am a daughter of a father (not even step-father, my bio father) who treated me this way. It is horrible and it will get worse if he doesn't own up to his behavior and do his best to change. My father's "reason" was that he resented my mother, and "as a result" all women were manipulative and couldn't be taken seriously. He nearly got a divorce when I was in elementary school; he stayed with my mother for us kids. His behavior got horrifically emotionally abusive towards me once he decided to stay. My brother was his angel; he and my mother basically used my brother as their peace-keeping Wonderful Child They Made Together and me as their peace-keeping scapegoat. Anything wrong in the relationship? Blame it on the girl-child.

So you know, eff any "reasons". You don't treat kids like that, period.
posted by fraula at 1:19 AM on September 7, 2016 [15 favorites]

My father treated me the same way. I'm in my forties now, and I still haven't gotten over it. I was born two months early and he never connected with me, because I was just going to die anyway. Both of my parents were otherwise abusive and I was the family scapegoat, the family-destroyer, relationship-spoiler that should never have been born.

I cannot tell you how painful it still is to type this. I have done a ton of healing over the years, but the reality still sears my soul. I have terrible trouble trusting anyone or letting people get close to me, because I expect that, sooner or later, the other shoe will drop, and I will be betrayed.

Please, please, please, get your little girl some help right away. And remind her - over and over and over again - that none of this is her fault and that she deserves love, just as much as her brother does.

Please let us know how this turns out.
posted by dancing_angel at 2:33 PM on September 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

Thank you, everyone, for your time and advice. I have moved out and my daughter has started therapy. It is such a relief to not be immersed in that environment any longer. Though it will take time, the healing process has already begun. I am feeling more hopeful than I ever have been!
posted by retrofitted at 7:07 AM on October 13, 2016 [22 favorites]

Very glad to hear it, retrofitted. Here's wishing you and the kiddos the best of luck!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:47 PM on October 13, 2016

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