Help me navigate what could very well be a painful breakup.
November 15, 2017 2:42 PM   Subscribe

How do I exit this relationship in a way that minimizes harm to myself, my soon-to-be ex-partner, and most importantly, my stepkids?

[Note: I am asking this question on behalf of my friend K, so my previous question history will not help you here.]

I'm a woman who has been in a relationship with a man for 8 years. He has three kids from a previous marriage and we are heavily involved with them. They are now 19, 16, and 16. For the last 6 years, with the exception of perhaps a year in the middle, I have been financially responsible for the vast majority of the bills, including picking up the slack from their mother, regardless of the custody situation. I have had a very close relationship with the children throughout.

Over the last 2 years our relationship has deteriorated. He has long since stopped taking responsibility for his finances, his health and well-being, or his role as my partner. A year ago I prompted a serious conversation about these conditions, and his only responses were to agree with my assessments-that he was depressed, not feeling healthy, etc. He was not a very active participant in these conversations and was generally truculent and on the verge of shutting down entirely.

Over the last year he has made no effort to change any of these circumstances. Despite not contributing financially, he has expressed concern over the state of "our" savings as necessary expenses came up. I'm planning on prompting a second conversation, but I can not continue as I have been. I think that the kids feel that all is not well in our relationship, but I am concerned that I will not be allowed to maintain a relationship with them after a possible breakup, and I'm also concerned at the damage that a second significant split will cause them. They are at vulnerable moments in their lives as teenagers--one is in the very early stages of transitioning and one if having a very hard time with school at the moment. They have already had to go through one painful divorce. I am heartsick thinking about how this could hurt them and I'm not sure what to do.

I am especially interested in advice from step-parents who have gone through breakups. I also want to hear what I can do to help the kids through this and any wisdom in general about best practices for someone in my situation.
posted by zeusianfog to Human Relations (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For better or worse, we are not married and have no legal ties on paper. We have no joint bank accounts.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:58 PM on November 15, 2017

anecdotally then, what I've seen is that kids who can drive themselves tend to make their own arrangements and stay in touch with their quasi-parents when they split. If you're dependent on their dad for physical access, that's harder.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:01 PM on November 15, 2017 [12 favorites]

Thanks for being willing to role model appropriate adult relationships for your (step) children. It sounds like you are done, after a year of no progress, so offering *another* second chance to your ex may not be as productive as you think.

At 19 & 16 the kids will have their own relationship with you, regardless of their biological parents. However, this is also the prime age of self-absorption so you may need to still make the same effort you would have if they were younger, like 12 (and they will probably forget your birthday etc). So make sure they can always keep in contact with you (it sounds like finances may be an issue so offering to pay their monthly mobile phone bills could help, but maybe wait a few months for everything to shake out before offering). If you are blocked by the father, maintain a good relationship with the mother (it sounds like you have a somewhat positive relationship with her, from her perspective). Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 3:20 PM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

At 19, 16, and 16 there is only so much he can do to stop them having a relationship with you. I think the important question here is what kind of relationship are you open to and what kind would you like? What are your boundaries going to be?

I think it is possible for you to remain in their lives, but you will need to negotiate with them what that looks like, and because they are proto-adults at best you are going to need to be extremely explicit or they're likely going to skew to either "like nothing has changed/financial expectations" or "don't want to bother you/are afraid of being rejected or asking too much/need you to take the lead until the relationship gets its footing back".

There's a very good chance that their father will expect you to continue to take care of them to the same extent you have in the past, if he can't be bothered to do much about his life. He may emotionally blackmail them, but all you need is to communicate clearly to them that your concern is them not him.

I have known a lot of people who had a step-type-parent split with a bio-parent late in childhood or early in adulthood and they negotiated their own relationships. That's a totally feasible thing, in which you can provide certain types of support and maybe even give them some kind of island of stability that you would not really be able to do if you stay. You can't stay with their father for them, though. They're too old for that to be a critical component, they're all at the age where the nature of your relationship was going to change anyway.

But I think it's important that you know, in your mind, what you will and won't do and what you would most like to happen, so that you can be articulate with them about "this is how we move forward". They'll have choices and preferences of their own, and that's fine, but the clearer your communication with them is the freer they are to make those decisions without second-guessing them.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:47 PM on November 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

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