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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 56    

December 2006

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.



My stepdaughter treats me with contempt

“Dinah” writes:

I am 57 and, until I met my husband, was living abroad, where both of my children and their families are still living. We had both been in unhappy relationships and fell in love immediately we met, six years ago. Within five months I had given up my job, moved away from my friends, children and life abroad, to live with my new partner back in the UK. I have put money into his house, as well as funded restoration work.

When we met, his 16-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother during the week, seemed to accept me and the new arrangement, but she is with us every weekend so we seldom get a weekend to ourselves.

My husband is generous in the monthly maintenance he pays to his former wife but is still pressured to pay for extras like hairdressing appointments, holidays, etc. I feel that my step-daughter is a spoiled girl who expects her dad to give her whatever she wants and who now treats me with contempt. This situation worsened after our marriage, as her mother was very upset by it. I think the girl is heavily influenced by her mum, whose marriage ended 11 years ago.

No matter how bad her behaviour, my husband never tells his daughter off. She seldom speaks to me unless her boyfriend is staying too, although they spend most of their time up in her attic bedroom. She has some disgusting habits and neglects her personal hygiene, but her father seems unable to deal with any of this. He doesn’t see how badly she treats me. She leaves notes lying around for me to see, saying she hates her mum’s boyfriend and wants her parents to be together in our home.

My husband blames me for all of this and speaks of a possible divorce. I have got to the stage where I dread going home at the end of the day. I’m at the end of my tether and wish I were back overseas. I stand to lose everything. I don’t know what to do for the best.


Maggi replies:

Other than the girl’s boyfriend, no-one seems to be getting anything out of this situation, do they? The old mantra “marry in haste, repent at leisure” seems to be so much more true in second or subsequent marriages as there are more layers of family loyalties to be taken into consideration.

From what you say, your husband’s ex has never really come to terms with the end of her marriage to him or established an independent life. This will explain the daughter’s inability to accept new people in her parent’s lives. Perhaps your husband too needs to consider how tied he is to the arrangements he made years ago with his ex-wife. These need to be reviewed regularly and changed to accommodate new situations. For instance, the weekend visits do seem to weight things fully in the ex’s favour at the expense of your marriage. You need to have more regular leisure time as a couple without the hostile presence of such a resentful teenager.

But remember, she is exactly that. A teenager. Teenagers seem to be another species at times. She is going through huge changes of her own and is probably confused and struggling too. This will probably settle as she learns more about relationships through her own experiences.

But it is your relationship with your husband that troubles me most. It sounds as though you don’t have a strong sense of being a couple. Your husband is trying to please everyone and as a result probably pleases no-one. He certainly needs to speak with his daughter about the way she behaves in your home.

When things have become this fraught it is hard to have a calm conversation, but here are a few tips that could help:

  • Choose a time when his daughter is not staying and neither of you are busy.

  • Use a warm, steady tone of voice and try not to raise the volume, even if things get heated.

  • Make sure you are not going to be interrupted by the phone, TV, etc. and keep an eye on the time. If you have got nowhere after 30 minutes, only go on if you both agree; otherwise suggest talking more tomorrow if convenient.

  • Tell him you want to talk with him and reassure him it isn’t a ‘moan’, but a need to address the family problems together.

  • Offer him an appreciation of the good things in your relationship or of how things were at the beginning.

  • If things do get heated suggest stopping and return to the subject after you make a cup of tea or something similar.

  • Explain how you are feeling, rather than what he or his daughter are doing wrong.

  • Ask him to listen while you say what your worries are.

  • Tell him how you would like things to be, but acknowledge that it is hard to make changes.

  • Negotiate and be prepared to compromise.

  • Use ‘I’ statements and not ‘you’ statements. This helps avoid the other person feeling blamed for everything and allows you both to discuss the problems, rather than argue over them.

If all else fails and your husband is unwilling to listen or discuss things with you, perhaps suggesting that you go to Relate to air your problems would be the best way of ensuring you both have a chance to put your point of view and try to strengthen your marriage. If things have sadly gone past the point of no return, then Relate can help you separate more amicably and with a better awareness of what part each of you have played in the relationship.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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