I have been in a relationship for two and a half years. We are engaged and have been living together for five months. He is recently divorced and is now paying alimony and child support. He earns less than his monthly bills. He is having issues with his 17-year-old daughter, who is spoiled, selfish and disrespectful. She wants nothing to do with me, and won’t see her father if I’m around. I feel she is trying to separate her dad from me and intentionally hurt me. When we first met we got along, but her mom has got her to hate me. I have had anonymous calls saying they are going to make my life a living hell and they have. I have been strong, but it’s getting harder. It’s taking a toll on me emotionally and health-wise. His 6-year-old daughter is great — she loves me and I adore her! My fiancé and his ex-wife are currently in court because she can’t do what the visitation agreement states.
My biggest problem is that my fiancé is angry five days out of the week. Seeing him upset all the time bothers me. I try everything from massages to letting him know how much I love him. He tells me he loves me and that it isn’t me, but every time I ask him something he gets angry. I try to have patience because he is going through a lot but I am getting desperate. Every time I tell him how I feel it ends up in a fight. I love him very much but sometimes I feel like I want out. I truly want it to work for us but don’t know if it will.
We fight mainly about our kids. My two kids live with us — an 8-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl. I sometimes feel he doesn’t love my son but he says he does. It seems every time he turns around my son is doing something wrong — not bad, just wrong, like leaving the lights on in his room or cleaning his mouth with his shirt. I tell my son he isn’t to do that but I can see in my fiancé’s face how much it bothers him.
So these are the many reasons why he’s always mad. When we aren’t fighting we are GREAT! But when he is mad it’s horrible.
I used to speak to my cousin, but stopped because it bothers my fiancé. So now I bottle everything inside; I feel like one day I’ll explode. I’ve been thinking we should go to counseling together. It’s my last resort, besides praying to God for a miracle. I can’t help wondering if, when all the problems are over, he will continue to be this way — is this what I will have to deal with in the future? I am scared and confused, and don’t know what to do anymore. I wish we could communicate, be friends, and be able to talk and fix things like a relationship should be.
You have listed a number of stressors right now, including a recent decision to begin living with your fiancé, conflict in your relationship, financial worries, a blended family, and legal concerns regarding custody and visitation. It is understandable that you are having strong feelings about all that is going on. So the first thing I would say is that it is important for you to find some support for yourself. You mentioned that you used to talk to your cousin but discontinued that due to your fiancé’s wishes. Make it a priority to find someone who can support you, whether that is your cousin, a friend, a community member such as a church pastor, or a professional counselor. Bottling up feelings can lead to increased stress and even physical symptoms. Although it may not seem as if this is an answer to the problem with your fiancé, taking good care of your own emotional and physical health is a good start towards improving your relationship.
Given that you and your fiancé just moved in together five months ago, you are both definitely still in a period of adjustment to this new living situation. It is likely that you will be continuing to settle in and adapt to this huge change for a while. It is common to feel irritated with a new housemate’s (and children’s) habits, decisions, and routines. What is happening now may not be representative of the future of your relationship, as the first year of living together is really difficult even when there are not children in the home. That said, it would be a good idea to work on things now with your fiancé, before you endure so much that you begin to emotionally check out of the relationship.
You mentioned that your fiancé’s oldest daughter refuses to see you, and that you worry that he does not love your son. Managing relationships with your biological children, stepchildren, and partner is one of the hardest things to do. I am not surprised that you feel excluded and hurt when your fiancé’s daughter chooses not to see you. However, it is normal and expected for children to have varied reactions to their parent’s new partners after a divorce. She may continue to avoid you. All you can do is let her know that you would like a more positive relationship and be ready to listen when she is ready to talk. Your fiancé will likely continue to be available to her in whatever way is most comfortable for her. You can let him know that you would prefer to be included if possible and that you would like him to advocate for that with his daughter. In the end, though, that choice is between him and his daughter. I’ll say it again: blending families is a challenge! It is a work in progress as two families come together.
With regard to your son, let your fiancé know that for now, you will be in charge of the discipline and he gets to be in charge of the fun. Your fiancé and son need positive time together to build a strong relationship. Fun activities or just time spent together outside of the daily routine will help.
You mentioned that it bothers you to see your fiancé upset or irritated. As you navigate this difficult time in your relationship, it will be important for you to take responsibility for your feelings and become comfortable with the fact that your fiancé will experience his own negative feelings as well. One aspect of relationships is letting someone have and express feelings. His feelings are not your responsibility; they are not yours to fix or change. However, if he is directing anger at others toward you, or if he is acting out his anger toward you or your children in a way that feels unacceptable, you can and should point out this behavior. There is a difference between your fiancé feeling or looking angry (looking upset is OK) and acting out his anger in an unacceptable way (verbal or physical abuse is not OK). As hard as it is to watch him be upset, sad, or angry, the only thing you can do is let him know that you are there to support him.
With that said, I do not mean to say that you should hide your feelings or silently endure behavior from him that feels rude. Share with him how you feel, preferably in a non-blaming way. It can sometimes be effective to use ‘I’ statements, which identify what is happening for you (e.g. “I am feeling angry with your daughter’s behavior” or “It is really hard for me to see you angry so much of the time”). Sometimes a template is helpful, such as the following sentence: “When you ____, I feel _____.” Use the first phrase of this statement to identify a specific behavior, such as the way your fiancé may speak to you. Then use a feeling word to share how the behavior affects you (e.g. sad, angry, nervous, upset, scared). So, your statement might look something like this: “When you raise your voice with me, I feel really sad.” This sentence helps one focus on communicating feelings.
The last thing I would say to you is that this is not just your problem to solve. There are two of you in the relationship, and it sounds like you are both struggling at the moment. You mentioned couple’s counseling, and I think that is a great idea for any couple who is considering marriage. As you figure out how to live together and build a life together, it can be helpful to have some input and ideas from a professional. Communication strategies are only the beginning of what you could gain from therapy. You say that when you are not stressed and angry, the relationship is great. Counseling could help you both work on bringing back positive aspects of relationship.
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