Can your grown-up children really be so ‘selfish’?
So, your partner’s adult children are interfering with your relationship. And now perhaps, sadly, you’re wondering if your relationship can survive.
If we’re talking about your children here, know that I’m keeping you in mind too and I have a few comments for you in particular further down.
Maybe you recognise any of the following…
Your partner’s adult (aged 18+) children are…
- refusing to meet you
- not including you in cards and invitations
- ignoring you at family events
- unpleasant, disrespectful or even abusive towards you
Perhaps this has been going on for months, or even years. If so, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re beginning to wonder if you’re wasting your time.
In this article, I’ll first shed some light on why those grown-ups might be behaving negatively towards you. Then we’ll take a look at how you can help and encourage them to accept the relationship and you.
What you’ll learn
If you haven’t watched the video at the top of this article, do watch it now to get some insights right away…
Why are those children so ‘nasty’?
You and your partner are in love. You’re both overjoyed that you’ve got a(nother) chance of happiness in a committed relationship. Your partner may have been very careful about how and when they told their children about you… but the news really hasn’t gone down well.
Why? Well, your partner and his/her children may be feeling abandoned or hurt by the other, for different reasons.
To help you begin to get to grips with it – before deciding on your next step – here’s what might be going on…
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What about your partner?
Your partner will be having a tricky time trying to keep the peace. They have to broker new relationships between you and their children, themselves and their children, and maybe themselves and their ex. They’ll be trying to keep everyone happy – which is a hard task when there’s so much opposition coming from more than one direction.
For you, it might be really frustrating to be able to do no more than watch your partner trying to build bridges with seemingly little success. But it might help you to know that there are plenty of reasons why s/he is having such a hard time getting it right.
Here are some potential explanations:
- Your partner is feeling guilty…
… about not spending enough time with their children
… for causing the breakup of the family
- They feel at the mercy of their ex…
… for the love of their children
… for a successful outcome of a yet to be finalised divorce
- They’ve always pleased their offspring…
…and may have had problems setting firm, appropriate boundaries even when the children were young
- They fear losing all contact…
…with their children if they don’t do exactly what their children want them to do (or what they think they want them to do)
- They only see one choice…
…and often, that’s not a choice that works well for the new partner. But too many emotions get in the way of clear thinking about alternatives and compromises
What about you?
Dealing with the emotional fallout from your partner’s adult children will no doubt be taking its toll on you. It might be draining your energy and causing you sleepless nights and/or endless frustration. Or perhaps it’s draining your partner’s energy too, and either or both of you are losing your zest for this relationship and your new life together.
Maybe you’ve been hurt by the children’s negative judgements about you. Or perhaps they’ve refused to meet you at all – and that kind of cold, hard rejection hurts just as much.
It might be tough to understand this, but I hope you’ll believe me when I say that it’s unlikely to be about you personally – particularly if the children haven’t even met you. Just read the list above again to understand why.
A parent’s new relationship is bound to be challenging for the children, no matter their age. And if your partner had chosen someone else to share their life with, no doubt they’d be on the receiving end of the same treatment too.
So, what can you do? Is there hope?
We’ll start with the tough bit: managing your expectations…
Expect for this to be a long-term issue
If you see a future in this relationship and you really want it to work, then I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient with the children. Yes, I know – you were really hoping I’d come up with a different bit of advice here! 🙁
Also know that…
- Some issues may never be resolved
Constantly trying to appease the children without any evidence of progress isn’t helpful. There has to be compromise on both sides. If the children aren’t willing to compromise on a particular issue after a reasonable time, don’t keep trying. You’ll just be banging your head against a brick wall.
- You can’t change your partner
If your partner has never been able to set boundaries, don’t expect that it’s going to happen now. He or she will only change when they see the need, in their own time and when they totally believe in a positive outcome.
- You can’t change the children
If you’ve been trying to change them, my best advice to you right now is to stop. We as humans can’t change anyone else, and nor should we try. You may have been endlessly patient, gentle and understanding but unfortunately still see no signs of progress. If the children are ever to accept you, they’ll do it in their own time – and you mustn’t try and change yourself to fit in with what they want you to be either.
How to cope when your partner’s children are causing a rift in your relationship
Before we move on to my 3 steps towards a more hopeful future…
Unfortunately, when it comes to relationships and adult children, difficulties that have been going on for a long time make it unlikely that there’ll ever be an ideal solution.
If the children have caused a rift between you and your partner, you’ll now need to reconsider your commitment. Can you adjust your expectations in such a way that this relationship – in its current state – can work for you? Or would it require too much compromise and heartache on your part? In which case, is it time to close the door on this relationship?
3 Steps towards a more hopeful future
- Acknowledge the limits of your power
Acknowledge for yourself clearly what you have no control over and – based on your experience so far – what you know won’t change in the near future
- Use this article to identify for each party precisely where the problem lies
“The children are feeling….., therefore I can…..”
“My partner feels… , therefore I can…..”
“I feel….., therefore I need to…..”
- Decide what your boundaries are
Face up to what you can and can’t accept and make a brave decision as to whether this relationship has any chance of survival
If we’re talking about your grown-up children
If we’re talking about your children, it may be time to stand firm and make a definite decision!
You’re too old now to waste your time one way or the other. Step up to the plate – don’t just hang on in there in the hope that something will happen. If you do that, you might just find that the something that happens is that your partner decides he/she has had enough and ends the relationship.
If you decide you want to make a go of this relationship, know that your children might come round eventually. It may take some time, but it might also happen sooner than you think.
There’s one caveat, though: if your children are young adults and are still fairly dependent on you, you’ll probably still want to put their needs first. In which case, you’ll need to be clear with your partner that that’s what you’ll be doing. He/she may or may not accept that – in which case they can decide to continue with or end the relationship, depending on what feels right for them.
Can’t see the difficulties ever being resolved?
In that case, you have a choice.
- Reset your expectations, as suggested earlier. Aim to see the problems as challenges that need to be managed. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you can’t have.
- Failing this, know that walking away from this relationship could be the right decision for everyone involved, most of all you. And remember, there’s no shame in asking for help. Talking it all over with a professional relationship expert can really help. For further information, see my page: Online Relationship Advice.
Mull over what you’ve learnt from this article and take the time to consider and decide firmly on your needs, wants and boundaries.
Then set a time to have a calm, considered, open and honest conversation (see my article on how to have a difficult conversation). Tell your partner how you’re feeling, and what you truly want and expect from a relationship.
It helps to know precisely where the problems lie and therefore where to direct your energies. So, I hope the above has enabled you to understand the situation better. There’s always hope. 🙂
With a little time, effort, patience and understanding, there may still be a chance that your partner’s adult children will come to accept you as part of their mum/dad’s life. Sure, they won’t necessarily treat you like their new best friend, but there’s plenty of room for mutual respect, and recognition of each other as people of importance to your partner.
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