Dear David Coleman: My step-daughter won't come to our wedding

Q Myself and my partner have been together for four years and are planning to get married. Our only dilemma is that he has three children with his former wife and they don’t really accept me. While they were initially happy enough when they learned about me, they have now become downright rude in how they treat me. His eldest daughter is 14 and is definitely a ring-leader, with the younger two following her lead. My partner is getting into a terrible state as she told him she wouldn’t come to the wedding because she doesn’t like me. I tell him he needs to man up and to stop falling for her manipulation. Have you any advice?

David replies: Integrating two families can be a tricky business. You don’t mention if you have children of your own from any previous relationships, but it does seem like you may be struggling to understand his children and their feelings.

Good communication and lots of understanding are key to the successful blending of families. I could see how his oldest daughter could see you as a threat to her relationship with her dad. If you look at it from her perspective, her dad’s separation, whenever that occurred, could have rocked her sense of security. She may have already found it hard to maintain the closeness in her relationship with her dad when he no longer lived with the rest of the family.

Your introduction, as a new partner, could have further threatened any stability that she had managed to create. Her father’s closeness with you may have caused her to fear that he would start to love you more than he loves her. If you and her dad are living together, that too may have caused her some jealousy if she didn’t get to spend equivalent lengths of time with her dad. When you announced your wedding, it may have been the final straw, confirming her belief that her dad is effectively picking you over her.

While her behaviour, threatening not to come to the wedding, may be manipulative, I doubt it is helpful to bluntly point this out to your partner. He may feel very stuck in the middle of a ‘tug of love’ and may have no idea how to resolve the situation.

I think you and your partner need to have lots of open and empathetic conversations with each other, to ensure that you both share an understanding of what might be going on. Counselling may help you both to be able to discuss these issues.

Since his daughter is a teenager, I think you and her dad will have to take the lead in addressing the issue with her. I think it will really help the situation overall if you and her dad are able to show his eldest daughter that you might understand that she may have complicated feelings about you, about him and about the wedding.

I think if you can show that you can understand how you may well appear to be a threat, but that this is not your intention, it will help to start building a relationship between you and his daughter.

If you can create an open and accepting forum for her to be able to talk about her feelings (not always easy with any 14-year-old) you may find that she will have the courage to voice any negative feelings or misgivings about the current situation that she has. While this may be difficult for you and her dad to hear, I am always guided by the advice that ‘it’s not until the bad feelings come out that the good feelings can get back in’. Listening to her fears, upset or annoyance, without trying to fix or change them, may be a challenge, but it will pay dividends in the longer term. When she knows that you better understand her, she may be more forgiving and understanding herself.

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