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More advice please - nearing the end

Tara456's picture

I appear to be locked in a circular and constant argument with my partner. Things are getting worse and soon we'll have a make or break talk. I need some sort of breakthrough in the conversation.

The behaviour of the SKs has been poor for years my partner told me, way before I came along. Since then, they've got even worse.  One is horribly moody and 'probably needs a counsellor' but his BM won't allow him to see a counsellor as it's "too traumatic" for the dear little snowflake and although he was booked to see one after being caught buying drugs (the school said he should), he's decided he doesn't want to go, so it's all cancelled.  When I say moody, I don't just mean internally or a bit grump, I mean seriously where-the-hell-did-that-come-from hostile.  If I ask him how his day was a few hours after cheerfully saying goodbye to him in the morning, his responses can be scathing, patronising, smirking with what he thinks are clever catching-out responses. The 20 year old is the most selfish individual I've ever met in my life. He operates in a world where care of others, concern of others, consideration of others has no place. So this goes far beyond his disrespecting all rules of the house, being generally rude, being devious and undermining, he literally throws back every possible niceness that could exist in the world every time. When he walks into a room I literally cower inwardly at the awful oppression he creates, ready for his new announcement of how things should be in our home, and brace myself physically to outwardly appear like what he's about to say won't hurt me/matter to me/drive me mad with anger.

Bottom line is the house doesn't have any sort of fun, loving feel to it when the SKs are around (week on/week off but eldest is with us 100% of the time now). My partner dreamt of a loving family like all his siblings, but first was the divorce and now the SKs simply don't have any inclination in them to want that, work for that, be part of that, even like that. They do absolutely nothing in any shape or form to help create that.

Meanwhile, I bent over backwards to create it, nurture it, fake it, sew the first seeds of it, put it up as something we could one day be. Their behaviour got worse and worse until I finally disengaged in as much as I can.

Here's the problem. My partner still holds on to this family ideal. It's a lovely idea, and it would work if the SKs were different humans. But they are who they are, and I understand now nothing will ever change with them. They haven't got it in them, and they haven't had it in them for years. So he says they are the way they are because *we* have failed to create the right environment for them to be decent human beings. He says my reactions of shock and disgust at their behaviour has created their behaviour and a tension in the air.  After all the understanding, offers to help and talk, gentle encouragement was all thrown in my face, I stopped all of that.

A few nights ago my partner organised a family meal. He loves the idea of everyone together, happily talking, and I get that, I would love that too. So the eldest ate a big meal an hour before we were due to leave. The teenager resisted because he'd have to stop playing Fortnite. They made snide comments all the way in the back of the car and sat down moody. The eldest yawned all the way through the meal, barely spoke and rolled his eyes when I told stories. The youngest mumbled grumpy answers to anything said to him. They didn't even smile at the nice waiters. I tried again and again to start nice, light conversation, showing interest, tried to make them smile or laugh.  It was awful. Before I had finished my meal the eldest ordered the bill, they then got up and walked out before I'd finished my drink. When we followed, they weren't even waiting at the door of the restaurant, they'd shot off back to the car.

So it was a disaster. An evening of relaxed family time that my partner and I wanted to turn into a family evening playing cards and chatting turned into an excruitiating 45 minutes and the eldest said he was too busy to join us later, then went up to his room, as did the youngest. 

My partner has blamed us for it. We are the problem, not them. Every single time and no matter what they do, he says we have failed to create the right environment for them to be friendly/tidy up/be happy young men/be respectful of adults/turn up on time etc.  And when he said "we" he really means me, because now he claims it only started when I came along (when we all know it didn't).

How can I deal with the upcoming talk? He does not accept any criticism of his SKs, so showing the hypocrisy, showing them how they are responsible for their own actions, showing him how they create the awful tension and not us, is never well received. And by that, I mean if I say that, he gets furious and says we might as well split then because I will "always fail to understand the SKs and him".

I've said so much before, it all gets twisted by him. I now just don't know what to say.

StepUltimate's picture

You are seeing this clearly, with righteous concern, but unfortunately your partner is in MAJOR denial.

Why is the 20 year old jerk still at home? Is he taking a full load of college classes & contributing to the household upkeep? What's the Launch Plan?

I'm guessing there's no Launch Plan & SS20 is 100% freeloading. You've realized that allll your efforts to encourage them out of this are sabotaged by your partner. 

Welcome to Steptalk. You will read your story - similar versions of it - over and over. You will hear you have a Partner Problem much more than a Stepsons problem... because Partner has BLINDLY REFUSED to adult-up & parent these skids. Your Partner is encouraging the bad behavior by enabling it instead of swiftly & consistently shutting it down. Partner not only allows YOU to be disrespected... but also BLAMES YOU for the skids' monsterous behavior. Behavior that Partner needed to nip in the bud about 18 years ago.

Fortunately, you have options. Others will explain them better than I can. 

Tara456's picture

SS20 ("SK1") lied to his parents and claimed he had submitted his application to university after A levels. He hadn't. Suddenly announced (didn't ask) he was going to spend a year working and living in the two homes. Got a job serving fries, then admin work in an office. Year ends... everyone's wondering if he's going to put his application in, storms out of the room if anybody asks him what he's up to. Everyone terrified of confronting him and asking him straight out. Deadline approaches, he misses it. Year 2 of admin work. This year he's applied. He'll be off in September after 2 years of earning money and spending it. When he goes, if I am still around, you will find me dancing in the streets.

tog redux's picture

I'm not sure what there is to save here, exactly?  Your DH has put all responsibility for his adult and almost adult children's behavior on YOU.   I'm not even sure what it means to "create the right environment" where these spoiled brats want to be tidy and responsible. 

If I were you, I'd hate and resent DH at this point.  My message would be that I'm leaving.

Survivingstephell's picture

Since he claimed it only started when you came along, use his words to bail out and disengage from them all.  Always throw back his words at him.  Do it in the name of "understanding him".  Its also called active listening, reflecting back what you hear to make things clear.  He should be able to clearly express his thoughts on this without blaming you for the failures of the relationship with his kids.  

 He's seems to be caught up in the chase.  You can't win kids with chasing their love, they turn that around and make it into a game of manipulation of said parents walllet.   Suggest that you back out of the turmoil for now, have him spend "quality time" with the skids on his own and you will be happy to join back in when he gets it all figured out with the skids on his own.  

There are all kinds of disengaging, the best route is to just drop out and keep yourself busy without explaining what you are doing.  I'm not sure that would work in your case, you might have to take the martyr route and make him thing you are doing this for the skids and him so he won't bother you more.  You know him best but you need to back out of this game so he can experience the reality of his kids alone.  Humor him but give him no solutions.  Its not your problem to solve.  

That's how I approached it with my SD.  Her sibs were violent so I drew a hard line with them which was easy for DH to understand.  

Want2's picture

“When he walks into a room I literally cower inwardly at the awful oppression...”

All right so what we have here is a grown woman cowering. This is the problem that needs to be addressed.

OP, forget about dealing with your DH or his kids. It’s off the table, completely. You have major work to do dealing with your condition. You have no business trying to figure out anything or anyone else until you fix this problem.

Nothing in your life is fixable until you do this. Emotionally your home is built on a bad foundation. You can’t do any remodeling when the foundation is going to buckle.

Get thee to the nearest therapist. You have self esteem issues, anxiety and codependent traits. You cower before abusers. That should be enough to clue any therapist in.

Tara456's picture

OK I knew when I wrote the word 'cower' that it might be misinterpreted. I don't mean cower with fear and I have no self esteem issues. I mean cower from the barrage of selfishness and dominating attitude that comes in the room. I mean cower as in switch off to protect myself, not in a weak way but a strong I-am-not-playing-a-part-in-this-shit way.

What you may be correct in observing is that I don't speak up any more. This is part of my disengagement and walking a fine line dictated by my held-hostage partner. And I am held hostage too, I have no doubt of that by the way.

tog redux's picture

Your partner is NOT being held hostage. He and his kids are the hostage-takers, and you are the hostage.  You are giving him way too much benefit of the doubt here, he has ALL of the control in this situation.  He could tell his oldest son to get out of the house, and start parenting the younger one, but he won't.  Instead, he blames you for "not creating the right environment" (I still really, really want to know what that means) for them to act like civilized humans.

You are as much in fantasyland about your partner as he is about his kids, IMO. He is not a nice gentle person who is terrified of his kids. He's actively manipulating you to avoid having to deal with his parental responsibilities.

MurphysLaw's picture

1. Please find a good therapist FOR YOURSELF.

2. Get to the bottom of WHY you feel unworthy of LOVE & RESPECT with help of your therapist.


Ispofacto's picture

You are chasing these aholes and that gives them power.  They are spoiled and entitled, which leads to disrespectful attitudes.  You could try to see a couples counselor who should tell him the same thing, but I'm not sure he will listen.

If the two of you separate, things would likely not improve for him.  Then he would know it is not you.


futurobrillante99's picture

Hate to say it, but your partner's "WE" is actually his way of seeming like a good guy while he's blaming you. He knows HE and BM are responsible for raising a-holes. He knows HE failed. But he says "we" to make it sound like you had a part in it - but you DIDN'T.

On this site, there are a lot of SO's and DH's who are hooked on a Norman Rockwell notion of family. Problem is they have a Norman Bates kinda family. Then they bring in some woman who is a replacement for the wife/mom role in the now broken intact family and suddenly, it's supposed to magically work. But finding a replacement isn't working so the replacement (YOU) must be the problem.

So many delusional men.

CLove's picture

Eff that. If I heard that from DH, I would serve him with divorce papers so fast his hair would blow back.

When I started my relationship about 4.5 years ago, I too dreamed of the "family nights, lively conversations at the dinner table", outings and such. Well, the eldest, whom I call Toxic Feral Eldest, she would walk into the room and suck all the joy out of it. Interrupt conversations, walk away in the middle of a sentence. Her own father nicknamed her "the detroyer of all joy", so at least he recognizes that his own child is a narcissisitc selfish a-hole. Dinners that included her were usually quiet, unless she was talking about something negative.

Your SO does NOT have your back. If he is blaming YOU for his kids failings, I think the conversation you should have is with yourself - why stay? What is it that keeps you there with this dude, trying to please him? He isnt parenting - this much is very clear. I think the confusion you are feeling about your impending discussion is because you see the writing on the wall - its crystal clear. Your SO has admitted they were bad BEFORE you. Now he is "gaslighting" you and blaming you.

The one thing that kept DH and I together is that he ALWAYS had my back. Toxic Feral Eldest - once she moved out, the house and the energy in it felt so much lighter. Munchkin actually said it out loud once - that things were better all around now that her sister had moved out. Munchkin and I are closer, DH and I are closer - and she loves having family time and family movie night and we have those friendly dinners together, just the 3 of us. Its awesome. If you could create that you would - but my dear - you cannot, absolutely cannot, do this alone.

That conversation - you are having that right now - in your head. When you sit your SO down - it might be a wakeup call, but proably not. It will tell you what you need to know, and well, I think you already know, but you need to hear it.

EatThisApple's picture

An entitled man raising two more entitled men. Get out of this abusive, gaslighting situation and take care of yourself. Nothing good can come of this.

Tara456's picture

I should elaborate. I can't bear how my partner doesn't support me. We argue about this constantly. He supports me well in other ways, he supported me once against the toxic piece of s*** that is the 20 year old SK1 at the start of our relationship. Really took him to task for me, and then the piece of s**** left the home and didn't visit for 6 months.  SK2 moaned why won't I apologise, he misses his brother etc, but I refused. I was absolutely not in the wrong and I requested that the SK1 apologise for what he did and visit. He refused.  This situation crucified my partner, his family fragmented.   So every time I say he doesn't support me, of course he goes mad and points to the support he give me in other areas (true) and the support he gave me over that incident which "meant I lost my son because I stood up for you". 

He should have demanded SK1 apologise of course, but if he had he'd lose SK1 forever probably. I would be lining the streets with flags if that happened of course, and I would argue so damn what, enough is enough with him. Leave him to his own vile behaviour and if he crawls back on hands and knees in a few years, we'll see. But my partner views it differently - he is his son, he's already had a broken family, he doesn't want to lose his kids.

And that's what I mean by him being hostage. Yes, of course, all of his own making. No, I do not support one damn drop of his support and mollycoddling of his SKs and his refusal - and fear - to discipline them. No, I cannot stand the way ever since that episode he is terrified of calling them out on their behaviour in case they disappear. No, I cannot stand what that episode and the continued behaviour of his SKs has done to us. And no, I cannot stand the SKs and like I said, am filled with revulsion of SK1 in particular.

So we are about to talk. Probably one final time. What I hoped by coming on here was help on the conversation. I want to be able to say that the atmosphere in the house is not my fault, but the SKs - don't for one minute think I do not have the guts to say it, or that I haven't repeately already, what I am asking for is better words, as when I say it my partner gets super defensive of the SKs and comes back with the "it's our failure" crap.

I want to be able to phrase what I have already said repeatedly, differently. Whether I like it or not (and of course, I don't), I am dealing with a man at his wits end who wants a happy family and it's just not happening, despite he and I doing everything, the SKs ruin every single day and every single thing we do. But he is just so full of guilt for the children having divorced parents he seems to believe the rest of their lives must be pandering to them and doing whatever it takes for them to have and do what they want before they are sent off out into the world. I would have strapped SK1 onto the back off a rocket with no landing gear if I had my way, of course.

tog redux's picture

Well, that's much more clear and reasonable!

I think you need to tell him that while you understand his fear of losing his kids, you are at the end of your rope, and if changes are not made (insert changes needed here), you do not know how much longer you can continue in this relationship.

He has to recognize that he will lose you if he continues down this toxic road.  It's a no-win situation he's putting himself in.

susanm's picture

You are looking for the right words that will make him finally hear you.  If you just get the right words in the right order then somehow that will get through to him and he will understand that you are speaking out of love instead of malice.  Something like that?  I am sure that you have put every possible combination of words together already.  Have you considered that he has heard you already and knows exactly what is going on but is simply not capable of reacting to his kids in any other way?  He may truly believe that he is a bad father unless he sacrifices himself on the altar of his children's whims.  God knows there is enough of that sentiment out there!  But that has nothing to do with you.  There is just something wrong in the way he thinks and it is not compatible with having a wife who is more than a physical presence.  If he doesn't want to "hear" you, he is not going to no matter how long or how eloquently you speak.


horseygirl's picture

I share nearly the same story. My SS21 is a toxic POS all created by the continual BM "hatred infusion." Now he has no respect for DH (you should see the recent email DH receieved) and even less for me, if that's even possible. He isn't allowed in our home anymore, but DH has dreams of lollipops and rainbows and everyone smiling and getting along. BM, and DH's unwilingness to stand up to her, has culminated in me wanting to get the hell away from nightmare. 

I feel your pain. *sad*

marblefawn's picture

You're in a tough situation. Time to make him think of what life without you would really be.

The problem is, they are absent (literally or emotionally) and you are there, so your husband only feels their absence. How would things really be for him if you left?

When I had "the make or break talk" with my husband, I asked him what he thought his life would be like after we split (I made a point to make it sound as if our divorce was a done deal). I pointed out the little effort SD puts into their relationship now and asked if that would be enough to fill his life when I'm gone. I said if SD ran me off, she will run off the next wife and the one after that, so you will be single. So I asked my husband...

"Will SD be there for you when I'm gone? She's working hard to get me to go, so do you think she'd quit her job, leave her friends and apartment and move back here to be near you because she got what she wanted? Do you think when she marries that she'll leave her husband at home so you two can vacation together and go out for dinners the way you do now? Do you think, in 20 years, when you're too old to drive, that she'll be there to keep you company because she chased me off?"

I think this helped him cut the cord to a degree. It made him commit to his own happiness a little more -- something he seemed to really struggle to do in regard to SD. Showing him the future made him realize SD wasn't going to be affected by our split, BUT HE WOULD BE. I made him see that SD isn't thinking about him being alone on Christmas and alone on his birthday as he gets older. She's not thinking about who will be there to change his diapers when he's incontinent. She's only thinking about herself and winning this battle to split us up -- a win that would only thrill her for a moment, but would affect my husband for the rest of his life. She is only thinking about herself and how to win this battle of wills.

So maybe go into your talk asking what your husband how he thinks his kids would be different toward him after you leave. How would their behavior be improved if you were out of the picture? Would they suddenly show up to big family meals in great chatty moods? Will they show up to family meals when they're married and in their careers? If you were gone, will they forgive that he broke up their first family and suddenly shed all that damage his first divorce did to them?

I think when he really thinks about them, he won't see you as the sole problem anymore. But you're such an easy scapegoat right now, everyone can blame you and who's there to point out the truth?

Tara456's picture

Just quickly because I am out the door in a moment, but I wanted to say how much your post hit home and how very useful I found it. So much so I welled up reading it. Thank you so much, that is not something I have tried. Part of me worries that he'll say, we'll be fine, we'll carry on if that's what we have to do, buckle under etc (because he has said similar in a furious row) and I don't want to give him an opportunity to do that again or get so extreme in his options. But as you say, his sons won't change, they won't get better, and they'll leave him to be a very sad and lonely man. They ruined this Christmas, letting down their Dad at the last minute in a way I just find unfathomable and so hurtful, but they seem to lack total empathy. He has seen how they were just a few weeks ago, so you raised a very good perspective, he is likely to see how they will do this now.

I couldn't work out why SK1(20) declared he was moving back in with us. I deduced it must be because he wants something. Money probably. He lives rent free with us (don't get me started...), he has to pay at his Mum's. I asked my partner what he's up to. No, he doesn't want money, he said, the fact he wants a car is just a coincidence but he's paying for it all himself. Well yesterday, came the "could you loan me money for a car" conversation.  I knew it. I knew it. I damn well knew it.

"Would they suddenly show up to big family meals in great chatty moods?", ha that made me laugh. No! They'd be sitting there miserable and rude to everyone and my partner would be sitting there wishing he had a different family.

Thank you, this was very useful.

marblefawn's picture

I'm glad all my misery was useful to someone else!

You're really only pointing out to your husband the natural order of grow up and move on. Even if these were your biological kids that you share, you can't expect (nor should you want) them to be your life line when you're old. They are kids, not spouses or partners. They SHOULD move on with their own lives when the time is ready. And if your husband wants someone there for him for life's daily joys and miseries, it should be a spouse, not a child.

My husband's family has a lot of trouble with this. They're all divorced and they don't let go of their kids because the kids have become surrogate spouses. It's a mess. And so unnatural. (And total disaster when they try to pair up with new spouses or partners.) As bad as my parents' marriage is, they don't expect me to entertain them or rush there when something breaks or be there for every birthday and holiday. That's what a spouse is for and that's how it should be.

Rags's picture

If an adult child is living at home then they should be paying rent and cleaning the home, etc...

My SS chose not to attend college immediately after HS.  He knew that if he was not a full time student then he had to be working full time.   Nope. He was not interested in that.  So we made him our full time live in beck-&-Callboy/Chore Bitch.  We worked that kids butt off.

He every day he  swept, mopped, cleaned, vacuumed, polished, washed, folded, put away, mowed, trimmed, weeded, painted, sliced, diced chopped, cut, prepped, cooked and did it all over again every day.  If he failed to get a day's chores list completed he was left on the front door step the next day when his mom and I left for work.  When we arrived home he had to complete the previous day's chores and the current days chores  or he was on the curb the next day.  He only tested the boundaries twice. Once on a very hot day, and once on a cold day.  He had no water except from the garden hose and no food. On the cold day we had him grab his blanket.

After several months of being our beck-&-call boy he enlisted in the USAF.

Merry's picture

Figure out what YOU need to be happy. You can’t control the a’hole kids, and you can’t make DH parent them. That reality sucks. 

So what does your happiness look like? What are solid boundaries and where can you compromise? 

notasm3's picture

These men who are afraid of their children are just too pathetic for words.   My DH put things on the line with SS34 before I ever met him. SS34 is the one chasing DH.  DH minces no words in telling SS what he is doing wrong.  If DH hadn’t done that he would be pathetically chasing SS. 

Tbh BM has done the same thing. SS knows right from wrong and that neither BM nor DH will accept his utter a$$holiness.  That doesn’t mean that he acts right but he does know that neither parent will accept the unacceptable.