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What should my expectations be?

Mom_Inthemiddle's picture

Hello all.  I've been lurking in this forum since yesterday because I'm in need of any advice particularly from a Stepfather's perspective.  I really want to know if I'm being unreasonable with my expectations from the man I'm married to.  I am the BM of 3 kids (boy/girl twins who are 15 and a singleton girl who is 13) who are all a product of divorce from my 1st marriage and who I also have full physical custody of.  After the divorce, my parents really helped me get on my feet by having my kids and I moved in with them. We lived there for 7 years before I married my husband.  I really wasn't in a hurry or looking to re-marry before meeting him and my kids were only introduced to 1 other man I’ve dated before.  I was very particular about the type of man who would be a part of my life and wanted to make sure he was comfortable about what he was stepping into.  I could imagine dating anyone with kids would be a challenge most wouldn't take on, that's why didn't expect to find companionship or get married until well after my kids were grown.  There was no major family dysfunction present on my end except the occasional disagreements I had with my ex-husband regarding time spent with the kids.  Otherwise, I was working a job and focusing on raising my children to the best of my ability.  It seemed things were peaceful and harmonious during that time compared to now.

Fast forward, my husband argues with me about EVERYTHING not being good for him as a StepDad.  This is where I'm baffled because at the beginning of our relationship he spoke highly of my folks and admired the fact they were able to support my kids and I emotionally and financially as I got on my feet.  He admired how well behaved and polite my children were and how lucky they were to have such a loving family and home.  He also stated several times how much he cares for the kids and would die for them if necessary.  His only parenting experience was being an “unofficial” StepDad to his ex-girlfriend’s son just prior to our relationship, (they were together for 10 years, since the boy was 2 years old and the whole time, she refused to get married to him and live together).  I also assured him I would do everything in my power to make sure he wasn't feeling overwhelmed as we were transitioning and talking about getting married and being a family unit.  I told him that the kids, my family and I could back off if he needed more time to navigate parenting and such, although we had some pretty intense arguments about how he felt my family were trying to be the "Huxtables" and all we were trying to do was add him to the mix and change who he was.  Although, that was not our intention, when he expressed such intense feelings I would make sure that everyone gave him space.  Then the next thing I know he's accusing me of not including him in what's going on, that I secretly wanted to get back with my ex and I'm just doing everything I want.  Emotionally this back and forth is wearing on me because I'm very empathic to his and everyone's feelings and I feel the weight of trying to please everyone while also trying to maintain self care for myself which is very hard to balance.  

It's 4 years later and our marriage has endured job losses for both of us, the kids going through their usual teenage phase, but nothing serious like I've read in some of these posts, my folks helping support both of us financially and emotionally (which my husband feels is not for him, they are only helping me), moving to another city, getting better jobs…. We’ve overcome A LOT our first couple of years in marriage and are finally in a place where we can breathe a bit easier.  On the outside most would think why in the world we are arguing the way we do?  We are very blessed right now, however my husband is still feeling like he can disengage when he wants to as a StepDad, complain that I'm not being tough enough parent, then when I ask for his support in raising the kids, he reminds me I'm the primary parent and the kids aren't his.  He'll often shout and argue with me in front of the kids when I've asked him not to.  I'll ask his opinion about how we should operate as a family in the home in regards to structure, but I'm left to enforce all of the rules myself.  Then when I don't enforce them in a way he agrees with, he'll start to criticize my parenting again.  Basically when I ask him to get involved, he throws most of the responsibility in my lap.  When I leave him alone to step up as a secondary parent or the StepDad he wants to be, then he blames me for not backing him which is not true.  I've let him handle things on his own, so he can establish respect as the other authority figure in our home.  Yet when he does that, he thinks the kids come running to me afterwards to "save" them.  Which they don't.  

There's a lot more to our story… along with a drinking issue he refuses to accept as true.   It’s nothing major, but when he's tipsy or had one of his favorite beers the kids and I don't feel comfortable around him because he either becomes very argumentative or he disengages from all of us by staying locked up in our bedroom eating, watching tv, or being on his computer looking at social media memes.  He got so tipsy once that while visiting my folks on Mother's Day, he lunged at my Father and got it his face as if to fight him because he was behaving in a way that made us all feel uneasy, so my Dad addressed it which apparently made him angry.  I feel at times he can be too paranoid and anxious about things that most people wouldn't be.  His upbringing is VERY different from mine- actually the opposite.  He wasn't raised by both of his parents and grew up in a rough neighborhood.  I grew up being raised by both of my parents who are still married (45 years) and raised as an only child in a fairly safe middle-class neighborhood.  At times I felt he might have been jealous of that, but my folks and I are not pretentious people who look down on others.  If anything we share everything we have with our family- which is close knit because it's rather small.  My husband's family is large and he was raised by his Aunt with her 4 kids (both his bio-parents were strung out on drugs) and he chooses to remain fairly distant from them because "he's independent and didn't get help from anyone while trying to figure his life out".  He has no hobbies or friends he hangs out with regularly outside of our marriage and when I ask him to join me and kids doing something as simple as going to the park, he complains I didn't give him enough notice or that just isn't his thing.  I have kind of stopped hanging out with my friends and family less because he feels we should be focused more on OUR family.  Mind you, again, my kids have NEVER said or done a disrespectful thing to my husband even when he has raised his voice at them.  He feels they are disobedient when they forget their "dish washing day"- then complains about always having to wash the dishes when I told him not to do that- just call them out on it.  He complains about having to buy food because they eat it all too fast and should be cooking.  He reminds us all the time when he was 8 years old he was already cooking, taking care of his siblings/cousins, going church everyday, washing dishes, etc and his Aunt NEVER had to remind him to do anything.  He believes my kids are very lazy and don't know what to do for themselves.  However, they do their own laundry every week, keep their rooms tidy, keep their bathroom clean, keep the cats taken care of (daily feeding, grooming and litter), take out the trash, help with mopping sweeping, they get to school on time and on their own (walking or riding bike), do their homework and stay on top of extracurricular activities.  No they aren't perfect, but it takes being an involved parent to make sure the rules are being enforced and that they stay on track.  He thinks they should only be told ONCE and they should fall in line without fail.  Is that realistic in parenting?  Especially with teenagers?

Sorry this is so long, but I'm at my wits end.  I fear I may have married another Narcissist or someone who may have a personality disorder, yet I'm still beating myself up as to what else I can do to make things better for him. We have started back up with marriage counseling again and I have also contemplated “setting him free” if he's so unhappy with living with me and my kids (he has asked for me to divorce his several times or has threatened to leave) I feel it might be a better fit for him to have married someone without kids or someone who is on the exact same page with his parenting style- if that's the REAL issue.  I realize this is my version of the story and if he were to tell it, his perspective would probably be vastly different because that is his experience.  I respect that, but I can only account for my experience and feel like we might not be a good fit for each other.  Can this be worked out?  If so, what are healthy expectations I should have regarding my husband as a StepDad or better yet, what are healthy expectations he should have of me?

I'm very open to receiving all feedback or advice.  I'm just tired of feeling alone in all of this.

GrudgingSM's picture

Gosh, that's so much, and you've articulated so many of the issues well. You seem to want to continue to do your best and to try, but it feels to me from this post that he gets to dictate everything. It sounds like a house full of eggshells and I'm nothing you do is ever good enough, but have you ever been allowed to have a boundary? It seems like it's always on his terms how parenting or disengagement should go, or who you should spend time with or how much. The fact that you don't socialize much anymore with others and he's even attempted to alienate you from your parents is incredibly concerning.

you sound like a loving and caring partner who has worked hard to communicate and be clear about expectations, to be understanding about someone's past, and to accommodate someone's feelings. Has he ever done that for you? Because from what you've shared of his backstory, it makes complete sense that he is the way he is. However, an explanation is not an excuse. He does not get to act out against you or your kids or your family because he did not have a good family. It's also alarming his behavior when he drinks when he comes from a family of addicts. It's possible therapy could help him recognize some of these behaviors and work on it, but I suspect he might not, or the therapy gets leveraged into ways to blame you again.

you say you want to offer to let him be free, but what about letting yourself be free? What about letting your children breathe more easily around the home? You all deserve that too. That doesn't have to mean everything is hopeless, but everything right now seems to be on his terms, his demands, his prickly demeanor that gets worse when he drinks. You can frame it in terms that sounds like a generosity to him and letting him be free, but please know you deserve that too. You deserve respect and kindness. You shouldn't have to twist yourself into an emotional pretzel for a relationship. If you tell him how much you are hurting and he turns around and makes it about himself, he's not a good one. But if you tell him how hard you've been trying and how much you're hurting and he doesn't want to work on it or change, he's a bad egg, and I'm sorry.

SteppedOut's picture

Yea... I agree with this. 

Honestly, it just shouldn't be this hard to be happy and/or have a peaceful home. 

IMHO don't "set him free"...kick his ass out. 

Mom_Inthemiddle's picture

I did that with my ex-husband because of his constant cheating, so although it was hard to walk away due to our three kids I wasn't really left with much choice.  I lost all trust and he didn't do much to prove he could be trustworthy... Just blamed me for being the reason why he cheated. 

I filed for divorce and it was such a grueling process that this time around I swore I would never do it again.  I told my husband if he wants out that bad, he can file. I also think in the back of my mind I tolerate his behavior because maybe I felt "lucky" that anyone would marry a woman with three kids to begin with. Which he does remind me on occasion most men wouldn't have and that he brings no baggage like that to our marriage since this is his first marriage and he has no biokids of his own. I should have dumped him then when he made that statement. But again, lots of things get said in the heat of arguments.  I haven't forgetten he said it though!

It seems I'm a magnet for these type of men. He liked me so much because my sweet and easy going demeanor, yet he doesn't appreciate that aspect of me as a parent and feels I need to "toughen up". I honestly think the kids are FINE and they respect me and the rules of the house pretty well.  Again they aren't perfect, but I feel pretty proud of what good people they are so far!  I wish he could acknowledge that too and just apart of their lives more. 

Mom_Inthemiddle's picture

I've been so busy at home with kiddos getting ready to start school and trying to nurse us all back to health since we had a bit of a COVID scare, but we all tested negative. Thank goodness!  Yeah, I think I need to be more honest with myself regarding this relationship because my gut tells me it'll never work.  We have good moments but they are short lived as we end up arguing again with him bringing up how the kids aren't pulling their weight around the house. I actually gave him two solutions the other day thinking it would help HIM once again- either let me know you're gonna disengage so I can continue to have the mindset that I will be  raising the kids like a single parent or get involved more beyond just buying them food and giving them little nuggets of advice here and there in passing- telling them how much you care. He's a lot of talk and not much action. I think that's what frustrates most.  Yet again he got mad at me and stated that I was just trying to get him to do what I wanted- even after asking him what he thinks WE should do.  I express how emotionally exhausted I was, but he made it all about how me and the kids always come at him with these problems. My core expection of him is to help a little bit with the kids and their activities but he makes all kind of excuses why he's not "comfortable" participating.  The kids were excited about him in the beginning of our marriage especially my only son, but as time went on they just feeling like he doesn't really care for them the way he says.  I don't influence their opinion of him in any way, but when they see me crying or upset after one of our arguments they get pretty concerned about me and my happiness.  You're right though... It's definitely like walking on eggshells everyday.  I often feel more peaceful just hanging with my kids in the den while he stays locked up in our bedroom most days. 

notsurehowtodeal's picture

If you and your kids don't feel comfortable around him when he is drinking because he gets argumentative, that is a real problem. How often does this happen? Your kids shouldn't have to deal with that on any sort of a regular basis.

I'm going to guess that it is hurting his pride that your parents are helping you financially. I get where you are coming from as my parents have helped me financially a few times over the years - but it not something that my DH is comfortable with at all.

Mom_Inthemiddle's picture

He tends to have cycles with the drinking- Maybe two to three times a month now.  But every two to three days or so about a year after we got married because we were both unemployed and understandably depressed and stressed.  That's when things got pretty bad and I asked him repeatedly to cool it on that beer because it changes his personality.  My Mom's side of the family are alcoholics and it's just a huge turn off to me when people become belligerent/angry drunks.  I drink socially and very rarely around the kids, so they aren't used to seeing that behavior regularly .  He claims he drink the beer he like because of how it tastes, but I know better.

As far as the financial help, yeah I believe his pride may have gotten hurt a bit, but again he will never admit it. He'll just remove himself and say my folks weren't helping him... They were only helping me.  It kind of hurt my parents feelings because their intention was to help us since we are after all a couple, right!?  He butts heads with my Dad too which is a whole 'nother topic!!  Lol 

ESMOD's picture

You can't make things better for him.  The things he is fighting is within his own person.. and honestly, it is becoming toxic to you and your kids.

I'm sure it's frustrating to have to rely on your parents for help.. but more gratitude and striving to change that vs resenting their involvement.  I'm sure that if he wasn't used to the extended family dynamic that it might have been a little overwhelming.. but HE chose this.. he chose to be part of it... and in fact when you gave him space to disengage.. he didn't like THAT either.

I don't think that as stepdad he should necessarily be expected to parent your kids.. but he should have input on boundaries and rules of behavior in your home where they impact other people's ability to peacefully coexist with them.

It suonds like the super step dad stuff was more designed to reel you in than be an actual path forward for him.

Honestly, it sounds like you got a lot of bait and switch with him.. the drinking.. the arguing.. the petulence.. honestly.. unless he is super willing to go to counseling and work on his own issues.. as much as the couple issues.. I might not see this as a long term relationship.

Mom_Inthemiddle's picture

This I definitely agree with.  I've come to terms he is who is and I have reminded him that he proposed to me- and I accepted partially based on the expections he stated from his mouth. The bait and switch is EXACTLY what I feel has happened because I keep questioning myself thinking, "did I miss something here?"  I never expected him to be Super Step Dad either I've always given him the space he needed to figure things out and for him to express his discontent about behaviors and household rules. We literally have a board that was his idea about rules for the kids. We sat down together, agreed on it, posted it up so that he could feel better about enforcing the rules when necessary with the kids.  However, when certain rules were broken he would criticize me not enforcing them they way he would, so when I asked him to participate in that because I like him have a job and am very overwhelmed with lots of responsibilities.  He would say they weren't his kids and I should step up as the primary parent. *Huh*??  Right back where I started.  I wasn't looking for a replacement Dad for my kids because they already have one, whom I also argue with from time to time.  But I at least expected my husband would behave as a "father figure" that my kids could respect and look up to.  Now, I believe my husband just wants be my husband and nothing more.  I portrayed being a "family-man", but I'm starting see, sadly, that's not really true.  It kind of breaks my heart... it's truly disappointing.  Unfortunately, I don't think he will every see the need for counseling on his own, that's why I"m taking advantage of couples counseling while he agrees to do it.  It's just good to have someone else to talk to other than arguing with my husband all the time.  Only time will tell.  I have very little hope left though.  Thanks for your insight!