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The harder you try to convince someone who appears to dislike you, that they are'wrong', is the harder they will try to dislike you

The tricky situation: Jennifer explains…. I got divorced in 2010 and in 2013 I met another man and married him. He’s a very good husband to me, very caring, helpful, and romantic. Our wedding was in my garden, with the presence of my family only, because he told me his children would not come anyway.

From then on I did everything in my power to get to know his four children. I’ve contacted them through Facebook, sent them some messages, Christmas presents, presents for the baby his daughter just had. There was only silence from their side, till one day the daughter invited me to her house (in another city) but treated me in a terribly cold way. She also told me that her brothers do not want to know about me.

Recently, the daughter-in-law responded to an invitation from me with, “I’m a Catholic and I cannot talk to you, because for me there is only one marriage”. His daughter then sent me a message saying that I will never be welcomed there because of her mother! Well, my husband hasn’t lived with his ex-wife for more than 20 years and I do not understand that.

But, there is more. Last time my husband went there, his eldest son asked him to remove his wedding ring because his mother would come to the party—and he did! It was a terrible shock to me. When I asked him why he did that, he said his ex-wife likes a fight and a show and she would say something that would ruin the party for the children.

I’m never invited. If there’s a party, the invitation comes here in his name only. This goes for everything—-recently there was the wedding of the second son and of course my husband went on his own.

Some weeks ago he wrote a letter to each child of his saying I’m his wife now and they have to accept it, however there was no response at all. His brothers and sisters have accepted me and I see them on a regular basis, but don’t know what to do about the children and I also think that something is wrong about taking the wedding ring off when the ex-wife is present. What do you think?

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One of my pet peeves is when people get all judgmental, rude, and even badly behaved, and then claim that it’s for religious reasons. No it’s not! Your husband’s adult children and his ex-wife are being unkind but if you want to feel better about this situation and move forward, you need to learn how to get behind your own line and actually, your husband needs to clearly communicate his boundaries and that includes protecting his marriage with you.

It’s not easy when marriages break down. Even when the kids are grown up, it can still be a sore point or there can be a weirdness–my girls have eight grandparents and it can be tricky enough dealing with their personalities, one upmanships, grievances and carry-on. Children sometimes take sides but also, sometimes one or both parents have a habit of guilting the children and being divisive. It is not always possible to get on with the mother or father of your children but what doesn’t need to happen is being divisive in your children’s relationship with your ex-spouse and encouraging them to be disrespectful.

It strikes me that his admission that his children wouldn’t come to the wedding (and incidentally, there’s a big difference between asking and being declined, and then assuming that they’re not going to come….), has ‘activated’ you and sent you into hyperactive people pleaser on steroids mode, and this is proving to be your blind spot and the key source of your pain. I understand your desire to cultivate a relationship with his children, but turning into the people pleaser energiser bunny after you’ve already married their father, is akin to closing the door after the horse has bolted. You clearly did not need their approval to get married (nor did he in principle), so why are you seeking it post wedding? That makes no sense.

Are you trying to sabotage your own happiness? Is your comfort zone being the good girl going around town people pleasing and being rejected?

It’s also patently clear that you had not gotten to know the children prior to engagement (or at the point of it). Maybe you took it as a foregone conclusion that they would be cool with you or assumed that once married, they’d have no choice but to accept you. Maybe he glossed over the extent of the issues–‘They’ll come round’. Maybe you were so caught up in the flushes of romance and maybe even feeling like, Yes! I am not single anymore!, that you didn’t do some ‘reccy’ (reconnaissance) where you surveyed and observed what type of family dynamic you were entering into or his relationship with his kids and the overall situation. Whatever it is though–and the kids are still out of order–the ball has been dropped.

Your husband is doing too little too late. He may be a “very good husband” but you know what, Jennifer? He has a fear of confrontation that’s in danger of damaging your marriage if he doesn’t step up to the plate. I don’t know what crack he has been smoking, but taking off his wedding band, is incredibly disrespectful and hurtful. I am not asking him to cuss out his ex-wife or his kids but every time he fails to draw the line in person and he shows up without you, he’s letting them know that his marriage to you is not real. He’s inadvertently colluding with them; he’s allowing them to not only continue living in the past but for them to run his life. You say that you don’t understand, considering that he and his ex-wife have been done for twenty years but newsflash: your husband has been going along with things for that time so a pattern’s been established.

What I do know is that you are trying way too hard and I know that you have good intentions but Jennifer, you’re making a doormat of yourself and you’re putting more question marks over your head because it’s as if you’re trying to convince them. Stop the brown-nosing!

All you’re doing is pumping them up and causing them to wonder what your ‘game’ is. You’re repeatedly opening you up to being disrespected. Imagine you had a child who wanted to get in with the gang of people who dislike him/her or who have been openly dismissive of them? Would you pat them on the back and say, “There, there baby! You go in there tomorrow and offer them your lunch, your pocket money and anything else you’ve got. Keep trying until they can’t say no anymore!”, or would you say, “Honey, I know it’s hard when people dislike you or don’t want to be your friend even when you haven’t done anything to make them dislike you, but you’ve got to leave these people alone. Every time you throw yourself at them, you are hurting you! You haven’t done anything wrong. You’re still a good person. I don’t know why these people don’t want you in their gang but what I do know is that they’re missing out and that it’s best that you’re not around them if that’s the way they are. Spend time around the people who love and appreciate you for who you are”.

Jennifer, you must stop opening you up to rejection in this way. What you’re doing is a form of self-rejection–you’re being a glutton for punishment. You keep looking for approval, validation and acceptance, while saying bad things about you. These are all untruths that will ensure your unhappiness.

Things have changed and they don’t like it. They feel threatened. His family have their own set of beliefs that although you don’t agree with them, it’s their values. Respecting them doesn’t mean agreeing with them–it means live and let live. The problem of your husband’s children and his ex-wife has nothing to do with you not being “good enough”. They’re not going to make an exception for you. You trying to guilt them through your people pleasing into feeling obliged to behave more decently is only going to fuel resentment on all sides.

Stop trying to be “right”. Look into your heart, look into your past and examine your true motivations for what you’re doing because it looks like this situation is bringing out an unhealed wound from your past. Get a piece of paper and write down memories and associations with not being accepted. Anything that pulls on you emotionally, is why you’re doing what you are today. Once you address the old pain, you will be able to put this situation into perspective.

Open up to your husband and explain your struggle and how you have felt when you have not only been excluded, but that he’s been a party to it. Describe how you feel and what he and they have been doing without going down the blame path. The easiest way to do this is to talk in facts. e.g. When you ________________, it feels as if you don’t _____________ because you don’t stand up for me or for us.

You don’t need to ‘do’ anything about the children–they’re not children. Thank goodness you don’t have to rear them!

You cannot force them to invite you but you know what? Your husband has married you so he needs to find a way to integrate you or to stop excluding you. He doesn’t need to attend every function he’s invited you. The consequence of their actions is that they see him less. Boom! They can’t have it all ways. He must stop getting on board with repeatedly excluding you, no more listening to them talk crap about you and no more ring removal. That. is. not. on. They can have their opinion but they don’t need to share it with him (or you). Find a solution you can both live with–accept that you and they are not about to be bezzy mates, stop brown-nosing, and he cuts down on accepting the invites and excluding you.

His kids may never get on board with his marriage but you have a choice: you can step back, know that you have tried your best, and focus on enjoying your marriage and spending time with his (the welcoming ones) and your own family, or you can keep flogging a dead horse. The weird thing is, when you stop showing how desperate you are for their approval, they’ll very possibly amend their behaviour. Take care.

Each Wednesday, I help a reader to solve a dilemma. To submit a question, please email natalie AT baggagereclaim.com with ‘Advice Wednesday’ in the subject line. If you would prefer your question to be featured on the podcast, drop a line to podcast AT baggagereclaim.com. Keep questions below 200 words. For in-depth support, my consultation service is booked up (you can join the waiting list).

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