I recently received this letter from a stepmom asking me for advice on a topic that has been giving her grief lately: the relationship between her husband and her fourteen year old stepdaughter. 

She also asked if I would share it will all of you so here goes:

Dear Heather, stepmom, teenage stepdaughter

I recently read your article Jealousy: The Green Eyed Elephant in the Room in the September issue of StepMom Magazine and it hit a nerve. I’m really starting to develop negative feelings towards both my fourteen year old stepdaughter AND my husband because of the physical closeness they share. I  don’t think what I am feeling is jealous. I think what I’m feeling is the creeps and I wanted to get your opinion and that of your stepmom community.  I’ve been in my stepdaughter’s life for five years. She and her dad have always been close and that’s something I love about him but as she has gotten older the physical closeness has gotten more intense and that just creeps me out.  For instance, my stepdaughter is always going up to him and hugging him and giving him a small peck on the lips. In my family growing up, kisses on the lips were okay when you were under five but after that mouth kisses were between mom and dad.

Secondly, I’ve always “stepped back” as they call it since I came into her life so when we watch a movie, I let her sit with her dad and if we go to amusement parks, etc…. I never make her jockey for position. But lately I’ve noticed when they watch movies, she lays on his lap and takes his arms and wraps them around her and then intertwines her fingers into his so he basically holds her through the whole movie on the couch holding hands. The problem I have is that he holds me the same exact way when we watch movies. And now when he wants to hold me or sit next to me, I find myself making excuses up because I physically am having a hard time being next to him and having him hold and touch me like he does his own daughter. I don’t think its jealousy. I think it’s creepy (did I say that?). I know its nothing sexual but for us it does turn sexual and that’s what makes it hard for me. I also think it’s inappropriate for a girl that age to even want to lay across her dad’s lap and have her head near his crotch.

I often think about how I have seen her mature into a young woman with boobs and hips and a like for boys and he may still see her as his little girl and nothing wrong with how they sit with each other. In a few years, she’ll want to sit and watch a movie with her boyfriend, will it creep her out to know that she and her dad watched it the same way? I believe fathers model how their daughter should be treated. Does he want her laying on her boyfriend and being that close in a few years?

The thing is my husband is wonderful. He loves and respects me and he makes me feel that our marriage is his first priority. I know he isn’t doing this to purposely disrespect me and that’s why it’s an awkward topic to bring up with him but I know I have to do it because it’s impacting our marriage. I find that I don’t want him holding me in our bed anymore because its too similar to the way he holds his daughter on the couch.  I do need to point out that he doesn’t seek her out and hold her that way but rather she seeks him out and puts his arms where she wants them and he leaves them there. I don’t think he thinks twice about it.

Please help! Am I jealous our justified in my feelings and how can I find peace with this? Any tips on how to bring this up with my husband without offending him?

Thank you,

(name withheld)

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Dear Friend,

Thanks for sharing your story. And I’m honored you loved the article and reached out to me. I’m betting that you are not alone in what you are going through. It is clear from your letter that it bothers you that he spends some physical time with his daughter the same way he spends with you and that is understandably hard. I’m sure others can truly relate.

To answer your question are you jealous or justified, please know that everyone is entitled to their feelings. We all have feelings and react to different situations in our own unique way. There is no right or wrong way to feel. It’s what we do with our feelings that make a difference. These feelings are impacting your marriage and therefore they have to be addressed.

As stepmoms, we all understand that there can be many dynamics at play here for your husband and his daughter. Does he come from a very touchy feely type of family? Have he and his daughter always been close? Often times the type of affection we grew up with is what becomes the norm for us as parents and it can be hard to understand a different way if our partner is from a different type of family.

In my family, after you learned the safety rules and could cross the street yourself, hand holding was just for mom and dad. Personally, I am very close to my father but once I understood the “birds and the bees” I found myself not wanting to be as huggie with my dad or sit on his lap. That’s just me. As a custodial stepmom, I notice that both of my stepdaughters (age 13 and 10) are very clingy to their dad. The more affection we show each other as a couple typically results in the more affection they seek from their dad. They don’t receive any physical affection from their mom and it appears at times they seek a double dose of hugs/kisses/close time from dad.

The dynamics of divorce and co-parenting changes the dynamics of our children’s lives and our lives as well and this can have an impact. Kids don’t typically spend the same amount of time with their parents as they would if their parents were still together. If your stepdaughter doesn’t see her dad  much she may just be craving that extra attention. Perhaps you could suggest a day out when she has time at your home and/or plan game nights at home if movies are a tough time for you.

Often stepdaughters are jealous of the closeness their father has with their stepmom. They view their dad showing lots of outward affection to his wife and that can be hard for some stepdaughters. Your stepdaughter may be trying to get the closeness with her dad that she views that you share with him.

Simply put there are a lot of dynamics at play and if this physical closeness is impacting your emotional and/or physical closeness with YOUR husband you need to talk to him about it. There is no right or wrong way to feel about a situation. You feel what you feel when you see your husband and stepdaughter that close and you have to address those feelings. Never let something come between you and your marriage. If you don’t address it, you risk the bitterness and resentment that is slowly setting in your heart now to really take a stronghold and harden your heart towards your husband and his daughter and that isn’t a risk worth taking.

As awkward as this conversation may be, stepmoms in this situation have to learn how to not let the closeness between their husband and stepdaughter impact their relationship and find a way to discuss the topic in a loving and calm manner. I would suggest using this post as a springboard for conversation with your husband. Perhaps seeing it through your eyes and on paper will give him a different perspective. And it sounds like he is a very reasonable, loving and committed husband who wants what is best for your marriage.

It’s also important to note that any time we have to have a tough discussion with our husband it makes sense to first ask him “is this a good time to talk?” Then start by saying some positive things about your husband as both a partner and as a father. And focus the conversation on how you feel rather than on what he and/or his daughter is doing. When we focus on us and how we are interpreting events it often lessens the defensive mechanism that can pop up in a parent’s heart when the stepparent starts talking about their child. Simply put, just share your heart about how things are making you feel and ask him to understand and help come up with a collaborative way to help you and your feelings.

Wishing you all the best and please let us know how things are going. Stay strong. Press on. Friend!

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Now it’s your time to share? Dads, I want to hear from you on this topic? StepMoms, I want to hear if you deal with this? Please share any and all constructive advice please. Thanks!

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