My girlfriend, a single parent moved in with me a year ago. We’ve been dating almost two years. She has two boys, 14 and 16, who are very close to their father. I have been trying to give them as much space and freedom in our home as I can. I’m not assume any real type of parenting role other than taking care of things for them, helping out when I can, etc. Recently the bio dad got into an argument with my girlfriend in his house in front of the boys, knocked her down and bruised her. Of course I was incensed by this, but I said nothing in front of the boys about it. Last night he decided to turn up at my house and I gave him a somewhat frosty reception and didn’t spend any time talking to him. I’m just so aggravated by his actions. My girlfriend said I need to let it go, but I think I should express my displeasure to him about that situation. I’d be grateful for any advice because I’m trying to keep a lid on my emotions for the boys’ sake, last night I just couldn’t stand to be around him. He also is a sporadic recreational drug user and goes through a cycle of being clean and then using again. I should add he has a live in girlfriend and new baby. I really need some guidance on this.
While I understand your frustration and need to do something about this, it’s important to put things into perspective.
What happened in your home is a crime. In the eyes of the law, your girlfriend was assaulted. Even worse than the abuse –is the message it sends her sons. Her reaction to being assaulted is to brush it under the rug. That says a lot about her state of mind. She’ll take abuse if dealing with it properly might be uncomfortable.
Her reaction sends a bad message to her sons. The message – It’s not a big deal when a man hurts a woman. That’s not a lesson ANY young man should learn. Kids who witness spousal abuse are much more likely to abuse a spouse later in life. And these behaviors can start early. This is probably not the first time they’ve witnessed this kind of dysfunctional behavior in their home. Maybe you’ve already seen aggressive behavior from them. If they’re showing aggression it will only get worse as they get older.
Your girlfriend believes that she’s doing the right thing by down-playing the incident. She’s not. She’s enabling him to be an abuser and you’re focusing on the wrong matter. Letting her ex know you’re aggravated by his actions is pointless. You don’t reason with an addict –even if he’s just a part time addict. The appropriate response isn’t to talk about it, it’s to file assault charges. This sends a clear message that he crossed a line. And the message is for her sons as well.
Stepdads have nearly no legal rights in terms of the kids. In your position as a live-in (unmarried) Stepdad figure, you have no power at all. Your only power here is being able to complain to your girlfriend. You’ve already seen that’s a dead end. More importantly – your response to the assault was more about annoyance than anger. You seem to care more about keeping the peace than taking the lead in your home. The dynamic in your household is fractured.
- The kids are appeased
- Your girlfriend is in a codependent pattern with her ex
- You feel like a powerless spectator as your happiness is impacted by the events around you
I believe you are a well-meaning man. You see the dysfunction in your girlfriend’s life and you want to save her. The painful truth is this; you can’t! Her life is a wreck because she’s chosen to let it be. You can only change yourself. You cannot change her. She’s decided the situation is good enough. She will continue operating the way she’s chosen to until she decides it doesn’t work anymore. For her to do that she will have to massively alter a pattern of behavior she’s developed through years of dysfunction.
I don’t say this lightly. This is a matter of math. Failure can be calculated easily in relationships –and the math in your relationship looks very bad. The divorce rate for Stepdads is nearly 75 percent. Men who marry women with teens have an EVEN HIGHER divorce rate. If the bio-dad is an addict and is still in the children’s’ lives it adds even more stress. If you marry her you will feel powerless in your own home, feel unappreciated by your wife and her kids, and you will be miserable.
You can’t save her from herself unless she’s willing to come along for the ride. Her reaction to being abused make it clear she’s not. I estimate you have less than a 20 percent chance of staying married and much lower odds of being happy if you do. Her ex should be in handcuffs, but you should not handcuff yourself to this woman.