My partner's daughter makes me feel like an outsider - and he does nothing about it
12th May 2016
I met my partner several years ago. He shares a flat with his daughter, who is in her twenties. Since the beginning of the relationship, he has made it quite obvious to me that I am not invited to his flat when his daughter is home.
She is polite to me but, despite my efforts to be friendly, doesn't show any interest in me at all. When her father is with me, she is constantly texting or calling him. He is very secretive with his phone and laptop also, which I find very strange.
He told me that his previous relationship ended because of this. He says it took his daughter over a year to accept that her mother had someone new (him and his ex-wife have been separated for 12 years now), but now visits them regularly.
Whenever I mention how this makes me feel to my partner, he just says 'oh she's just funny' and won't discuss any further. When I ask him why I can't come to his home, he will say 'of course you can' but he knows that I will never just turn up at his door due to his daughter. In a nutshell, I feel like an outsider, or a dirty secret he is keeping separate from his private home life.
As you’re finding out, the whole business of relationships and adult children can be fraught with problems.
You say your partner has always kept you and his daughter very separate and that, while this upsets and distresses you, you’ve gone along with it. I suppose that’s my first question really: why?
When we start off in a new relationship there’s naturally all that getting to know the other person - as well as their nearest and dearest. Hopefully, over time, reasonably harmonious relationships form between everyone (although this shouldn’t in any way mean that everyone has to become bosom buddies - sometimes just carefully manoeuvring round each other and being respectful of existing ties is all that’s needed to make sure that everyone’s happy). But in this case, you say your partner has actively kept you and his daughter apart, leading you to feel he wants to prioritize his relationship with her to the detriment of the one he has with you. You’ve asked him why things are like this and he passes the buck to his daughter as being ‘just like that’, without in any way acknowledging how badly all this is affecting you.
It's important to get one thing clear. It is really essential that he makes time for his children. Very often in couple counselling, one partner is terribly angry that their other half spends any time at all with a child and truly believes that the child is coming between the two of them. The counsellor would help such a couple to understand the respective needs for exclusivity in the relationship while getting to the bottom of why a child is seen as so ‘threatening’ to what is often a new relationship.
Here though, and in your longer letter, you say you’re not welcome to visit him when she’s there and would never dream of just turning up. What’s to stop you sending him a brief text to say you’re popping in to say hello but won’t be staying long? He tells you that this would be an OK thing to do, but it seems that there are stronger signals, not yet verbalized, that prevent you from taking him up on this.
I’m tempted to be a bit challenging here and ask you to consider whether it might be you who is finding reasons not to go and perhaps making more of what is actually not really there. Sometimes we can place obstacles in our own way because we’re scared to try to get what we want, especially if we’ve been hurt doing so in the past. But as I say, that is indeed a challenging thought and I only suggest it in case there’s any element of truth. On balance, from what you describe, it does sound like the problem is more likely to be with him than with you.
That said, I think the problem you think you have isn’t the one you need to worry about. It's not his daughter that’s coming between you, but your partner’s unwillingness to acknowledge that you have needs too. In your longer letter, you say that he now lives with you but is neither tactile nor affectionate. You’re also concerned that you’re being used because he wants to retire now he’s moved in, and while I can see that it’s natural to want to have a home you both chose, it will be you putting in most of the money. Again, I think you hear warning bells but don’t know how to respond. So: here are some ideas.
First, be clear with your partner that you will not tolerate being an outsider. Be clear that you completely respect his need to have time alone with his daughter but you will no longer put up with her constant texting of him when the two of you are together. Secondly, tell him his secrecy around his laptop and phone worries you. Again, make it plain that you have no requirement to know what he’s looking at, but that you have noticed it’s something else he feels unable to be open about. Thirdly, take a chance and turn up when he is at his flat with his daughter. Fourthly, and most importantly, please see a solicitor or CAB before you part with any money towards a joint home. I cannot advise you on the specifics of this but the imbalance you describe in your letter rings alarm bells for me and I strongly suggest you think very carefully about what a future under all the constraints you describe would look like for you.
One way forward, if you can get him to go, would be to access couple counselling to get to the bottom of how you each feel about the future together. Doing this could assist with hearing each other’s concerns - for him, perhaps worries about losing his daughter, and for you, feeling neglected and isolated by his behaviour. That said, I do have to say: at the moment, I’m struggling to fully understand what’s in this relationship for you. If nothing else, counselling may allow you to consider this – and on that basis alone will be time well spent.