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Question: My husband was married before and has a ten year old daughter. I can’t stand the way his ex-wife manipulates him. He agrees that he gives in a lot but he says it’s so his daughter will have less stress in her life. I keep telling him that he has to take a stand and he says he tries but I don’t believe him. It’s becoming a big issue. What can I do to convince him?


Answer: These complex dilemmas arise frequently in second marriages when there is a child involved. Your husband’s assertion that his first concern should be his daughter is correct. But how does a father, caught between the expectations of two women, manage himself in the best interests of his child? You may be right. His most mature move may well be, to take a more clearly defined position, not only with his ex-wife, but also with you. At this point it seems that he is either unwilling or, more likely, unable to do so.

It sounds like you are caught in a triangle and I suspect that you are playing your own part in keeping the intensity high. Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Do you think you could back off and allow your husband the time to figure this out on his own? Emotions around children run deep and long. I suspect that the pressure you put on him to do things your way, simply adds to the challenge he faces in assessing the situation clearly.


  1. When I say ‘back off’, I am not suggesting that you should say nothing. If you can set out your thoughts without criticism or expectation, your ideas will resonate differently and may be useful. It is usually the emotional intensity attached to the communication that gets in the way of the message being heard.



  1. Can you think more broadly about the emotions that are being stirred up for you? Do you feel on the outside in the triangle with your husband and his ex-wife? Is this outside position one that you are familiar with? Feeling on the outside of things can be painful and can create a sense of helplessness. It can also trigger memories of similar experiences in past relationships where we believed that we had no control over a situation that was affecting us deeply.



     4.   What other tensions might be present in your relationship with your husband? It is not uncommon to get focused on one issue while others,

           though  unaddressed, fan the flames of the issue at hand. When our own emotions are so intense, it is wise to ask ourselves, ”What else is going

           on for me that I feel so ‘off the chain’ about this?”

Suffice it to say that there is no easy way through this one. Your husband has his challenges to address and you have yours. Your best bet is to back off, stay cool and look at your own stuff. You can voice your thoughts, but watch the intensity of your delivery. If you can get less invested in your husband’s performance and more focused on your own, you may actually have something worth working on. The idea here is that if one person in the triangle can behave more maturely and hold onto that position, the tensions in the triangle will in time, decrease. Take a breath, watch your heart rate and keep it real.                                    


"Margaret Anne Speak, M.A., C.C.C. works with couples, individuals, and families from a Bowen Family Systems perspective at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.