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Is The Stepdaughter-Stepmother Relationship Doomed?

I'm a 17-year-old female and nearing the end of my life as a child. My parents have been divorced for about four years now, which is for the better, but a year ago, my father married a woman I cannot bear to be around.
11/17/2014 04:51pm ET | Updated January 17, 2015
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Hi Dr.G,

I'm a 17-year-old female and nearing the end of my life as a child. My parents have been divorced for about four years now, which is for the better, but a year ago, my father married a woman I cannot bear to be around. She has no personality, compassion or maternal instincts whatsoever, and I have always had the strong suspicion that she tolerates me in order to win my dad over. She's demanding, judgmental, manipulative and narcissistic, but in a quiet way. She makes short assertions that indirectly hint at asking me to do something without directly saying it, resulting in her manipulating the situation and twisting the story to make sure my father sees me in the wrong light. She always has some sort of rebuttal and negative comment to throw at me when I'm talking about something and I can't be myself around her. Just her presence sickens me, and I have a deep, saddening hatred for her. Honestly, I wish I could relate to her and bond with her, but her and I are polar opposites. I would greatly appreciate your thoughtful insight on this, because it is a burden I carry around daily.

Thank you Dr. G.

A Miserable Stepdaughter

Dear Stepdaughter,

I am so sorry that you are stuck between your stepmother and your father in such a stressful and tricky set of complicated dynamics. I must say that I am delighted that you have written to me. You are in good and plentiful company. I get many letters from both stepmothers and stepdaughters about difficulties in their relationships. The stepmother-stepdaughter relationship seems to be an inherently tricky one. This is a dreadful shame, because if all of the jealousy, envy and competitiveness were not issues, this relationship could be a wonderful one for stepdaughters and stepmothers everywhere. This is not to say that all stepmoms and stepdaughters don't get along, but I have seen too many of these relationships go awry and cause complications and stress for everyone involved.

I don't know how you and your stepmother are polar opposites. What I do understand from your letter is that your stepmother is invested in having your father see you in a less than positive light. She must be a terribly insecure woman. I am so sorry about that. She also seems to have an infuriating way of making you look bad. I understand your frustration. Given your description of the situation, I have several suggestions for you. It sounds to me like you would very much like for things to settle down.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Have a private talk with your father and ask him how he sees the situation. He may not be aware of the complicated dynamics going on. Perhaps he can be a source of support to you and your stepmother as you try to negotiate a more comfortable relationship.

2. Take a good, hard look at your own behavior and ask yourself if you may be doing something to anger your stepmother. Perhaps unconsciously, you have been less than pleasant to her. I am certainly not accusing you of anything here. I am just trying to approach this situation from a variety of angles.

3. I am not sure if there is anyone else who observes the relationship between you and your stepmother. Perhaps there is a sibling who bears witness to the relationship. If so, ask for their honest feedback about what is going on.

AND

4. Do everything in your power to try to improve the relationship, including going through steps 1 to 3 listed above. If, however, things continue to remain at this high level of tension then I would like to suggest that you protect your well-being by spending less time around your stepmother and by disengaging a bit.

While I am not a fan of relationship cut-offs, I am also not a fan of people hurting each other. I wish that everyone would come to a new relationship with an open heart and kindness, but too often, this is not the case. I feel badly for everyone in this situation, but I an primarily concerned about your well-being, because it is you who reached out to me. Please get back to me about how your attempts to resolve and improve the situation work out. And, please spread the word about how important it is for stepdaughters and stepmother to attempt to engage in a relationship characterized primarily by mutual respect.

Good luck

Dr. G.