"My Teenage Daughter Is Ruining Our Marriage"
The Counselor's Turn
"Lisa and John were clearly in love," said the counselor, "but Ali's behavior eroded the connection that brought them together. They needed to move their marriage back to center stage.
"For that to happen, however, Lisa had to be convinced that being happy wasn't selfish. In truth, she was too nice. As a child she felt responsible for her mother's happiness; in her first marriage she assumed a similar role with her husband. As a mom her guilt over her divorce led her to be too lenient. But her permissiveness gave Ali too much power. 'Her actions are dictating your relationship,' I told them. 'That sends the message that she's in charge.'
"Living with a teenager is trying enough for biological parents; a stepparent feels even more powerless. 'Ali baits you in ways she'd never dare with her mom or dad,' I told John. 'You're the lightning rod for a host of issues, many of them age-appropriate. As crazy as this may sound, you can't take her attitude personally. Teens are still coming to terms with who they are and where they fit in the family.'
"Stepparents assume that because they love their partner they'll automatically love the person's children. 'You may never love Ali,' I explained to John. 'While that's sad, it's also okay. But you do need to find a way to get along.'
"Our sessions also helped clarify John's anger at Ken, which was so white-hot that at one point I asked, 'Could you be transferring your rage at Ken onto Ali?' John nodded as tears welled up in his eyes. This breakthrough helped him temper his attitude toward his stepdaughter.
"Yet life at home was not improving, despite our sessions. Finally Lisa made the wrenching decision to let Ali move in with her father. At the end of three months, Ali asked to move back. 'Living with Ken wasn't so great after all,' said Lisa. 'True, he didn't care about curfews -- but he didn't really care about her, either. And the car he promised never materialized.'"