Dreamworker has known many people in life whose behaviors have caused unnecessary problems and wants to help them.
If you are a partner to someone in a second marriage, and your new husband has children from a previous one, you probably already are having problems with an issue called Guilty Father Syndrome.
When a man who has been forced to stop living with his children feels so guilty about his situation that he starts trying to buy their love, his behavior can lead to serious problems with his second wife.
She unwittingly steps into a tough situation because she sees how his children are manipulating and using him and also resents how they are invading her life.
It’s an insidious problem that can last for decades can even transfer over to relationships with grandchildren!
Dealing with unresolved feelings of rage and abandonment in children is an issue that couples in this situation must come to terms with if they want to have healthy, happy marriages.
You Can't Buy Love
When a divorced father tries to prove that he loves his children by giving them too much leeway and too many “things”, he makes his problems worse.
The more he gives, the more they will want and the more they will make him feel bad if he doesn’t provide what they want, which will add to his guilt!
You cannot repair rage, despair and feelings of abandonment using these methods.
Many step children secretly (and often openly) despise the new wife and want to ruin her relationship with their father so that they can have him all to themselves.
One would think that as the children mature these attitudes would fade, but the truth is that unless their feelings are properly addressed, they follow them into adulthood and continue to wreak havoc for their father and his wife.
Fathers Need to Understand Their Situations
In many cases, fathers feel guilty for what they view as “abandoning” their young to selfishly seek some happiness for themselves.
This view is constantly reinforced by enraged ex-wives and their children who have been manipulated into thinking that their father left because he did not love or want them.
However the decision to leave may have been the only realistic choice the father could make given the unhappy circumstances of his marriage.
If guilty fathers can be made to see that this is the real truth of their situations, it is likely that they can eliminate the guilt they feel and become more realistic about rebuilding good relationships with their children.
This is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes men need professional counseling to help them achieve this goal.
However many men are unable to accept what is happening, never overcome their guilt, and continue to alienate their second wives and mishandle the ways in which they deal with their children.
Below are a few case studies that show he results of ignoring the problem.
Two Wives in the House
I had a friend who married a man who had five children. The oldest, a teenage girl, came to live with them.
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Before long, she started taking over the role of the wife, to the point that the wife began to feel like her husband had two wives living with him.
He was unable or unwilling to see what was happening and could not understand why his wife became upset when his daughter insisted on cooking dinner, doing the laundry and sitting between the wife and husband on the couch when watching TV.
She constantly barged into their bedroom with inane excuses, interrupted their conversations and called the house incessantly when she wasn’t at home.
These things infuriated the wife, but there was little she could do because she was really afraid that if it came to a choice, her husband would choose his daughter over her.
This situation went on for years until the girl went away to college and eventually married.
It never did end, but it became more bearable, and the marriage survived. However, it was permanently damaged.
Another situation occurred when the husband divorced his mentally unstable wife and married another woman shortly thereafter.
They lived in a very small town, and because there was a child involved, the ex-wife maintained a relationship with the husband’s family.
Thus, every time there was a special occasion, the daughter and the ex-wife showed up.
Unfortunately, because the grandparents were afraid of losing contact with their granddaughter and were somewhat angry with their son for breaking up the marriage, they kept allowing these visits to occur.
The ex-wife encouraged the girl to lay guilt on her father by having her call him often and tell him how much she missed him.
As she grew older, she began to ask for money and things, and he was unable to say no.
This infuriated his second wife, but when she tried to tell him how she felt, he said he was sorry, but then he’d just keep on giving their money to his daughter.
Once she was able to drive, she’d show up at his place of work as well as his house unexpectedly.
Then he became quite ill, and that’s when the real trouble started.
The daughter started making threatening phone calls to the wife, warning that if her father passed away, she would hire a lawyer and contest any will he made so that she would get the lion’s share of his estate.
Finally, when the wife told him about this, he realized that he had been disrespecting his wife for years for a daughter who was simply no good.
He never did die, but his illness finally got rid of his marital problems and today the couple lives happily, just the two of them!
Long Lost Son (and Grandson)
This is a situation that has been going on for decades.
The father, a long haul trucker, married his wife when he was young and for all the wrong reasons.
She wanted to have a child, but he did not.
Without telling him, his wife stopped taking her birth control pills and became pregnant. After she did that, he felt that he could never trust her again.
He tried to stay in the marriage for the sake of their child, but after a few years could no longer tolerate his wife, so he divorced her.
The wife’s mother immediately began laying guilt on him by telling him that the child cried for “weeks” after his father left home.
The mother was vindictive, despite the fact that the father always was kind to her, paid his child support and visited with his son as often as he could, which was difficult since his ex wife had moved to a different state.
Both he and his ex wife remarried, but his second marriage failed. Hers lasted.
He was happy that she married a nice man who became a good father to their son, but by this time the dye had been cast.
As his son grew up, he began to emotionally isolate himself from his father, no doubt because his mother poisoned his attitudes about him.
The father eventually remarried. He and his new wife made numerous attempts at restoring his relationship with his son, but doing so became increasingly difficult over the years.
After the son married and had a child, his father thought things would improve. They did not.
Worse yet, the same attitudes of his son transferred to his grandson.
After several decades the relationship boiled down to sending Christmas cards once each year, and finally that stopped, too.
It took all that time for the father to realize that his son was never going to accept him, even after his stepfather passed away.
This is a situation where the son never asked anything from the father and was clear about the fact that he didn't want anything, either. He simply “turned off”, letting the father know that he, in effect, was dead to him.
The father still feels guilt, but it is less now that he understands why things happened as they did.
The only reason he and his wife managed to keep their marriage together all of those years was because the two of them were on the same page when it came to dealing with the errant son.
How to Deal With Guilty Father Syndrome
Situations like these are more common than you may think, and can devastate relationships between husbands and wives.
They can last for years and make couples miserable unless the come to an agreement about how to deal with the problem.
The husband is caught between people he cares about trying to enforce their own agendas, and he often does not know what to do.
- If he tries to appease his children, he disrespects his wife.
- If he tries to please his wife, his children disrespect him!
It may seem to him that no matter what he does, he becomes the villain.
He can overcome his feelings if he is willing to
- let his children clearly know that he will not tolerate their negative behaviors,
- demand that they show respect to him and his wife,
- make it a point to spend long amounts of quality time with his kids so that they feel more secure about their relationship,
- call daily,
- go to their school activities,
- discipline them when necessary,
- let them clearly know that he is still their father and
- let his wife know that he hears her, respects her and loves her and will do whatever it takes to hold their marriage together.
If he has done these things for a period of time, and cannot make his children understand his position, then he will have to isolate himself and his current wife from them.
This may make them realize what they’ve done and eventually come back into his life with healthier attitudes.
If this does not happen, he'll be forced to end his relationship with them completely. When doing this, he needs to understand that there is always a possibility that his children will never respond, and he must prepare himself emotionally for that eventuality.
He cannot force them to forgive him. If they don't, their behavior speaks more to their failures than his. For this reason, he should not feel guilty.
He has tried, but his efforts failed, but only because he had no real control over how his children feel about him.
Eliminate the Guilt
The bottom line is that nobody should have to ruin or damage his life because others in it want more from him than what is fair, just and reasonable.
Alienating oneself from children is painful, but many people finally do so because they can no longer live like doormats that their ex-wife, family members and children step on whenever they please.
As a good friend of mine once said: “If you don’t want to be a doormat, get up off the floor”.
- If you want to keep Guilty Father Syndrome from ruining your marriage, you need to help your husband to do the right thing.
- If he wants to save your marriage, he must do whatever it takes to resolve this issue.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is it ok that my fiancé allows his youngest child to run the house?
Answer: Children should never "run a house", but he is obviously not your child, so it is not your call to make.
Question: Is it ok for husband to allow his youngest kid to not be disciplined?
Answer: All children need discipline, but it depends on what type of discipline you are talking about. Withholding perks is one thing, beating a child black and blue is quite another.
© 2018 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on January 03, 2020:
Hope it helps.
Karen Stone on January 02, 2020:
This is a such a helpful and insightful article. Thanks very much!
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on December 25, 2019:
This article was prompted by seeing the horrible things that have happened to people I know who are in this situation.
Bellz Luv on December 25, 2019:
This is a phenomenal article! ...one of which should be a court assigned documents in ALL divorces whereas children are involved!
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on November 06, 2019:
This was written from the perspective of a second wife who must deal with the guilt of her husband because he cannot be with his family...nothing more. It has nothing to do with step family jealousy...that is fodder for a different article and is also a very real issue. In truth, all parents should treat all of the kids as if they were their own, but that rarely happens, unfortunately.
Simon on November 05, 2019:
I believe this is written from a step wives perspective, it does not deal with the jealousy of a step family, especially if you are raising another mans child while not living with your own children. If you are expected to treat your step children like your own then your wife should be happy to treat your kids from a former relationship EXACTLY the same.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on April 07, 2018:
Jay C Obrien: I didn't realize until I started researching for this article just how widespread this problem is. I, too, hope many read it and that it will provide them with help.
Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on April 07, 2018:
This is a wonderfully insightful article. This should be published widely.