Dear Partner

I feel very angry and stirred up, writing this. Even beginning is creating this whirlpool in my chest, as I sit down and try to express all the emotions that I have made it my full-time job to repress for the last two and a half years.

This letter probably won’t be very logical in structure; I have the feeling that everything is going to come pouring out in no particular order. Since you’re not going to see it, though, I’m not going to worry like I normally would about being judged by you on my grammar and expression.

As much I love you, I feel very betrayed by you at the moment.

Over the last couple of years, you have gotten into a habit of putting so much else ahead of me and of our relationship. And I have let you do it! Stupid me!

Let’s see – there’s been the endless travel to the city where they kids live, the kids themselves, your work, your desire to do extra professional development activities, and even your ex-wife. That’s probably the one that hurts the most.

I feel so hurt, so humiliated, that someone who treats you badly is still more important to you than I am, when I try to hard and constantly to make you happy.

The divorce thing really, really rocked me. As I explained to you, I imagined that within, say, a few weeks of the separation period ending, you would file for divorce. Not twelve months, a few weeks! It became very, very painful to me, knowing that I was with a man who wouldn’t or couldn’t formally end his long-over marriage. You kept promising that you’d do it by this date, or that date, always with a specious reason why it couldn’t be done now. Even when I told you that your delays were doing damage to our relationship, that didn’t move you.

You denied that you were avoiding doing it to avoid conflict, but that was just one of your empty protests. It’s a strange thing that you do, spontaneously denying that you’re doing precisely what you are so obviously doing. “I’m not angry. Not at all” when you’re seething. “I’m not just doing it to avoid conflict with her” when that’s exactly what you’re doing.

The truth is that you were more prepared to upset me than you were to risk upsetting her. And you broke several promises in the process. That has really damaged my trust in you. How can I believe your assurances now? I even wonder whether part of it was a way of holding off the point where you would need to marry me, whether because you haven’t emotionally divorced from your ex or you are afraid of her anger if we got engaged.

Watching you let your ex play you for a fool has also reduced my respect for you. Hearing you try to argue that whatever ugly thing she has done most recently is fair or reasonable so that you don’t have to resist going along with it belittles you in my eyes. It’s craven and weak, when I want to see you as strong and manly and confident in your own belief in what is fair. Being an adult means standing up, dear heart. It hurts me to see you as a little boy making excuses and giving away all your power.

Every time there’s a conflict about holidays or money or the boys, it seems, you give in to your ex, or change our plans to better suit her. And if we have a spare few days, or three cents to rub together, you can’t seem to be comfortable until you’ve placed it on her altar. When you offered to loan her our car, for instance, I felt so violated!

I have no problem with being fair in the money we contribute to the boys, but your over-compensation in this regard is ridiculous. Just because she doesn’t want to work at the job she trained for doesn’t mean that we have to be her enablers. With the amount we pay her, your ex-wife is making a large profit from your children! She only has them four days a month more than we do, and yet you pay her a handsome salary (more than I’ve ever earned) and cover all their expenses, including those school fees that will run into over fifty thousand dollars a year once they are all at high school!

Remember, you are the one that is stressed about the size of our debt and risking our relationship with the long hours you work. I know that we will be absolutely fine. Yet when your ex demands you pay more, and more, and more, I have to persuade you not to! Why are you voluntarily considering giving her another hundred thousand dollars? What will the impact of that be – for us and our time together, for our life together?

It hurts me, too, when I explain to you what your ex is playing at with her latest manipulations, and you dismiss what I say only to suddenly believe it when someone else points it out. I’m not so biased that I can’t see and understand what is so simple and straightforward and OBVIOUS. (I understand people and how they work quite a lot better than you, by the way.) Why don’t you believe the things I tell you about your ex until someone else tells you the same thing?

I’m actually a fair person. I give your ex the credit she deserves for her parenting and in other ways, and I don’t want us to do ANYTHING unjust by her. BUT I want to feel that we, as a couple, as well as the family we make with the boys, are protected. The way you have been acting doesn’t protect us, it leaves us wide open to whatever Molotov cocktails she throws.

Do you know, I don’t feel so negative toward your ex because of what she actually does and tries to do; I feel negative toward her because you let her get away with it! If you set strong boundaries, she could be knocking on our door three nights a week and I wouldn’t care. As it is, I feel psychically attacked because you let her into our family to do whatever damage she feels like. I feel as though you let her into our bedroom to vandalise it!

Even on the day I met her for the first time, I felt like you were more concerned for her than you were for me. You didn’t hold my hand or touch me once, you moved your chair away from mine and towards hers, you went along with her when her conversation deliberately excluded me and you let her speak aggressively towards me without stopping her. You even implied a bit of criticism towards me for trying to hug her when I first greeted her. You should have been with me, on my side, not worrying about not offending her! You were totally focused on her, and that was really hurtful. I would never let her speak to you like that.

That episode was another case of your ex clicking her fingers and you delivering the goods. I didn’t want to meet her that week, when I was so jetlagged and tired, but you were so utterly determined to give her what she wanted.

I have had an absolute gutful, too, of the stories you tell, when we’re out socially and by ourselves, that start from nowhere with “When we were in New Zealand/working out west/expecting our first baby…” that are actually about you and her. I have no problem hearing about her, I don’t want to close down that part of your life altogether (although when we’re in bed about to settle in for the night and maybe have sex I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANYTHING. ABOUT. YOUR. EX. AT. ALL.), but after two and a half years, I think you and I should be “we”, not you and your ex.

I loathe the way you talk endlessly about your ex and get into the nitty-gritty of exactly what stage your marriage was at when we first met when people simply ask us how we got together. They don’t want to know! It embarrasses them! It embarrasses me! I’ve asked you not to and you did it anyway, that very night! Our get-together story should be about us, not her, not your flailing marriage, not your guilt. We didn’t have an affair, but I see people’s faces when you tell that story, and I can see them thinking that we must have been bonking like rabbits behind your wife’s back for you to look so utterly guilty.

I feel so uncomfortable with how every dinner party or get together revolves around updating everyone present about progress with your ex as the highest priority. It’s self indulgent and embarrassing for me and everyone else. People are not waiting with bated breath to know what’s happening this millisecond. They are not judging you (or they weren’t until you shoved it in their faces), so please stop trying to make a “clean breast” of it.

It bothers me, too, that you haven’t made much effort to read any of the stepfamily books I’ve bought. I’m not the only one who needs to understand being in a stepfamily. It would be really helpful if I could feel that you were on board too, that it wasn’t me bearing all the responsibility and making all the effort.

Things with the kids have gotten better, but I still think that you let them manipulate you way too much, and that you’re sometimes too afraid of their anger to be a strong father to them.

For instance, when your oldest boy was hitting me so often, really hurting me and often scaring me, I felt angry that you didn’t have a really firm talk with him like you promised. He even threw something at me and cut my eye, and another time he held a blanket over my head while he punched me, yet you couldn’t face getting stern with him about that. You seemed more concerned about his feelings than mine, until I got upset and pointed out how backwards that was.

I know you put a stop to him doing it after that incident, and I really appreciate it, but I was still disappointed in you for not following through like you promised.

I think you risk weakening the boys’ characters by buying them too much and not holding them accountable or expecting them to contribute to our household. I want them to be strong, secure, appreciative, resilient and independent young men, not entitled, spoiled little victims, who blame Daddy for everything they don’t like about their lives and expect you to bust a gut for your relationship with them while they reciprocate very little.

Oh, and? My request for couple time each day while we’re on our upcoming ski holiday with the kids is very reasonable. With all I do and attempt for your kids and you, I felt deeply insulted that you thought less of me for asking for that, that you assumed I was being selfish.

You need to realize – your kids are not my kids. They wear me down so much more than they do you. Imagine if you got to spend all day, every day of your holiday caring for someone else’s kids? My nephews, for instance? Would needing a half-hour break to recharge with your partner, the reason you were there in the first place, make you selfish? I’m not going to be bought off with spa treatments and massages, either. I’m not in this relationship for spa treatments, and being sent off to “amuse myself” like that just underlines my outsider status. I already spend far too much time alone. What I want is a small commitment of your time, each day we’re away, that I can rely on. Giving me that takes nothing from the children, it just adds to my resources for helping you care for them.

In our lives generally, I would like to have more genuine voice. A lot of the consultation you do is such a crock of shit. You’ve planned all of the holidays we’ve ever been on, almost. Even our time away at the music festival, my favourite time in the whole year, you cut back to one night to pander to the kids. And as fabulous as the snow will no doubt be, going skiing at Christmas was very low on my list; I’m tired and I really want to relax. I feel lucky to be able to go on such amazing holidays, but it would be nice if they started being about what I would like to do as well.

I would also like you to stop over-scheduling us. Hosting and cooking for and running around after your father and your tiresome stepmother is not a weekend together. Your desire to pick up voluntary work on public holidays and evenings is not sustainable when we have so little time together. Your determination to throw all kinds of professional activities into our very strained mix piles pressure upon pressure. Your plans for weeklong “boy-only time” when I am badly depressed and struggling are not very fair or balanced. And your obsession with watching every game of the World Cup at the expense of our rare evenings together and of our sex life brought me close to breaking point with the feeling that there was yet another thing ahead of me in the queue.

I have simply had enough of our life together being all about your problems, your marriage breakup, your state of mind. I realized recently that I only have a little over six months head start on you from my own really bad, really ugly and much more unexpected breakup. Just because I wasn’t married with kids doesn’t mean it meant less. (After all, that was a big part of the pain and the problem!) My relationship was nearly as long as your marriage, so why have you not been able to move on more effectively? I would never dream of putting you second to my ex in any way; why do you think it’s ok for me to accept that position?

Finally, your need to pander to your ex makes me afraid that we will never get married, never have children of our own. It makes me afraid that you will be too weak to be able to face the conflict that will ensue, and that you’ll hold off and make excuses and avoid committing to our marriage and future family, all because your ex-wife might get upset. That would be the ultimate betrayal, and I will not accept it.

I was really hurt the night that your friend asked us about our plans to marry, when you avoided the issue and hedged, and played “devils advocate” about why marriage was even necessary. I am just as hurt that any time you mention us having kids the first thing you say is how angry your ex would be.

If your prevarications and procrastination steal the chance to be a real mother from me, I will never forgive you. There is no future of voluntary childlessness for our relationship. I will not give up my chance of having children to care for your kids. I will leave you.

My psychologist had me write this letter; she wants me to keep working at being more assertive, at not automatically sacrificing myself for you, at having a voice in our family life and knowing that I deserve that voice. I am committed to doing those things, to play my part in building a strong relationship that is balanced and resilient and a staging point for wonderful times. (Incidentally, I was troubled by the joke you made when I told you she had encouraged me to be more assertive, about needing to be especially assertive when I agree with you. The subtext there is pretty obvious.)

I’m glad you’re seeing a psychologist yourself now. You really, really need to work on finally grieving the end of your marriage, learning to be stronger with your ex and generally less conflict-avoidant. Please do that.

I love you. You’re a good man, a wonderful man, and a great partner. There are so many joyous things about our relationship. I don’t want it to end. But for it to continue, I need these things to change or I won’t be able to keep going.

Good luck to us.

All my love,


~ by Stepfamily Letter Project on July 8, 2010.

3 Responses to “Dear Partner”

  1. Honey, I hate to say this, but it’s time to leave him. You are doing yourself no favors by staying. He is still married, in every emotional sense, to his ex, and that will never change unless he wants it to. And quite frankly, everything he is doing is a clear sign that he does not want to change, and sees no need to change.

    Get out. Find yourself a partner who is actually a partner, someone who puts the needs of you and your relationship first, not dead last. Find your life again. Find a person who wants children with you, who can commit to you and you alone.

    I’m sorry to be so blunt, and I hope I don’t make an already awful situation worse, but the emotional damage he is inflicting on you is destructive and cruel. At some point, you will look around and not even recognize yourself. It’s not a pretty feeling; I speak from heartfelt experience. Don’t let it happen to you.

  2. I’ve been here. You NEED to tell him these things. If I were you I’d send an edited version of this letter to his own email.

    The thing about me losing respect for him was what really changed my partner’s behavior. I said that I cannot be with someone I don’t respect and I was loosing respect for him. I also explained how disrespected I felt because he refused to treat ME as his family.

    Yes, his kids are his family, too, but BM is not! No, they cannot “be friends for the kids’ sake”. Business partners, yes. Respectful, absolutely. But friends is too close to family, and treating BM is such is completely disrespectful to you. YOU are his family now with the kids.

    I think you need to tell him ALL of what you wrote in some way, even if some of it makes him furious. Communication is the only way to make it in these situations, and the first step to that is really laying everything out on the table with brutal honesty.

    Good luck!

  3. Such a great letter! How true for most all Stepmoms. Pretty much ALL divorced dads go through this period of bowing down to the Biomom(BM) in an effort to “keep things calmer and more peaceful” and so he gets more time/rights with his kids. He plays the game where BM controls the rules, which can change at any given moment. And it IS highly counter-productive for a healthy re-partnership/re-marriage/Stepfamily. But they all do it. If family courts would do joint physical and legal custody for both parents, this craziness of power controls would stop.

    Your letter is correct–you do have to spell it out to him, politely and in a caring, loving way, in a problem-solving way. You need to be firm and set boundaries yourself. And YOU setting boundaries will help HIM set boundaries with HER. Boundaries are GOOD, as long as they are reasonable and followed through on.

    I think this would be a good letter for him to read–might want to edit some negatives and add some more compliments/praise–you do want him to finish reading it and soak it in. You don’t want to get him completely defensive and shut out your letter of wants/needs/boundaries/hurts. I would also look at yourself and any mistakes you’ve been making, any of his complaints, and work effectively on those together, too. That way you’re both on the same page and are treating issues equally and respectively. It’s a HARD thing to do–have a conversation full of complaints and brainstorming together on how to fix them. But it’s what you have to do.

    I think this relationship can be saved. It’s part of being a Stepmom when the separation/divorce process is during your relationship. He DOES still have to finish divorcing her in all aspects, and she him. I’m glad you’re both utilizing therapists–what great resources for your relationship and family!

    I think my goal priorities would be for him to complete the divorce process: emotionally, financially, physically (as in no longer catering to her needs/wants, like borrowing the car), and Xing her out of main conversations and details of your relationship. In the meantime, you’ll have to learn to forgive him for his past mess ups and praise him for the changes he does gradually make and not attack his efforts. You’ll have to be patient, you’ll have to be understanding, you’ll have to be nurturing but firm and keep both of you focused on your relationship goals. Support him on his grieving, but I think the biggest thing is his guilt that he has to get over.

    When the divorce finally feels complete and you feel more secure in your relationship together, discuss marriage and kids–not right away, but in the future. Talk about it for months as you both grow and learn and adapt to Stepfamily life. If you can’t agree on those core issues that you are unwilling to compromise, then part ways. But you can’t expect him to make marriage and child arrangements when he’s still stuck on trying to figure out his current mess. Help one another clear off the divorce plate, and THEN discuss marriage and kids. In the meantime, focus on short-term relationship goals: great sex life, couple’s weekend get-away, framing couple’s and family photos in your home, taking up a hobby together, learning to truly relax together, making more time for each other, better communication, learning how to disagree, listen and brainstorm solutions together instead of fight/argue. Focus on the short-term, ful-filling goals until the divorce is 100% complete, even if the divorce papers have been signed for years. Then focus on the BIG long-term goals for the two of you–but not until that plate is cleared off more. Don’t stress out your relationship by having too much bitten off that you can’t even chew and swallow and enjoy the meal.

    BIG HUGE HUGS! You’re going to make it through this, Fellow Stepmom!

    PS LOVE the nephew correlation–how true! 🙂

    –The Enlightened Stepmothers’ Support Group

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