Second Wife and playing Second Fiddle

Dear Toni-

My husband Jake and I are in our late 50s, have been married for two years, and it's the second marriage for both of us. This should be an easier and more content time in our lives as we have finished raising our children, have achieved a good place in our respective careers, are financially comfortable, have an active social life, and are both in good health. For the most part we are very compatible; so what's the problem? It's his 25 year old son, Todd.

Todd boomerangs back and forth from his girlfriend's home to ours--basically living between the two as he doesn't have a solid job or adequate means of support. He frequently asks my husband for money, contributes little or nothing to the household chores and finances, and exhibits a disrespectful and poor attitude towards both his father and me. My role has been one of just standing back and putting up with what is going on until Todd drifts back to his girlfriend's place because Jake handles the Todd problem alone . He doesn't ask for my input or assistance and I don't believe it is my place to impose my thoughts about what should happen in our household as Todd is his son and our home is the one he owned with his first wife and where they raised their family together.

What I'd appreciate is your take on our situation and how you think we are handling it. If there are ways I could be involved that don't cross inappropriate boundaries, I would be very open to trying them. I'm concerned about the negative impact Todd has on his father's well-being and on the long-term health of our relationship and life together. There are times I want to scream, but have worked hard to handle my feelings for Jake's sake.
--Deadbeat's Stepmother

Dear Dear Deadbeat's Stepmother,

The short answer here is that there is no "we" in the handling of your "Todd problem," and that goes to the heart of why there is no resolution. You and your spouse are a team (right?) and as such each of you should have a voice in what happens in your household, especially when it has a direct impact on your lifestyle and relationship. Instead, you are standing off on the sidelines, watching the drama unfold and being impacted daily by it--yet you don't feel it is your place to weigh in and offer your thoughts or ask for and set limits.

You need to become involved. How this will happen is something you and Jake should decide together. Issues such as boundaries, house rules, and acceptable behavior need to be discussed and then laid out in a meeting with Todd and both of you present. Jake should take the lead, but you need to present a strong and united front that will help ensure that Todd will not be able to play you against one another--which clearly puts him in charge and keeps this situation spinning out of control.

As Jake's partner, you need to be his number one priority, not Todd. As I am sure you know, once children have reached adulthood they need to take responsibility for themselves and not look to their parents to manage their lives and repair the damage brought about by their bad decisions. When parents don't insist that their grown children function as mature adults they are enabling them to remain dependent, which will insure failure in their future life, work and relationships. Jake is an enabler for Todd--and you are too if you just turn a blind eye and tolerate this situation due to a concern that it is not your place to do otherwise.

Left unresolved, the Todd problem will impact your relationship as the resentment, anger, and negative environment in your household eat away at the goodwill and compatibility you and Jake now share. Over time, you could become an outsider in your own home. Act now by having a heart to heart talk with Jake. Finding a good couples/family counselor would definitely be a step in the right direction as you would have a trained and objective third party to help guide you to take the necessary steps and work together to create the harmonious and stress free household that you envisioned when you said "I do."

(from August 2014)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"The married "single parent""
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"Relationship Challenges"

"Celebrating Father's Day When You Are Infertile"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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