Stepfather: Will I ever get to sleep with my wife?

I am the stepfather of a four year old girl. I've known her and her mother for over three years, and I just married her mom recently. I have a problem with a few things concerning the mother-child relationship.

Number one, my daughter is still in the family bed. I think this is totally unacceptable. My wife is now pregnant and I do not sleep in our bed. I have expressed my displeasure at this arrangement but my wife, for reasons I can't figure out, will not take an active role to end this practice. My situation is I that came into the picture when all they had were each other. And they've been through a lot together. I have set a date, my daughters' five year birthday, to get things started. I feel my wife is being very possessive and lazy. It seems as if my daughter has more power than me.

Am I being a little paranoid about this or do I have a real problem on my hands?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Your feelings of discomfort with your position in the family are real, not imagined. The success of your stepfamily rests on a strong couples' bond and a healthy stepparent-child relationship. Your role as a husband requires that you take your place by your wife's side in bed. Likewise, your voice as a partner in parenting is a crucial part of successful stepfamily development . Realignment of relationships must occur to ensure that your family has a viable future .

You are a stepparent, a husband and becoming a new father to your own biological child. Ask your wife to make a place for you by her side as a co-parent and as a lover. Her tight bond with her daughter is understandable, given their closeness in the past several years. But maintaining a primary sleeping arrangement that excludes you is a set up for role confusion.

It is likely that your wife comes from a family background in which generational boundaries were blurred. Perhaps children rose to the status of responsibility for parents who were not functioning at an adult capacity. Or it may have been the case that children were elected to replace adult companionship.

Whatever the reason, children suffer from being put in roles that serve the best interests of the parent but not the child over time. Clearly, children grow towards independence, ultimately leaving their parents' intimate daily lives. Though this is a gradual process, the foundation for this eventual autonomy begins in the early structure of the family. Eventually, your couples' relationship endures as a primary and daily bond, while your child needs to experience enough freedom from responsibility for her parent's needs in order to leave the nest.

It is likely that your wife has established a pattern of relating with her daughter that was based on fulfilling her own loneliness as a single parent. This pattern continues to block intimacy between the two of you. It is a pattern that needs to change for the health of all concerned!

Ask your wife to consider the responsibilities of marriage. Does she want to be married? If so, it takes effort to create negotiations which work. You are clear that this situation is not acceptable and that you are suffering with the current arrangement. Consider referring to the "Characteristics of healthy families" and "Making healthy stepfamilies?" on the Making Healthy Families series. Ask her to join with you in discussing what kind of family you want to create together. Reflect on the families you came from and the generational structure and roles each of you experienced growing up.

It is your job as parents and spouses to keep what was healthy and life-giving from the ways your family raised you, and to throw out the patterns of family life that were hurtful. By doing so, you pass on the best to the next generation. Without reflection, it is overwhelmingly likely that you will repeat painful patterns unnecessarily, either by design or reaction to that which you did not explore.

You are in the process of Family-Making! This is an engaging and worthwhile endeavor. Ask your wife to be your partner in creating your family vision. Realign your relationship to reflect your partnership not only in bed, but in life!

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