Stepchildren Ruining Your Marriage? Here’s How to Erase the Damage…

Are step kids ruining your marriage? The key to fixing this is to be a team with your spouse.

Once you see the bigger picture, the expert tips in this guide will help you get your blended family back on track.

No matter how alone and overwhelmed you may feel, many other stepparents just like you experience these same struggles.

Do These Problems Sound Familiar?

  • Your spouse always seems to defend their kid, even their awful behavior.
  • You and your spouse spend more time complaining about each other’s kids than having fun.
  • You feel like an outsider when your spouse’s kids are around and can’t wait for them to go back to their other home for a few days.
  • You really try to be kind to your stepchildren, but they say they hate you.

These issues are very common for stepfamilies. Rest assured, your marriage isn’t doomed.

From this guide, you’ll learn more about…

  • How stepchildren really feel and the role they can play in ruining a marriage.
  • Expert tips on handling stepchildren of all ages, especially ones that don’t like you.
  • Key things you should never say to stepchildren.

Don’t give up! This isn’t an overnight fix. In fact, it will take some work, but your marriage will be much stronger after you work through these issues. Onward!

Can Stepchildren REALLY ruin your marriage?

Can Stepchildren REALLY ruin your marriage

Your marriage was great at the start, but somewhere along the way, your step children have turned into little monsters. It feels as if your marriage is crumbling before your eyes and you know exactly who to blame. But do you really?

Truthfully, you, your spouse, and your stepchildren all play a part in your troubled marriage. No matter how awful the kids are, the adults create conflict too.

Take a step back and look at this from another angle.

  • Your stepchildren didn’t ask for their family to fall apart, and they didn’t ask you to join it either.
  • You are an easy target for their hurt and confused feelings.
  • Your spouse might have some shortcomings and struggle as a parent.
  • Your stepchildren may have been through trauma that you don’t know about.

Change starts with you and your spouse. Truth be told, fixing your marriage takes commitment and a willingness to look at your own mistakes.

How Stepchildren Can Play a Role in Ruining Marriages

How Stepchildren Ruin Marriages
Stepchildren can be the source of ongoing conflict in some remarriages. Children often feel powerless when their parents split apart. Sometimes creating conflict is the only way they feel they can make something happen.

The scenarios below highlight three common problems with stepchildren and remarriages. You’ll see how these issues can pull spouses apart instead of bringing them together.

Problem 1: Kids’ behaviors and comments can pit spouses against each other

Some kids feel upset or resentful about a parent’s remarriage. Frankly, they purposely do things to get their parent and new spouse upset with each other.

Kids will push their stepparent’s buttons and form an alliance with their biological parent. This creates an unhealthy triangle that puts pressure on the married couple.

Jason and Lara

Jason and Lara have been married for two years. Lara’s son, Robbie, is 10 and lives with them most of the time. Lara knew the divorce was hard on Robbie, so she gave him extra attention when she could.

After several months, Robbie began picking fights with Jason and talking back. Most of this happened when Lara wasn’t around. Jason told Lara about Robbie’s behavior, but Lara dismissed his concerns.

After several months of this continued behavior, the tension between Jason and Robbie grew significantly.

Eventually, Jason lashed out at Robbie in front of Lara and she immediately defended Robbie. During this moment, Jason professed that Robbie had been picking fights for months, but all Lara could see was her husband’s anger and her son crying.

Hearing about Robbie’s behavior was so overwhelming for Lara, just as it had been during her divorce. Jason felt like he’d been kicked out into the cold, alone in his own marriage.

Problem 2: Kids are given the reins of power out of guilt

In second marriages, parents often hand over way more power to their children than they should. Much of this comes from guilt over breaking up the original family.

A guilt-ridden parent can become permissive, turning a blind eye to their kid’s irresponsibility. This can deeply threaten a remarriage.

Jim and Sarah

Sarah and Jim have adult children from previous marriages. Recently, Sarah’s 20-year-old son, Trevor, dropped out of college and moved in with them.

He promised to get a job at first, but ended up spending much of his time hanging out with friends.

Jim tried talking to Sarah about Trevor finding a job and getting out on his own. When approached, Sarah said that her ex-husband was too demanding of Trevor growing up. And as time progressed, Sarah created even more excuses for Trevor’s lack of responsibility.

Jim became more frustrated over the next few months and finally had a confrontational blowout with Sarah about Trevor’s situation.

During this moment, Sarah threatened divorce, and Trevor hardly came out of his room. Jim couldn’t believe how quickly their marriage broke down and how fast and far Sarah went to defend her son.

Problem 3: Kids cope with their emotions by acting out

Child behavior problems are nothing new in families. But when kids act out in a remarriage, much more is at stake. Admittedly, remarriage means there is no hope for parents to get back together.

And as children, moving back and forth between homes gets stressful. Going through constant change can put an unbearable strain on a marriage.

Paul and Kristi

Kristi has a 6-year-old and Paul has two sons, ages 9 and 11, all from their previous marriages.

Kristi and Paul have been married less than two years, and it has been rocky from the start. Paul’s two boys wrestled and fought with each other daily and sometimes broke things and hurt each other.

On the other hand, Kristi’s daughter was afraid, often clung to her, and cried. Kristi spent a lot of time trying to manage her daughter’s intense and emotional behavior.

Kristi was also very concerned about the boys’ rough behavior. After all, Paul did not discipline the boys and said their rough housing was natural and they didn’t mean any real harm to each other. Kristi told Paul in doing so that many times her daughter was in danger around the boys.

As time progressed, Paul became more frustrated with Kristi’s daughter. He said she was acting like a baby and needed to grow up and thought Kristi coddled her too much.

After almost two years, both Kristi and Paul became critical of each other’s parenting and somewhat blind to their own kids’ emotional problems.

Tips for Dealing With Difficult Stepchildren Relationships

A stepchild’s age plays a big part in how you approach your relationship. No matter how old they are, your best move is to be kind and respectful. As the newcomer to the family, it can take a while for you to get comfortable.

Generally, it’s important that you approach this situation gently and sympathize with their feelings whenever possible.

Dealing with Young Stepchildren (Children and Preteens)

Young kids still need plenty of time with both biological parents. Unfortunately, they may not understand why their parents live in different places now.

Do your best to create a positive relationship with their other parent. This may not be easy or feel genuine at first. However, your cooperation sends a reassuring message to the kids. Life is different, but the adults are a team.

Be friendly and invite them to play with you. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t want to. It may take them a while to warm up. Let their trust in you develop at their own pace.

Be patient with their emotional reactions. Little kids have a lot of big feelings, and they rarely know what to do with them. Rejecting you might be one action they feel they can control.

Dealing with Teenage Stepchildren

Remember that a teenager’s main job is to learn how to become independent. They do this in the most annoying ways and can often seem moody or easily get upset.

Your teen stepchild might warm up to you, but don’t be surprised if they start by brushing you off or testing your patience. Take it slow.

You want a teen stepchild to see you all as a family unit, even if it’s unfamiliar at first. Create a fun family night once a week or two where everyone spends time together. Expect some resistance, but invite them to have a say in what you do as a group.

If your teen stepchild acts rudely or tries to fight with you, let your spouse handle it. Build that relationship before you act as an authority figure.

Dealing with Adult Stepchildren

Adult stepchildren are not immune to emotional conflict and bad behavior. Nonetheless, some adult stepchildren have open hearts and will have a relationship with a stepparent. On the contrary, others hold on to a lot of emotional baggage and have trouble getting past old conflicts.

Start by being polite. As adults, they have their own lives and households. You aren’t an authority figure to them, so begin by being friendly. This could grow into a warm parent-child type of relationship. Or it might at least be a friendly connection.

At worst, you will be ignored or pulled into drama. This can be emotionally draining, especially if you’re trying hard to get along with everyone. Have your spouse handle any upsetting incidents, and remember, pull together as a team.

If your adult stepchildren are rude and childish, that behavior is on them. Try your best to not take this personally. That behavior is for them to work out and you to avoid.

How to Build a Relationship With Stepchildren Who Don’t Like You

Living with a stepchild who doesn’t like you can be rough, but it may not be that way forever. These tips can help you handle the ride when it gets bumpy.

Continue being kind and respectful

You may not reap the rewards for a while, but keep being kind and respectful. Be prepared to hear “You aren’t my mom/dad,” or “I hate you.”

This is not unusual, plus it can hurt and feel frustrating. Know that your positive behavior will stick with them. Until then, they need to see that before they trust you. They need to test the waters with you before they open up and express their feelings.

Read up and educate yourself on the dynamics of stepfamilies

It takes more than one informative article to guide a person through step parenthood. It’s important that you do your own homework like finding highly recommended books and podcasts.

In short, learn as much as you can about stepfamily relationships and family dynamics.

You can accomplish this by joining a social or support group to hear how other real-life stepparents work through problems. Your knowledge base will evolve as your stepchildren grow older and your relationships change.

Avoid badmouthing the other parent

Your spouse’s ex may have a lot of personal problems. They may also be a large source of conflict in your family.

While it may indeed be tempting, never spell out the details to your stepchildren. They might look for something like this so they can pit your spouse against you so beware.

If you need to tell your stepchildren any negative news about their other parent, do it intentionally. Say it as a couple or let your spouse handle it themselves. Never blurt it out as an emotional comment.

Step back from discipline

There may be a time when you can successfully discipline your stepchildren. But if you are facing a lot of conflict with them, let your spouse handle it. Be a friend and get to know them first.

A heavy hand with discipline will put you in the wicked stepparent role pretty quickly so have patience.

Encourage your spouse to have alone time with their kids

Your spouse has a lifelong connection with their children and the bond between them is undoubtedly incredibly strong.

The kids may be worried about you taking up all their parent’s time. They might also feel a longing to have things like they used to be without you.

So, it would be in everyone’s best interest if you openly encourage this private time. Ultimately, your spouse needs to continue developing relationships with his or her children.

Keep your marriage strong

Your marriage is the bedrock of your family, and, consequently, your stepchildren are wary of the disruption in their family. And lo and behold, you are the face of all that change.

As you continue to have a stable and solid marriage with their parent, they may eventually feel more at ease with you.

Things to Never Say to Your Stepchildren

If the number one tip is being kind and respectful, the next best tip is this: don’t say something you will regret or hurtful.

The comments below may seem harmless at first, but as you will soon discover, you’ll see just how hurtful they are to a stepchild’s heart.

You can call me Mom/Dad.

Most stepchildren already have both a mom and a dad. They aren’t looking for a replacement parent or multiple moms and dads. To a stepchild, this comment is disrespectful and feels intrusive.

Instead, suggest they use your first name. If the child is young, they may feel like calling you Mom or Dad if their other biological parent is deceased or out of the picture. At any rate, let the child decide.

Why are you always upset?

This comment puts the child on the defensive. In doing so, they may feel exposed, and as if their emotions are obvious. At the end of the day, their parents are divorced and there are new people in the family. Can you really blame them?

Instead, be patient with the child’s emotional state. Understand they are in upheaval and they may not know how to cope with their emotions.

Nonetheless, don’t tolerate disrespect or violent behavior. Loop your spouse in right away if that happens and get on the same page quickly.

Why don’t you like me?

Like the previous comment, you represent the destruction of their parents’ marriage. You wouldn’t be in the family if their parents were still together. In fact, you are easy to dislike, no matter how nice you are.

No stepchildren are exactly alike. One may enjoy spending time with you while another does not. Know that at some point they may say they hate you. This can be tough to hear, but it’s crucial that you remain patient and let each relationship develop at its own pace.

Why can’t you be more grateful?

Nobody enjoys being told to be grateful. It’s a mindset that has to come from the heart. So don’t say this to your stepchild, your own child, your spouse, or to anyone. You don’t promote gratitude by being pushy about it.

Gratitude grows best when you show it yourself. Instead, tell your stepchild how grateful you are to know them. Show them how to be thankful for the sunshine and every new day. Teach them to be thankful for other people’s kindness.

Does your mom/dad let you get away with that?

There are a few things majorly wrong with this statement that as a step-parent you must be aware of.

First, you’re putting the child on the defense without explaining what’s wrong. Second, you disrespect one or both of their parents by making them sound like the bad guy.

At the very least, both you and your spouse need to communicate well about the children’s behavior. Besides, it’s normal for kids to cover up their mistakes or say they have permission from their parents.

If you see a problem behavior, stay calm, and keep your tone neutral. Just make sure the child isn’t doing something unsafe where they could harm themselves.

Saving Your Marriage and Family Ties

Stepfamily relationships can be tense, but they don’t have to spell the end for you and your spouse.

Use the suggestions from this guide to help your family work together. And if it doesn’t go well on your own, you might find family counseling helpful.

Don’t lose hope. Know that many other stepparents are working through these issues one day at a time. What you are experiencing is normal.

14 thoughts on “Stepchildren Ruining Your Marriage? Here’s How to Erase the Damage…”

    • I’m following this one. My husband doesn’t agree that his daughter’s choices are disrespectful and actually told me yesterday that it breaks his heart most of the time that he has to correct things he doesn’t see as a problem. Things being having the same set of simple rules for everyone and she being the only one who breaks them consistently for 3 years, example is putting her feet on the chairs, putting her dirty clothes in her own hamper and not her sister’s (I do laundry by the person to keep everyone’s belongings together), etc.

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  1. My step children put stuff in my food and are just horrible. Very very horrible. I have tried to give them all the love but they always do their worse. I have been thinking about leaving the marriage because of them and to protect my children too. All that you stated above I have done them over and over again. Their father mostly sides with them on issues and that causes problems in our relationship. Their mother is no more and I accepted them 6 years ago. They are now 14 and 17 years. I can’t stand their hypocrisy and evil acts anymore. I take to prayer these days and hope for a brighter day. Thanks

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  2. All this makes sense, but I have done all of the above and things went really well for a while. Now my 14-year stepdaughter is treating me like a second class citizen. She is never openly rude, but is very mechanical in her hellos and thank yous and nothing beyond that. She never reciprocates when I suggest something. I do make sure to take an interest by asking her questions about her interests and friends, I take her to see movies, I have helped her with her homework etc. I believe she is currently testing the waters, but also enjoying the fact that her behaviour clearly saddens me. It is extremely frustrating and I feel like a stranger in my own home when she is around. I also feel that my husband is not dealing with the situation in a good way. He keeps defending her when she is obviously trying to be hurtful.

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    • I think I wrote that post Natasha!! EXACTLY the same thing except my stepdaughter is 17, she is incessantly complaining about me to her Dad but he never tells me anything so I’m left wondering what’s wrong because I can literally FEEL the animosity and the tension around here. Such a long story but currently, I asked them both to leave my home, she is beyond disrespectful, I caught her telling her friends some extremely UNTRUE nasty things about me, explaining how she was going to “get rid of me” and the list goes on. He is a pushover to an extreme I never knew was possible. She throws a tantrum, starts cussing and screaming at her Dad and made him actually cry!!!! Twice!!!! His reaction to the rude, inconsiderate, obnoxious, ungrateful and disrespectful daughter??? Buy her a hamster!!!!! THAT will SURELY correct the behavior! NOT. It’s been about 5 weeks and he so badly wants to come home but she refused to “let” him move back in because she said she’d never come back and would runaway first or stay with her Aunt. When she discovered we ARE still together even though no longer living together, she lost it. She drives his train. “LET” – WTF???????? Now she graduated to if he EVER even SPEAKS to me she said she’d cut him out of her life forever. He’s devastated. So am I. I have dug deep and thought hard to figure out what I may have done or said and I come up with zero. For the last three years both he and I have walked on eggshells so not to “bother” her. I would make a wide path around her. We can’t upset the Queen after all. So the last episode that made him cry and he stood there and took it I finally realized how dysfunctional their relationship is. He IS still speaking with me because we are still together and he’s here at the house every night (only for the last week or so) so maybe, just maybe, he finally took a little action and addressed a small portion of her behavior. We were going to sell the house and then buy separate houses but the more I thought about it, I’m think NO. NO we are not selling. This house was an investment we made together and I have a lot more money invested on every level – I pay the majority of the mortgage each month, put over TWICE as much down to buy ($250k) – cost to move to a strange city I don’t care for AT ALL and how zero family anywhere in sight for the happy tune of $12k. And if either of them think I’m going to risk even a single penny in this investment they are mistaken. He cannot sell with out my permission since we have a Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship. No way I’m paying $12k AGAIN to move BACK to where I came from! I JUST did that 3 years ago when we bought the house and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be forced to do exactly that (and then some – starting new services, utilities hook ups etc) not to mention the fact that I’m on a fixed income and even though I have some money saved (most of it is in THIS house) there’s NO WAY I would get a mortgage or at least not one that can “grow” my money and work for me as it does here. It would be a dump or I’d have to RENT somewhere which 1. That’s just a total waste of money and I might as well throw lighter fluid on it and watch it burn and 2. I have a beautiful perfectly good home right here that makes me money every time I make a mortgage payment. I made tons of sacrifices to be here – I mentioned the move to a city I hate but I also bought in her school district (btw I never had children with my late husband so this was completely foreign to me) drove her to school everyday for 2.5 years until she got her license to drive, and other smaller sacrifices (not trying to sound like the “hero” that have her entire life away!) I’m staying put where my financial future is 99% safe and secure. He’ll end up moving back in and she is welcome to do so as well but not without trying everything to break us up. I’m not going to allow a 17 year old to throw a tantrum and have it cost me thousands and thousands of dollars. She’s unreasonable and over the top selfish and could care less of her Dad is all alone and unhappy as long as she gets what SHE wants. To hell with what Dad wants. It’s almost painful to watch her do this to her Dad and I wish he’d put his foot down a long time ago and addressed the issues when they first began to rear their ugly heads. He never addressed my concerns about her behavior and clearly he never told me what HER issues were so nothing was communicated – I’ve never (nor would I) told him that he had to pick me or her or it’s over. I never backed him into a corner and made him choose.
      As a matter of fact I even suggested years ago that they pick a day or two just for the two of them to have a Dad/Daughter only time. I ENCOURAGED that / it was MY idea!!!!! I’d never even consider giving him the ultimate ultimatum- but she has. So I’m not jealous of their time spent without me, I think they NEED that time. Going to her club volleyball games – just them although sometimes I’d tag along if the game was out of state. I’ve never “hovered” and the one time I by passed him and went straight to her about her behavior I was later informed that I wasn’t “allowed” to talk to her “like that” when I’d never even raised my voice to her although that’s exactly what she needed. I went against my instincts and kept quiet. I was left with ZERO power in my own home. This is too long to keep texting but there’s one more thing that haunted me and just really pisses me off –
      So we’re going to San Diego for club volleyball and listen to music and comedians (XM radio) having a good time and some laughs. All of a sudden something cracked me up and I started laughing so hard and for whatever reason (I think she couldn’t hear over my laughing) she SCREAMS out loud “SHUT UP!!!!!!” I was laughing to much. They should send me to the gallows for that. How DARE I laugh. I’m horrible. There were times at the dinner table I’d laugh and she’d roll her eyes or once again “tell” me to stop laughing. Like I said I could probably type/text a novel. But that’s what I’ve been dealing with and no matter how hard I tried (not by pushing myself on her either in any way, shape or form.) It only continued and worsened. Dysfunctional, manipulative, deceitful narcissist at 17. She needs therapy, so does he and after all this I probably do as well. But she DEFINITELY does. Emotionally unstable. I started sleeping with the bedroom door locked in case she lost her mind and tried to “do” something since her friends are a little sketchy, some shadier than others and since I don’t really know them, has anyone ever watched the TV show “K*ller Kids” ???? Apparently I watch it too much! Or do I??

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      • I feel for you so much. Reading this made me tear up for you… no one deserves to be treated that way. I know exactly how it feels to be in your position… I’m in the same situation with my step son. He’s only 9 but he’s a manipulative, deceitful little sh*t. Excuse my French but I feel like this is a safe place to vent. He was throwing a tantrum today because I was getting on him about being a jerk to his little sister (my bio daughter with his dad) and of course his dad just stops the discipline and moves in to comfort him. There was a moment where my step son and I looked at each other and he gave me the look like “yeah b*tch. See? I have my dad wrapped around my finger” which he has actually said before. It’s sickening to watch my husband be treated like garbage by his 9 year old. My husband does everything for him and treats him like the golden child… tonight, my husband brought home a toy for my step son and he actually CRIED BECAUSE IT WASNT THE TOY HE WANTED!!! He is so spoiled and entitled. I told my husband tonight that it ends NOW. My step son is going to his moms for a few days and when he gets back he is not going to have any of his luxuries… I guess the saying is true, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone and he’s about to find out what it’s like to not have any of the things he enjoys here like his PS4, his tablet, his dad’s phone, etc. I am DONE. And I will not tolerate the abuse to our bio kids… he’s mentally unstable and I’ve also started sleeping with the bedroom door locked. I actually woke up to him standing over my bed a while ago at like 4 am… he was standing there and when he saw I was awake, he started growling and he said to me, through gritted teeth, “where is my dad and why isn’t he sleeping with me”. Definitely gave me some creepy vibes… like he could just snap one day and kill us all. He has a lot of rage inside of him. I’m just at a loss as to what to do… I’m afraid my only option is to do what you did but it’s just so hard because we have two babies together. Ugh 🙁 anyways, I just wanted to tell you that you aren’t alone. If you want to talk, my email is Mariana.price62 at gmail.com… sometimes it’s nice to have someone to vent to that’s not directly a part of the situation, you know?

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      • I have been in a very similar situation. Me and my husband had been together 9 years, he had 3 children and I had 1 when we met. We got married very quickly, and everything seemed fine, his children stayed with us every other weekend, we went on to have 3 more children together, very busy house when all the kids were here. So into the 9th year of being together, his now 14 year old daughter (the oldest of all the children) came to live with us full time cos of problems at home, not getting on with her mum and step dad. Things seemed ok at first, and I remember my husband said to me to be more of a parent than a friend to her, so I did and that’s went it all went downhill, I grounded her cos of her being disrespectful and she kicked off calling me a fat s**g in the street, punching mirrors while my other kids were eating dinner. I told my husband she couldn’t stay any longer she needed to go back to her mums ( it was only meant to be a few months stay to give them a break from each other) my stepdaughter then said to my husband that she wanted nothin to do with him if he stayed with me. So to cut to the chase, I refused to have her living in our home as she had no respect for me or the rules our kids lived by, so he chose to go and find a place to live with her. That happened, they got a house and then at Xmas she went and stayed with her mum on Xmas eve leavin my husband alone after everything he did for her and her wishes, I did offer for him to stay with us but he declined. I do still love him and want to be with him but he says no and I no it’s because of his daughter and she wouldn’t like it. It makes me so angry that he let a child dictate his future and he left his other kids without a thought

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  3. I love reading these articles and comments so that I know I’m not alone. But a lot of these things are easier said than done. Especially when you’ve tried everything and nothing changes. I’m only a year and a half into my marriage and I’m ready to call it quits. My husband has full custody of his daughter, but he works everyday so that leaves me with a lying, Manipulative, disrespectful child all day and I just don’t k it how much more I can take.

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  4. I’ve been married for 20 years and he has two grown children and they have kids one day she came over and and ask us if we would do the holiday with her mom well we did she told us if for any reason we needed to change it back it would not be a problem will after doing that for 2 years the dad was very uncomfortable so I text her and ask her to come over we needed to talk so when she came her dad could not tell her to change the holiday back so I told her and it was pay back time when his birthday came she did a party for him and I was not included but for 15 years she use to text me and include me so for 5 years things has been really bad the only thing I can come up with is they want me out of the picture I guess so there mom can step in and when her mom got married she would not let her child go stay the night so her mom is not married now

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  5. I have two grown SKs (early & late 20s) and my spouse still babies them. So much so, the younger one has never had any chores, only works and assists my spouse whenever he feels like it and is at a stopping point on the video games as they “cannot be pause.” The older SK has moved out, does not speak to me when passing my room yet has alarm code and house key to come at free will. You guessed it, my spouse does not address either.

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