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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Relationships Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

My girlfriend has a 10 year old daughter who seems to be unable to accept me in her mother's life. My girlfriend and I have known each other for 9 years, and have been involved in a serious relationship for over a year. The 10 year old is seldom happy when I come around, mostly disrespectful of both us. Now we are at a crossroads: since the daughter does not accept me my girlfriend is having second thoughts about continuing our relationship. I have made concerted effort to befriend this little girl, but I am weary of the smart-mouth comments, and her general attitude. My relationship is at stake. How should I handle the situation?

Answer

Without having a great deal more information, I cannot answer this question specifically. However, I can raise some questions and speak generally to the issue of relating to a lover's children.

The first question that comes to mind is, "where is the 10 year old's father?" I assume there has either been a divorce or death. I also wonder when the divorce or death took place. In the case of divorce, I would want to know how involved in the father with the girl. Also, how involved is the mother with her ex? Children often resent anyone coming into their parent's life who appears as though s/he were going to replace the absent parent. Children harbor the fantasy of their parents re-uniting. Even when the parent dies, depending how they felt toward their father, whether they idealized him, they will have difficulty accepting someone coming in to take his place. Their behavior is often geared to frighten the substitute off.

She may be displacing anger that she feels toward either her mother for getting involved with you or her father for not being there, or both. It is also possible that the daughter is acting out some general anger she has about her circumstances. You are the safest one for her to get angry at. She may be testing you to see just how much you will be willing to put up with. She may feel guilty for liking you -- feeling disloyal to her father. In order to deal with her positive feelings, she makes you bad, therefore, absolving herself. She may also be flirting with you. Ten year olds don't understand their own emotions. She may be trying to get your attention. Lastly, she may be genuinely angry at you for something you may have done or said. And any combination of the above possibilities.

It is her mother's responsibility to both discipline and investigate the root of the problem. It is her responsibility to talk with her daughter in an attempt to find out what is bothering her about you or the relationship. She has to make clear to her daughter what the nature of the relationship is. If the mother feels guilty, she may indulge the child, giving her too much control.

The list of possibilities goes on. These are just a few. Without more information about all of the relationships involved, it is difficult to speculate beyond these generalizations. You might consider seeking some professional help with your girlfriend. Perhaps with a professional counselor you could sort out the relevant variable.

3/5/98

Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.

 

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