My Daughter Can’t Stand My Ex-Wife’s Boyfriend

Dear Mamas,

I am a dad and I hope you can help me. I am divorced and my ex and I have a very good relationship. We have a daughter we both love and I spend a fair amount of time with her but she lives with her mom. Anyway, she is dating a guy that my daughter (age 8) hates. She complains about him to me all the time. Basically she just doesn’t like him. I’ve met him and I don’t think he’s a weirdo or anything and I know her mom is aware of her feelings.

I have to admit I am secretly a little happy that she doesn’t love this guy because I don’t want him to turn into Daddy. My question is really what do I do? What do I say?



Hi Thomas,

Right off the bat you’re doing a few things right and I congratulate you on both: You have a “very good” relationship with your ex and you spend a “good deal of time” with your daughter and she clearly feels comfortable talking to you about what’s going on in her life.

I can’t tell you how important those things are to your daughter’s self esteem and sense of security. Kids often bear the brunt of a divorce and you might be surprised by how may dads kind of melt into the background once the ink has dried on the divorce papers. So bravo to you! The importance of your steady and ongoing presence in her life cannot be overemphasized. She needs you and will always need you, regardless of who else may enter the picture.

I also appreciate how you admit to secretly liking the fact that she’s not too keen on the new guy. Your honesty about this very common (and normal) feeling is refreshing. This feeling of vulnerability and fear about being replaced by a new boyfriend or step-father/mother is often the dirty little secret that fuels the backstabbing and sabotaging that goes on following a parental split.

The problem with this is, of course, that the kids almost always get pulled into the middle of things which causes them considerable pain. Since you recognize your feelings of vulnerability here means you stand a good shot at being able to overcome them and spare your daughter the agony of having to choose which “dad” to like or love.

It’s so important to recognize that children are incredibly sensitive to your feelings of jealousy or insecurity. If your daughter is afraid that liking the new guy could be perceived by you as disloyalty, she may think she has to do everything possible to reassure you that you are still number one — even if it means sabotaging what might have been a good relationship for her mom and even for herself.

You probably know that sometimes children hold on to a fantasy that mom and dad will reunite, regardless of the reality of the situation. The secret wish that you will get back together could possibly be part of why she is so against the new guy in your ex’s life. The fact that you and your ex are close and have a good relationship could possibly be making this fantasy even more compelling to her.

So, what to do? A couple of things come to mind:

1. Get clear on exactly why she doesn’t like him. Make sure there is nothing that could possibly be inappropriate going on. Ask your ex how she sees the situation in a way that doesn’t make her feel defensive. You said she is already aware of the situation so bringing it up shouldn’t be too tough. This is a perfect example of why it is so fantastic that you and your ex have a good relationship. You can put your heads together and collaborate on solving a parenting problem that may have been impossible otherwise.

The two of you may also need to talk about how you can help your daughter understand that even though you love and care about each other, you will not be getting back together again. Ever.

2. Once you feel sure that there’s nothing unhealthy going on, talk with her some more. Make sure your daughter knows that it’s okay with you if she decides to like the new guy, once she gets to know him better. Remind her that you are her one-and-only father, that no one can ever take your place and that she can count on you to stick around for life even if her mother decides at some point to remarry.

3. Tell her that even if she can’t stand the guy, you expect her to treat him politely and not to make things difficult for her mom. Let her know that she can always talk to you about her feelings, whatever they are but that doesn’t mean you will go along with crappy or rude behavior.

4. Make sure you are not one of those parents who are confused about what it means to be close to your child. In other words, don’t think that since she confides in you, then you can confide in her. You must be there for her 24/7 but when you have a problem to discuss, you cannot go to her. You must find another adult. And I’m sure that it goes without saying that you never, ever badmouth her mom, even if she is being unreasonable or unkind. She (your daughter) will love and respect you for that for her whole life.

I hope that these suggestions help to uncover the issues that may need to be addressed.  Obviously, you will have to decide when and how to bring these things up. But hang in there and best of luck!





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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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