Q. Help! This is a second marriage for me. My husband really spoiled his only daughter (she is now age 25) and I mean really spoiled her! Her mother died when she was 11 and he was a single parent. It’s over the top! She is gorgeous and flatters him continually. If she wants money, Daddy forks it over. If she wants to talk because she is bored or lonesome or had what she terms a “frightening experience,” he spends hours on the phone and at her place. She married two years ago and if her husband so much as looks at her crosswise (her words), she is on the phone to Daddy. Every little thing that happens is a major crisis and, of course, she has no problem-solving skills because “Daddy has always rushed around solving everything for her.” She may be age 25 but is an 11-year-old emotionally and mentally. I have no idea what she will do when her daddy dies. I do know that he and I have no meaningful relationship. It doesn’t matter what we have planned or what we are doing. His little girl comes first. In a restaurant, he will leave the table to go outside and talk to her, leaving me sitting patiently alone. If I say anything about the time involved, he says I don’t understand how his daughter needs him and tells me to stop being jealous. If she finds out what we are doing or where we are going there is always a crisis. She views anyone that her daddy likes—including me, his new wife as of one year ago—as a threat. She must be first with him and is sneakily manipulative. She is sugary sweet to me on the surface when we meet, and then trashes me to him behind my back and begs him to dump me because “she’s not good enough for you.” She’s done that with every friendship he’s had since her mother’s death. I do not know what he gets out of it. Help!
A: You might be surprised to know how many others are in a similar situation. I think of it as an enmeshed daddy-daughter deal. Fathers often think they are helping their child by rushing to meet their emotional, mental, social, financial, and relational needs. Often they are handicapping the child and reducing their likelihood of having a rewarding, interdependent, and fulfilling adult life. A daughter may never find a man who she thinks is as good as her daddy. Relationships with her husband will likely resemble a parent-child model and few men want a child for a wife. If her husband is happy to have a “child bride” mentally and emotionally, content for her to be his “arm candy” and happy to have his father-in-law do all the nurturing, so be it. If not, the marriage will likely not last.
What does your husband (her daddy) get out of it? He feels powerful, and important, and needed, and perhaps guilty for remarrying. It’s a dreadful state of affairs. I would certainly sit down and calmly explain what you perceive and tell him that this is not working for you. He may be willing to see a good counselor with you. However, if your husband gets his rewards from being a daddy and surrogate husband (hopefully without any improper physical activity), basking in the adoration of a 14-year-old child and being virtually at her back and call, there’s not much you can do. In that case, you may need to work with a good counselor yourself to help you extract yourself from a very difficult situation. In a sense, he is “addicted” to his daughter. His brain may even be addicted to the adrenalin that is produced with her constant problems. My brain’s opinion is that it is impossible to have a rewarding adult-to-adult relationship when one of the individuals is addicted to another person.