I have been in a relationship with my partner for seven years now.  He is a widower and a single dad – his wife died when his daughter was ten.  However, his daughter is now thirty-two and she’s still living in the family home.

His daughter won’t move out of the house, nor will my partner make her. This is very difficult as she has no friends and stays at home all the time. Whenever I go round to his place to spend time with him, his daughter is always around.  We have no privacy at all. 

I love my partner and I want to live with him, but I don’t want to live with his daughter. I don’t understand why she just can’t get a life of her own and leave us to be together? She is really hurting our relationship. 

Ammanda's response:

What you describe is actually not an uncommon situation that comes about when there’s been a death in the family. It sounds like your partner and his daughter may have become a real support for each other following his wife’s death and this has continued long after it happened. Maybe they almost seem to you like a couple themselves, with you as the outsider.

It’s very frustrating because it looks like the solution should be simple – he tells his daughter to move out and you move in. Unfortunately, it seems that your partner doesn’t share this view otherwise he’d have done already it. So why might that be? As I’ve said, bereavement can throw people together in a way that becomes difficult to untangle. I’m sure your partner must have felt a huge responsibility to ‘be there’ for his daughter when she lost her mum as well as having to manage his own feelings of loss. I’m wondering if he may still feel responsible for his daughter, particularly if as time has gone on, she has found it difficult to move on from what happened when she was ten. I suspect he now feels stuck between two women who are effectively competing for his love and attention and of course, as is so often the case, does nothing so he doesn’t have to choose and then feel guilty either way.

I also wonder what happens when you tell him how you feel. Do you both get upset, does he listen, does it end in a big row – whatever happens, the route you’re taking with him isn’t having the effect you want, so now’s the time to consider if something else might work better.

Sometimes when we really want something we can start to lose the knack of making compromises. You say she never goes out and has no friends but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she has to be with her dad all the time. Has anyone tried to sit everyone together and look at what might be possible?  It may well be that her clinginess is worse because she’s fearful that you may turn her dad away from her, so if you and your partner were able to reassure her that wouldn’t be the case, perhaps that might create some space for further negotiation. I can well understand that you might think you shouldn’t have to negotiate anything but you’ve chosen to be with a man for a very considerable time who from the outset clearly felt he had major responsibilities towards his daughter. Harsh though  this may seem, I don’t think you can expect him to just give up on her but by being flexible, you might just be able to find a way to make things work better than they are now.

As a start, I’d suggest that you explain to your partner that you’re not happy with current arrangements but understand that he may feel very unable to take any action that his daughter might see as rejecting. I don’t get any sense from your letter that you’ve felt able to let him know you understand how ‘caught’ he might be feeling. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and letting them know you’ve done this is occasionally a surprisingly effective way of getting things changed. But the sad truth here is that your partner may not be up for negotiation and compromise and if that’s the case, then you may want to consider how much longer you’re prepared to wait for a life without his daughter.  Waiting in the wings and filled with resentment is no way to live and if nothing changes, moving on could be the painful, yet ultimately sensible solution.

Ammanda Major is a Relationship Counsellor and Sex Therapist and Head of Clinical Practice at Relate.

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