Sherry has noticed a pattern between her boyfriend, Robert, and his teen aged daughter. Whenever Sherry and Robert have special plans, his daughter insists that she needs Robert to take care of her. If he won’t change the plans, the girl throws a fit, gets hysterical and says that Robert doesn’t love her anymore. Robert immediately changes the plans and does what his daughter wants. He says that she’s his first responsibility. He’d feel guilty if he disappointed his daughter; he’s hurt her enough by getting divorced and if he doesn’t take care of her needs now, she’ll never be a better student or happier person. She’ll feel rejected all her life.
There are also many other kinds of incidents in which Robert shows that his primary emotional attachment is to his daughter.
What would you do?
Robert’s daughter seems to have a sixth sense. She calls Robert with her problems whenever Robert and Sherry are having a romantic date. She needs Robert to listen endlessly to her emotional turmoil with her mother (his ex) and other kids at school.
Whenever Robert catches his daughter in a lie, she yells and screams. By the time Robert calms her down, he’s too afraid to bring up the lie he’s caught her in.
Sherry and Robert both agree; Robert is catering to his daughter. His daughter is needy, manipulative and conniving. She uses emotional blackmail, withdrawal of love and hysterics to coerce him. She’s actually bright and strong; there’s nothing really wrong with her.
Robert accepts his daughter’s view that he has to choose who’s more important; her or Sherry. Robert gives in almost every time. He feels guilty and he’s afraid that if he doesn’t do what his daughter wants, she’ll be a failure. His heart breaks when he thinks of making her unhappy. Robert is encouraging his daughter to be a selfish, spoiled, nasty brat.
Sherry wonders if Robert’s attachment to his daughter is normal and if she’s being too selfish when she wants more from him. How can she ask him to choose her instead of his daughter?
Sherry is asking the wrong questions. She really wants to know, “Will Robert stop bullying by his manipulative daughter?” Also, “Will he stop bullying himself with his guilt over his divorce?”
The real question for Sherry is: “Do I want to be with someone who puts a manipulative person’s wishes and demands ahead of his own happiness?” Her guts already tell her, “No!”
She should give him one more chance to recognize the dysfunctional pattern between himself and his daughter and get the help he needs to stop bullying in his life. His daughter is old enough to understand that while Robert does love her, he isn’t going to take care of her as if she was a fragile, little infant. He can say “No” without destroying this teenager’s life. He simply needs the better parenting skills he can learn from “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”
My experience is that the Robert’s of the world who don’t change rapidly won’t change in Sherry’s life time. He won’t end his submission and stop the bullying.
Sherry should not get into debates about what’s normal; not let her false hopes convince her that he’ll change after his daughter has grown up. Sherry should focus on behavior she wants or doesn’t want in her environment; not on philosophical arguments. She shouldn’t try to stick it out. She should get out and find love somewhere else.
Sherry is afraid that if she loses Robert, she won’t find anyone else. Sherry needs coaching to decrease self-doubt and self-bullying (Case Studies # 8 and 9 in “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks”).
She needs to start living the life she wants to lead. Just like Lucy in case study # 14 in my book, if she doesn’t trust her own guts, she’ll get sucked in. The longer she goes on Robert’s roller coaster ride, the harder it will be to get off. Does she want to settle for Robert and his daughter as the best she’ll ever get? Does she want the pain?