My Boyfriend And My Daughter Won't Stop Fighting

My Boyfriend and My Daughter Won't Stop Fighting
Editor
Love, Family

Q. I have been with the same man for a little more than four years now. When we first started dating he was great with my daughter, but things have steadily gone downhill for the past year and a half. It's like he is jealous of any time she and I spend alone together, and he shows this by being harder than necessary on her about little things like turning off the lights when she leaves a room (even if she only leaves for a short time). He has no children of his own and doesn't understand our mother-daughter bond. He can be the nicest guy in the world and then turn around and be so hateful. I know they both have feelings of attachment, because they were developing a close relationship at one time, but now they're both acting like children (my daughter is 16), and they expect me to take sides. I am very much in love with this man and very much want to resolve this without separating, but I have told him if he makes me choose, there can be only one choice.
Lynn, Waterford, Calif.

A. Your letter raises a couple of red flags. The first is that you are able to pinpoint a time period when the relationship between your daughter and your boyfriend changed, which means it's likely that there was an event, or series of events, that led to the animosity. If that's the case, what happened? And can it be reconciled? Is it something as simple as being on each other's nerves as your daughter exerts herself as an opinionated teenager instead of an adorable little girl? Or is there a chance that something happened between them that was not appropriate? I think it is important to ask them.

The second red flag is that your boyfriend may be jealous of your relationship with your daughter. Jealousy is as destructive to the relationship(s) to which it is connected as it is to the person who feels it. I would advise steering clear of anything serious or long-term with this man if jealousy is an issue, especially when it involves your child.

A healthy, tolerant relationship between your daughter and your boyfriend needs three things: new ground rules for how they behave toward one another, a commitment to these new rules, and you stepping out of the middle. It will only work if all three of you are committed to making these changes, and it's not worth exploring unless you believe you have a long-term future with this man. 

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For now, it is important to put this relationship in perspective. This man is your boyfriend, not your daughter's boyfriend, friend, father, or stepfather. Likewise, it should not be his role to discipline her. I suggest that you create a clear separation between your girlfriend/boyfriend relationship and your mother/daughter relationship, and skip the "family" threesome. This means only seeing him in settings that do not involve your daughter (i.e., not at your place when she is home).

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Your daughter is nearly grown up and will probably move out on her own in a few years. I don't see a compelling reason to move your relationship with your boyfriend into anything more serious or committed at this point. It's reasonable for you to remain involved, but I suggest postponing any long-term decisions until after your daughter has left your home.

Susan King is a wife and entrepreneur in Minneapolis, Minn.