Dear Fiona: I love my new partner but he doesn’t want to be a step-dad

01 March 2022

The problem…

“I was in a toxic marriage for 23 years, and altogether was with my abusive husband for 27 years. I ended the marriage by having an affair with a man I fell in love with, and then left to start a new life.

“I had three children from the marriage, who are now 25, 23 and 16. The older two are married and my oldest son has two children of his own. My partner has two children (14 and 19) who he supports and who both live with their (separate) mothers.

“My partner and I lived with my eldest son for a year, but with pressure at his family home, we got our own place in July last year. Due to my ex’s situation, my younger son had to move in with us before Christmas and it’s been very difficult, as he’s used to having too much freedom. As a result, he and my partner are having issues – so much so that my partner doesn’t want my son here.

“My ex doesn’t give any support financially, even though I was only asking for a small sum for expenses, and my partner feels guilty that he now has no room for his daughter to visit. We could work towards affording a bigger place, but the reality is my partner doesn’t want the responsibility of being a step-dad. I guess he feels this is not his child, so it’s not his problem.

“My partner is an alcoholic and he’s recently lost his job. He’s been out of work for two weeks and I’ve been by his side encouraging him, as he some really good job prospects. I love my son and I love my man; I’ve never felt so close with someone before, but how do I keep my relationship happy? He’s never lived full-time with a child before, so am I asking too much of him?

“How do you walk away when you’ve really found love with someone who is an amazing lover and friend? After being unloved for so many years, to find it and then have it all crashing down is devastating.”

Fiona says…

“Anyone who enters a relationship with someone who has children must realise that the children will inevitably have needs that come first. Much as you love your partner, you cannot abandon your son, especially as it seems this is what his father (your ex) has done. Devastating though it may be to walk away from this relationship, your son sounds to be in danger of going off the rails and needs some support and structure in his life. If your partner cannot cope with having your son around then, sadly, he’s the one who will have to go, not your son.

“Before you get to that stage though, family counselling might be helpful. Your son has been allowed a lot of freedom by his father to behave in ways your new partner doesn’t find acceptable. Whilst your son needs to learn boundaries and acceptable behaviour, your partner needs to learn that young people are bound to test the limits – it’s part of growing up. I’d encourage you to contact Relate ( because whilst you may think of this as a service providing counselling support for couples, it also provides family counselling.

“It’s challenging for everyone to form a new family and getting counselling support may be what is needed to help everyone settle. Your son may well be playing up because he feels lost and unsettled by you and your ex-husband separating, so counselling might help him to express his anxieties. It can be hard to adapt, but that is what all three of you must do if your new relationship is to succeed.

“Finally, I am concerned to read that your partner is an alcoholic who has lost his job and has two children by two different women. Please be sure you go further into this relationship with your eyes wide open, and that he really is as great as you say.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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