no longer lived at home and one adolescent, who lived with her full-time. B also brought a dog into the marriage; it was significant that she viewed her pet as a family member and that she acquired him three years before her current marriage. Her husband had an adult daughter out of the home, and an 8-year-old daughter in a shared custodial arrangement, so that she lived with her father and stepmother half of the time; in B’s view, this made it difficult for her stepdaughter to settle in to their stepfamily.
B’s interview focused on the difficulties she and her husband encountered in co- parenting, each as a biological and stepparent. Her husband also found it difficult to adjust to the close connection between B and her dog.
B described many situations in her marriage that brought out her protectiveness of her son or her husband’s protection of his daughter. They had frequent disagreements about parenting. For example, she viewed her husband’s attitude toward her 16-year-old son as overly harsh, and yet he seemed exaggeratedly cautious in the way that he approached his own 8-year-old daughter. Although B’s husband attributed this to the difference in their ages, B was skeptical: “…I don’t buy it. I think he should ask my son nicely…just like he does his daughter. I don’t want to raise my son with what I see as unfairness.” This statement expressed B’s protectiveness toward her son, and its affect on her feelings about her husband: “I doubt that I can continue to love someone like that.”
Her son had expressed that he was gay and it was important to B that her son not see himself as “unacceptable and bad.” Her husband acted contrary to this, clarifying his belief that her son should “stay in the closet so to speak.” B defended her son: “He spends enough of his time ‘hiding who he is’ in our home, I want to just love him for who he is.” In response to the interviewer’s specific question, B admitted her belief that her husband would feel homophobic if it were his own son; however, B viewed her husband as someone from whom B felt she must shield her son.
A point of contention for B and her husband was that her husband was “very, very sensitive” about B’s observations of his special treatment of his daughter. B described recurring arguments about co-parenting her stepdaughter. She noted that when her stepdaughter was in their home, she became the priority for her husband, above B and her son in importance: “It is unfair. I cannot live like that,” and “our lives revolve around my stepdaughter when she is with us…” B believed that, “We won’t stay together as a couple if we don’t resolve [these issues].” These comments conveyed her conviction that she would not continue her marriage under the existing emotional conditions.
B also noted, “It is not just the ‘kid issues,’ it is the way we have grown to respond to one another about the ‘kid issues.’ We are both defensive…My husband tends to wait until he is ready to ‘pop’…so when he does, it feels like an attack.” This suggested pervasive and recurrent problems, wherein how they communicate has become as significant as the problem itself.
Although stepfamily status usually is discussed about humans, B’s relationship with her dog caused significant problems for this couple. Her husband believed that her relationship with her dog was “unhealthy.” She felt that she “…could [not] love someone who put his needs to not have my dog around above my love for my dog.” B’s negative reactions to her husband’s behaviors were making her increasingly aware that she could