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May 4, 2015

Ask the Expert: The More You Persist, The More They’ll Resist

“After being in a horrible first marriage, I’ve finally found someone who loves both my daughter and me, and we are engaged to be married. The problem is my daughter. She’s eight years old and refuses to accept him as a new member of our family. How can I get her to see him as an authority figure? He wants to be a great stepdad to her, but she is very resistant. What should I do?” (Becky W.)

Kelvin headshot Oct2013Becky,

First of all, congratulations on your pending nuptials. I am glad you found someone who loves you and your daughter. You stated that within all of the excitement and anticipation of the changes that are coming in your life, your daughter is posing a bit of a problem. Actually, you stated that she is the problem because of her refusal to accept your future husband as part of your family.

Allow me to begin by saying that what your daughter is doing is more typical than problematic. She is reacting to a change over which she has no control. This is how many adults react as well. She is engaging in a process called homeostasis — she wants things to stay the same, she is resisting change and the instability it will bring.

This impulse rears its head in many individuals who are facing a change to their family system. It is a mechanism to ward off anxiety. Change produces anxiety and no human I know likes to feel anxious. So, here’s what we humans typically do: we fight like mad to keep the change from taking place, even if we believe change is necessary. We become resistant.

Your question is, “How can I get her to see him as an authority figure?” My guess is that you don’t want to get her to see him that way, but that you want her to choose to see him as an authority figure. Trying to get her to see him as the authority will only invite her to resist that prospect. The more you persist, the more she will resist. Remember, homeostasis is at play.

Your marriage will take place. What happens after that is up to the three of you. But a lot of what you want will be up to your daughter and future husband. Her resistance to him can’t stop him from living out what he needs to do to become the stepdad that he wishes to be. His consistency and love will help her develop a degree of trust in him. Trust is a conduit to respect, and respect becomes a replica of authority.

So what should you do to invite the relationship you seek for your daughter and fiancé?

  1. Don’t persist in your daughter’s acceptance of your fiancé unless you want her to resist you.
  2. Back up a little from the triangle that exists to allow the relationship between your daughter and fiancé to develop naturally.
  3. Embrace the role as the sole authority until that relationship is naturally developed. Remember, if you are too quick to throw your fiancé into that role, the more your daughter will resist him.
  4. Stay cool through the process. How your daughter responds to her future stepdad at eight years old is not necessarily how she will respond at nine.

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