Stepdaughter Sabotaging Marriage? 6 Tactful Ways to Fix It

Marrying into a family should be a wonderful experience, but not everyone on your spouse’s side will be all that accepting. An unwilling stepdaughter can create all sorts of nasty drama in your marriage, forcing situations that pit you and your spouse against one another. 

Mending that bridge before it snaps takes some diligence, but it’s well worth the effort to preserve your marriage. You might even be able to get your stepdaughter to accept you as part of their family! We’ve included a few tips below to maximize your odds of accomplishing just that.

Temper your own expectations, as your stepdaughter could just be acting like a child rather than a saboteur. Your priority is identifying the type of problem developing, and accomplishing that needs an understanding of how they might feel.

Once the problem is identified, alter your interactions with them to include a healthy dose of respect, communication, and empathy. Let your stepdaughter express any concerns and misgivings they may possess in a non-judgmental environment. Feel free to involve your partner here – they’ll want to solve this issue just as much as you do. The whole family needs to be on the same page to figure out the best solution for everyone.

The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging its existence. That said, not every difficult stepchild is acting out against you specifically. Be sure to identify what type of problem your stepdaughter is causing before deciding on your best course of action.  

How to Stop Your Stepdaughter from Sabotaging Your Marriage

woman explaining something to a man while little girl crosses her arm

1. Consider Your Own Expectations

Families aren’t perfect, and troublesome children are a reality for millions of parents across the world. What you perceive as your stepdaughter sabotaging your marriage could just be them acting immaturely, countermanding your initial expectations of what would constitute a whole, loving stepfamily.

Even older children clash with their parents from time to time – that doesn’t mean they have it out from them. Your stepdaughter acting difficult towards you isn’t necessarily intended to be marital sabotage. Their difficult behavior might just come from being forced to acclimatize to your presence on such short notice. Be sure to entertain this possibility and consider tempering your expectations, rather than assuming the worst of your stepchildren this early on.

New Dynamics

It’s important to consider the possibility you’re forcing them to handle new restrictions, and that could sour their opinion of you. Are you introducing new dynamics, expectations, or restrictions they never encountered before?

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For instance, if you impose stricter curfews on them than your spouse did previously, your stepdaughter would definitely not appreciate the change. Consider the possibility that they’re just annoyed with the initial adjustments, rather than loathing you as a person and parent.

2. Identify The Type Of Problem Developing

little girl pointing fingers

If you believe your stepdaughter is actively sabotaging your marriage, it’s crucial to identify their main means to accomplish that goal – different problems require specific approaches on your part. We’ve come up with a few questions to help you identify what you need to be wary of.

Are they…?

  • Openly disrespecting you to your face.
  • Smearing your reputation among family and friends
  • Putting your spouse in a position to choose between them or you
  • Trying to get their biological parents back together

Lack of Respect

For the first two instances mentioned, your stepdaughter doesn’t view you as an authority figure. At the very least, they don’t view you as one worthy of respect, constantly seeking new ways to undermine you.

You can push them to drop this behavior by establishing consequences to such actions. We’d recommend having your partner set those boundaries for the first couple of instances – they’ll likely be more receptive to their warnings than yours.

The last thing you want is for them to have their distaste for you as a stepparent reinforced, but make it abundantly clear you aren’t to be trifled with. We’ll elaborate more on how to achieve this later in the article.

Refusal To View You As Family

The last two cases showcase your stepdaughter actively trying to incite tensions, directly threatening your marriage. They may miss their other biological parent and view you as the reason for their absence. These cases are particularly difficult to navigate since this resentment won’t be easy for most people to articulate – much less to the person they’re actively resenting.

Unfortunately, the only real solution to this is time and kindness. Even then, results aren’t guaranteed. Most children don’t seek out opportunities to be cruel, and eventually, your patience will outlast their misplaced frustration towards you.

Important Note

No matter how your stepdaughter tries to sabotage your marriage, your biggest concern is always what’s motivating them to act out this way. Focus your energy on dealing with the big picture problem rather than merely reacting to symptoms of it.

3. Try To See Things From Their Perspective (But Be Firm)

Stepdaughters usually don’t go out of their way to be difficult, disrespectful, or cruel. They’re almost always motivated by anxiety or fear and want to protect both themselves and their remaining biological parent. If they’re perceiving you or your marriage as a threat, it’s critical to identify and address what exactly it is they find problematic about you.

They might view you as someone who could take their remaining parent away, or take away precious time they could spend with them. They could, alternatively, view you as someone trying to fill in the role of their other parent who’s no longer present.

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Both of these come from them perceiving you as something you’re not, and this can only be clarified with empathy, communication, and patience. It could take weeks or even months before you make headway, but this course of action is worth enduring for the sake of your blended family.

Set Your Own Boundaries

mother explaining something to her child

Until that point, it’s still important that you refuse to tolerate any unacceptable behavior. While they don’t need to embrace you as their stepparent quite yet, they do need to treat you with the dignity you deserve.

Establish consequences for their unacceptable behavior. If they act disrespectful, obnoxious, or otherwise attempt to undermine your authority or dignity, take away a privilege for a short while. Some harmless but effective privileges to withhold include cellphones, internet connection, games, and television. Make sure they understand exactly why they lost this privilege, and that this will continue if their bad behavior does.

We do need to clarify a few key aspects to be aware of when punishing unruly behavior.

Don’t Get In The Way Of Their Social Life

It’s acceptable to take away relatively isolated privileges. If you try to do the same for more social privileges (i.e. time with friends, sports, or organizational projects) you’ll end up inhibiting their social life. Taking these away for relatively small lapses is a disproportionate response, and they could end up resenting you for these heavy-handed penalties.

It’s still an effective punishment to get their attention, but try to treat this as a last resort for extremely unacceptable behavior.

Reasonable Compliance Is Enough Early On

No one likes being told what to do, but being forced to act or think a certain way will breed a lot of resentment. Your stepdaughter won’t learn to respect you this way – at best, they’ll figure out how to be discrete about their hatred, further hampering any future reconciliation efforts.

If they try to get one last verbal jab in, maybe it’s worth letting it slide from time to time. You want to carry yourself with respect and dignity, and lashing out at every instance of rebelliousness will cement you as someone petty and vindictive in their eyes.

As long as they’re acknowledging your authority, a few moments of open annoyance is tolerable. Respect, and eventual acceptance, can come later.

4. Work to Bond With Them (But Respect Their Boundaries)

mother and daughter looking out the window

A good first step towards bonding with your stepdaughter is by embracing their passions. Show a healthy interest in what they enjoy, but don’t overstep the boundaries they set earlier.

If your stepdaughter is interested in art, ask them questions about it! They’ll probably be tight-lipped at first, but will eventually acquiesce and share the extent of their enthusiasm with you.  

“Fake it ‘till you make it” won’t cut it here – be sure to cultivate a genuine interest before talking to your stepdaughter about their interests. Don’t try to humor their hobbies – believe me, even children can tell when you’re humoring them. Older stepchildren will be irritated at the attempt, causing more tension down the line.

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If your stepdaughter is doing great with sports or other activities, be sure to encourage and support their efforts. But remember to do so within reason. Don’t try to insert yourself into their activities – at the very least, ask for their permission before doing so.

Your stepdaughter values the autonomy their interests provide, and your efforts to be closer to them could be viewed as unwanted encroachments on that independence.

While you can offer to include them in your own hobbies, don’t be pushy about it. Your stepdaughter has no obligation to meet your personal interest. Simply extend the opportunity – it falls on them whether they accept it or not. Even if they never take you up on it, they’ll likely appreciate the offer to be included once their initial animosity towards you passes.

5. Let Your Stepdaughter Express Her Agency

mother talking to her child

Don’t forget that this marriage and the blended family arrangement was something you and your partner decided on. Your stepdaughter likely disagreed with the union, going off their current behavior. The fact that you’ve managed to get married to your partner regardless will make your stepdaughter feel excluded and vulnerable.

They ended up forced to accept this new reality – one they initially refused, to boot – and are left to lash out in the few ways left to them. They’re scared and anxious, left with plenty to say but few people to say it to. It’s important that you, as their stepparent, help return that agency in their lives.

Your stepdaughter needs new channels to express their personal agency, and the assurance that their input will not be taken for granted – or worse, held against her.

Strive to provide your stepdaughter with the safe space they sorely need to express their agency. Make her inputs feel wanted and valid by prompting her to share these thoughts, then incorporate them into family discussions. They’ll eventually learn that you’re a safe person to communicate with and be willing to do just that on more respectful terms.

6. Get Your Partner’s Help

Your partner has just as much of a stake in this marriage as you do, so it’s important to involve them when dealing with these types of family troubles. One of the more common factors that perpetuate unruly stepchild behavior is clashing parenting styles – they’d simply run to the less strict parent, causing tension in the marriage. Be sure to resolve these disparities promptly, allowing you to present a united disciplinary front with more clarified rules to abide by.

Your partner is also crucial as a grounding presence, helping the whole family ease into the new blended family dynamic. You must work hand in hand with your partner to ensure everyone’s boundaries are respected. Doing so gives you the best chance to not only craft a fulfilling marriage but also one big, happy family too!

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult to ease into a blended family, especially if your stepdaughter is sabotaging your marriage. Set firm boundaries, but work to understand why they’re acting the way they are. Your stepdaughter probably feels threatened by you, and mitigating those anxieties falls on you and your partner’s shoulders. Work together to make your stepdaughter feel safer about this new normal, and hopefully, they learn to view you as a proper member of the family in time.