Writer and broadcaster

Living with my partner’s grown up sons is ruining our relationship. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I have been with my partner for almost five years. He is a kind, handsome, intelligent, caring, considerate man and we have a two-year-old daughter.

He was married for 30 years and had four children before he and his wife divorced: she now lives alone and has little to do with their children.

I live with my partner and our daughter in the marital home. When I was on maternity leave I did my utmost to foster relations with his three sons, aged 21-30, who also lived there. I kept a clean house, cooked fresh meals every day and set the dinner table to try to recreate some sort of “family” environment. But it was a constant struggle. As they weren’t my children, I felt unable to ask them to tidy up after themselves. Their caring dad did it all for them. This began to frustrate me. As a result of being unable to ask the boys to tidy up, it would build up and I would lash out at their dad. Our once wonderful relationship began to crumble.

The eldest son then moved abroad and another brother also moved out last year (but has since moved back in). The 21-year-old leaves his laundry for his father to do, meals that are prepared daily go uneaten, and every day his father drives him to his part-time job (a short walk away).

I contribute financially to the running of the household. We are supposed to be building our “home” together. This was the plan when he was selling his house in the divorce settlement. Then he decided not to sell and to move me and our daughter into his “first family” home. The house is spacious and in a lovely area. I do derive daily value from it and I am trying to live in the moment. However, as we have a daughter now, her future is of paramount importance to me.

The children are entitled to one-sixth of the house each. I worry that when the day comes that the house needs to be sold, I will find myself homeless and that all my working life I will be contributing to a “home” that will be carved up and shared with his first family. I find this quite worrying. His boys are likely to live with us for the foreseeable future. I am not an inconsiderate person. I love my partner but dislike our situation intensely .

Every evening when I come in from work, I find something to nag about that his sons have or have not done. Every morning I wake up frustrated and angry. This is having a debilitating effect on our relationship, but I can’t seem to quash the angry thoughts.

Anon, via email

I don’t blame you. Having said that, in your original, longer letter there were elements I thought slightly unrealistic; you may see your family as you, your partner and your daughter, but the shape of his family is different and consists of four other children as well. This kindness in your partner (which you seem to see as a weakness) and continued caring towards his other children is the same kindness he will show towards your daughter. It can’t work only in one direction.

But there does seem to be some monumental piss-taking by the sons. If your relationship stands any chance – given how unhappy you are with the situation – then you either need to stop pussy-footing around these men and ask them to start pulling their weight over household chores or to have a conversation with your partner about selling the “marital home” and buying your own place together. And I think, in your situation, this is absolutely key. You need your own place together.

I spoke to David Winnett, collaborative family lawyer and mediator with Hopkins solicitors, who asks: “When you say the children are entitled to one-sixth of the house each: are they owners under a trust or on the Land Registry? Or, is the home on paper all your partner’s – that is, he has simply left them one-sixth each by will?”

If the latter then, as Winnett explains, your partner could sell it and you could move into a new home together. Whether he puts your name on the deeds is something for you to discuss. “If there is a trust or the sons are registered owners, then it is more complicated but not insurmountable; he would have to buy his children out of their share, or vice versa,” says Winnett. He adds: “Instead of going to see a lawyer [not that you hinted you were going to], why not try relationship counselling where you can be clear what you need to make this work?”

I don’t know the details of the divorce. Your partner may be acting out of guilt or trying to protect his children from the behaviour of their mother. But you must make your feelings known to him, calmly but confidently (not when you feel angry).

Buying a house with you won’t make him less of a father to his sons, but it might stop you splitting up.

This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section, on 20th December 2013.