Things have often been rocky for us, and pretty much perpetually. For right now, and hopefully for longer, things have been smooth. It's been nice and fairly consistent.
One example is that my husband has for the past year believed that his eldest daughter would stop seeing him. In his head, it was at any moment, for anything. It also seemed to be connected to birthdays. He connected her 15th birthday with this possibility, relating it to his own decisions at 15, and 16 seemed to signify her ability to choose- in his head. None of this was vocalized by her, but he was perpetually afraid of "the day."
The few in his life who knew this was his belief actively informed him that he was probably wrong, and encouraged him by reminding him that he is an amazing dad. He does have a good (enough) relationship with his daughter, even though it isn't perfect given the divisions falsely created between them over the years by his ex- and the obvious fact that she's a teenaged girl. He has been a support to her, and she has responded by continuing to have a relationship with him and not cutting him out like so many teenage girls do. Given his fear, he seemed to focus on the negative aspects and not the positives.
15th and 16th bithdays have gone by. She's still coming over. Her mom's persuasion has not overcome. She isn't driving yet, and that may cause some changes when she's officially driving on her own. But as his wife, and the person who witnesses their relationship the most- I don't see a complete cut-off coming. And if it does come, as it could, it will have little to do with him. It will be because of the power of his ex, or his daughter just being a teenager, or something trivial.
There have been near fall-outs in the past, and thinly veiled threats, and nothing has come of it- at all. His insistence that he still see her, that she still see him, have always won out over many, many years of her mom trying to create false reasons of separation. There was still motivation by his daughter to keep coming, to not resist time with her dad even once. She has texted horribly mean things to her mom about her dad and I and being with us, complained about us to her sister and some family, but none of it materialized into anything direct. She also does not seem to be afraid of anything- afraid of not coming anymore or something like that- and I therefore think that this is her choice.
That's even more powerful, frankly, than the custody orders. She has a mom telling her she doesn't have to see her dad, a mom who supports any angry whim she has against her dad and I, and she is a moody teenager who easily blames everyone else for anything. She's easily irritated, and she's constantly told that her two-home life makes her life harder and that things would be easier for her if she stopped coming to our house. Despite all of that, she has continued to come to our house at every expected time. Her negative actions against us have not materialized into actual actions, as I'm fairly certain they are not deeply rooted, then. Similar to any kid being angry at their parent for parenting but not actually "hating" their parent or not wanting to see them. They are just angry, lashing out, or saying things they don't mean. Everyone who knows my husband and his daughter know that they do have a relationship, they do have things in common, she does enjoy him, and she quite possibly knows she needs or wants him deep down.
So, in this case- maybe the only case- I am glad that my husband is, so far, wrong. He's still going to fear her officially giving up on him, even if it is unreasonable. I wonder if this is a very common feeling and experience of the divorced dad with minimal custody. I've heard of moms fearing their children leaving them, and I think this is a somewhat similar thing- except twisted, as it includes perpetual thought and emotional attacks from a constantly present 3rd party.
I was told about a year ago by a therapist that we can't live and act in fear of my stepdaughter hating us enough to stop coming over or stop communication with her dad. The doctor stated that teenagers are likely to do that to any parent, at pretty much any point, for who knows what reason. Something could trigger her choice to do that, and we would not have much power over that. She's frankly right, and with the amount of encouragement my stepdaughter receives to that effect, it would be no wonder. So in one way, my husband is completely right. In the meantime, let's simply rejoice that his fears are wrong right now and don't seem to be changing. In fact, its looking better as time goes on.
Similarly, I just realized something that I should have known for many years already. On the two weekday nights that my husband has 2 hour "dinner visits," my stepkids never, ever stress about returning to mom. They stress about nearly anything else relating to their mom's expectations and fear her angry reactions, but I have literally never realized until today that they do not really care if they are running late returning. They do not stress out their dad at the time that they should leave, turn off the TV, grab their stuff, or make any move for the door until he says "Ok, let's go." HOW did I miss this!? That is the most obvious sign of respect for their dad that I think either of them have ever done. They regularly show a lack of trust, faith, and respect in him despite his pure dedication to them, but this... This is so powerful. They've stressed about responding to their mom by phone, they have lost it over forgetting something they need to return to her, and they used to cry if they had age-appropriate child stains on their clothes because they feared displeasing her SO much. There are so many instances where we have had to calm them down, explain that they were with us, and that their mom could not control them- and effectively ruin their time with us- while here. That still happens, by the way. Just happened the other week. Their mom contacts them to "remind" them of her expectations last minute, pretty much immediately upsetting them in their last few minutes or hours of their weekend time with their dad.
So, given that power, even into their teenage years, its quite extraordinary that they do not tell their dad that it is time to go, get antsy, start sighing, or stress him out- like they do so many other things- when it is time for them to go back to their mom. They'd much prefer to keep sitting with him, watching TV with him or playing a game, even if it makes them a little late and their mom mad. They don't even gather their things or put on their shoes and jackets until he says, "Ok, time to go." And even then, when he makes that announcement, he usually has to tell them to hurry up! That really says something. Honestly, that is a super huge, positive realization and sign of what their real feelings are towards their dad.
What is it that you're missing, or your husband is missing? Is there anything, through all the crap, that quietly shines of hope, trust, or love? It took me years to see this, and my husband is still struggling to see it at all sometimes, so I know its hard. But I hope you find it.