The conundrums of the divorced father who remarries or repartners are many, but in emotional terms they can be summarized pretty simply: guilt and fear.

Divorced dads who repartner often tell me of feeling guilty that their kids experienced a divorce (regardless of who initiated it); guilty that they repartnered and “shook up the kids’ world again” (we’ll parse that misperception later); guilty that their kids “have to shuttle back and forth between two houses”; and guilty that their kids ever have to experience any unhappiness from the breakup of their parents.

As for fear, it sometimes threatens to overwhelm the divorced dad. Many divorced dads describe being afraid of “ticking off my ex-wife and then I won’t get to see my kids.” This leads to the inability to say “no” in some cases to his ex and to his kids. He also may be fearful of divorcing all over again and losing you, a common anxiety of the divorced dad.

Understanding where he’s coming from may be the greatest gift we can give the divorced and repartnered dad this Father’s Day.

Understand that it might be an anxious holiday for him.
Many men who remarry have children or adult children in loyalty binds. These kids may choose holidays in general and this holiday in particular to “act out” their mother’s agenda, consciously or unconsciously, by hurting dad. If the kids of any age have a tradition of not calling on Father’s Day, think of things you can do to help your husband get through the day with a minimum of pain. If you have kids together, your family festivities can take the edge off, but understand he might feel sad about an imperfect relationship with his kids from his previous partnership. You can’t fix it, but you can tell him you understand.

Build him up.
If he’s a terrific father to the kids you had together, make sure to tell him so—especially in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

If his kids typically “boycott” him on this day, make a plan for him to be surrounded by friends and family he really cares about. They can reflect his worthiness and value as a friend and relative back to him, helping to ease any sadness. If his kids typically show up and relations are less than ideal, or even if they are good, again: bulwark. Having friends and family around for you takes the burden off the kids of any age, allowing them to have some easy “alone time” with dad without even leaving the house. And if his kids have a history of behaving badly, being surrounded by your own friends and family can buffer you from that and your resentment.

Give him a pass.
If Father’s Day is a stressful or anxious day for him, he may show it in unexpected ways. He may snap at you, your kids from a previous marriage if you have them or your kids together. He may seem sad or distant. Give him a pass today. It’s one day, and it’s his, whether his kids from his previous marriage or relationship acknowledge that or not.

Be realistic.
You might feel he is “ruining the holiday” for you and your kids together if he is down on Father’s Day. This can be a very vexed day for divorced dads, period. Lowering your expectations can help in a huge way.

This article was written by Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. and originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of StepMom Magazine.