Advice by Chuck and Jae

Remarried Military Husband Returns, Major Issues Ensue

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reader writes:  My husband, fairly recently back from a deployment in Afghanistan, and I have been married for a year now. We first met as friends after my divorce from someone else in the military, dated for about 2 years, and we were married on his midtour leave. I have a 7-year-old daughter. He has two teenagers: a son, 13, whom moved in with us right before his dad got home, and a daughter, 15, who lives with her mother about 15 miles away. His ex-wife harbors some very deep anger toward him (even though she is herself remarried). When my husband and I were first married, his ex would send long, nasty e-mails to him about me, or text and call him back to back if he did not answer right away. She tells his kids bad things about him. My daughter's dad is deployed, but, when home, is several hours away.

I know that, in the throes of deployment, marriage seems like a great idea. I believe my husband missed having a family and made the choice to marry or that reason. Since he's been back home, though, the adjustment challenges have mounted. His daughter has a lot of issues with the remarriage. The daughter cuts herself from time to time and is often hostile. She and I were close in the past, but at this point, she isn't coming around. My husband had good intentions when he went for custody of his son, but he hasn't really been a full-time parent since his son was 6. So, in our home, his son has no rules. He eats junk all day, plays video games until 3 of 4 a.m. My husband tells me his son can take care of himself. My daughter, on the other hand, has a lot of rules. I am strict about nutrition, healthy habits, reading, extracurricular activities, and chores.

The different parenting styles have caused major issues between my husband and me. We have been seeing a counselor, and my husband will agree to do things. The counseling helps for a few days afterward, but then my husband doesn't follow through.

I am unhappy. The more I complain about things, the more distant my husband gets. He generally stonewalls when his is home, and then he is gone a lot with his military unit. Our communication is not very good: He'll say he'll call, but then doesn't.

The situation with his ex-wife has improved the past few weeks because my husband and I set strict boundaries about his taking all of her calls and letting her tell him off and being in our lives so much. I generally text or e-mail her about visitation issues, and I think she's gotten the hint temporarily. Now, though, she's letting the daughter choose to not come over for any visitation. And, I've been threatened, but have taken the high road and never confronted her about it. I've made polite conversation with her in the hope that she'll bother me, rather than him.

I feel I've tried very hard. I like having a family again. But if I do not feel like a real unit, and a strong pair, how can we get through all of this? What else can I do? Appealing to my husband doesn't work. He is short-tempered. I'm scared I am going to end up divorced again.

Chuck and Jae reply:  You're trying to deal with several serious issues at once, and you don't seem to be making any headway. That has to be very frustrating and sad for you. Let's take a look at these issues and assess what you might be able to do about them:

  • Your husband's relationship with his ex-wife. It's well that you were able to persuade him to set some boundaries regarding her attacking phone calls. As far as the rest of their relationship is concerned, there's nothing you can do about her behavior. What you can do is be supportive of your husband (but not offer yourself as a sacrifice to take the heat from the ex). You also might suggest that he contact social services and express his concern about his daughter's emotional health (the cutting and her being denied contact with her father), especially if you are aware that she is not getting any treatment.
  • Your husband's relationship with his son. There's not much you can do about his emotional distance and his lack of parenting of his son. It's sad that this situation exists, and sadder still that his son is not making healthy choices about his life. Generally speaking, the only circumstances under which you should personally intervene would be if his behavior were directly affecting you or your daughter. Again, you could be supportive of any attempts your husband might want to make to improve the relationship (like separate time together) and his son's choices of activities. We also have some concerns that the boy might be depressed and very lonely. Meanwhile, you should continue to raise your daughter in the way that you believe is most healthy for her. That's something that, at the moment, you do have control over.
  • Your relationship with your husband. We wonder if your husband's distancing behavior, short temper, and lack of follow through with the counseling sessions might be related to his recent deployment. These traits could be symptomatic of, among other things, traumatic stress. We'd need more information to determine that. Maybe he would be willing to go to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and undergo an assessment for this condition. If your husband is abusing alcohol, you might consider the Alanon Family Group as a resource for yourself.
  • Your response to these conditions. This is the one thing you definitely have control over. It's important that, to the extent possible, you exercise proper health habits (diet, exercise, rest, sleep) and remain as calm and rational as possible when discussing these things with your husband. Once you've determined that you've done all you can from your end, if things do not change, you'll be faced with some tough choices. We wish you well.

Divorcing Second Wife?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reader writes:  After many unhappy years, my 12-year marriage broke down. I realize I may have been depressed the majority of the marriage. I was a trailing spouse to a corporate executive wife, and provided the majority of child-raising work - even with a career of my own.

When our third child was born, I stopped working, and within 2 years of that birth, she was involved in an affair. It took 3 more years to get through a divorce that left me scarred. My therapist advised that I had been emasculated early on and lost myself while married. I tried to get back on my feet in a new town (my ex relocated and I followed), but had no support group or family nearby.

I dated throughout our separation for companionship and a social life, and got involved with a lovely woman (never married, no kids) about the time my divorce was finalized. Although I didn't feel this woman was "the one," and I had many personal issues with her, we stayed together. She helped me fight a lengthy postdivorce custody battle, when my ex decided to relocate again, and we were married about the time we received the court order that my children would live with us during the school year and fly to spend summers with their mom.

My remarriage has consisted of disagreements, negativity, stress, and hurt feelings on both our parts, although we have shared some good times too. I don't like the manner in which my wife handles my older children, and she coddles the youngest. I have had difficulty getting back to work full-time during this period, and finances are extremely tight. We never joined our finances, and she had a great deal of debt that came into the marriage, much of which I have paid off. She hasn't contributed much to our shared living expenses since her house sold. She also has many issues stemming from childhood. I have been unhappy and have been considering divorce for some times. We seem to clash in so many different ways.

I have finally made the decision to divorce, move my children to the town where their mother lives (my home state, where I have been yearning to move because my family lives there, so I will have support), and start my life over. I know I was not ready to be remarried when I did. My wife thinks we can fix everything through counseling, but I assured her it is about me becoming the man I haven't been for decades, not doing the healing necessary after my divorce. Plus, and more important, it is about my children being close with both biologicals.

We have way too many issues and disagreements for me to feel that I will ever be "in love" with her, which I don't believe I ever was. I don't see myself growing old with her. I feel I married out of convenience so I wouldn't be alone and would have a partner in raising my children, and someone to support me in my fighting my ex. I now regret my decision to remarry. My wife feels I can find myself, get my career of the ground, get through our financial difficulties, overcome depression, and become a happily married couple if we stay together and seek counseling. She wants to "help" me. I feel it's time to throw in the towel and do what is going to make me and my children happy and me a productive, self-respecting man. I feel I need to do this alone.

I don't wish to fell like I am a quitter, but before I ever consider another partner, I need to address a number of issues on a personal level to move forward with life and find my happiness. Depression, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, and overall unhappiness is no way to go through  life, especially if I am tied to someone else. If she were the children't mother, then I would consider trying to reconcile, but because she is not, I feel the need to love on and learn to be along, while raising my children and being the best father I can be.

Chuck and Jae reply:  A key point in your letter is "...not doing the healing necessary after my divorce..." It's often the case that, when someone gets seriously involved in a relationship too soon after the breakup of the previous one, it's not long before major problems pop up in the new relationship. Sometimes, these problems turn out to be a repeat of (or very similar to) those that existed in the previous relationship. In our experience in working with couples, we have learned that it is important to allow sufficient time between relationships for grieving, healing, and self-examination. Unlike many individuals who, too early after the end of their marriage, are convinced they have met their lifelong soul mate, you sense early on that you were probably making a mistake. It sounds like you chose to stay in the this relationship for convenience's sake and out of a sense of obligation to her for the support she provided to you while you were going through the aftermath of the divorce.

It's clear from your letter that your mind is made up. You want to stop being so dependent on others and to reclaim your sense of self. You believe you will not be able to achieve these goals while remaining in this marriage, because there are too many hurdles to be overcome by both of you. Your wife disagrees with you, believing that current obstacles can be overcome with professional help.

As you go through this process, you will want to bear in mind the depth of attachment your children have to your wife, and deal with that accordingly. We assume you are having ongoing discussions with your therapist about these matters. If not, we encourage you to do so. We wish you the best, whichever decision you choose to make.

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