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.