Advice by Chuck and Jae

Boyfriend Not Sure of Marriage Ever Again

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reader writes:  I have been divorced for three years now with three children. My boyfriend has been divorced for six months and has two children.  We have known each other for over 10 years and actually started dating when his divorce was final six months ago.

We have been very happy and doing a lot together with all of the kids. His kids do not know we are dating, just that we are friends. We both agree they need time to adjust to the divorce.

Here's the problem. This is his second divorce. He married really young the first time and said they were more like best friends than husband and wife. That marriage ended after 10 years.

His second marriage completely changed his life. He became a devoted Christian husband and father. They even attended seminars and weekend devotionals about keeping your marriage alive and being good Christian parents. He worked harder than he ever had to make sure this marriage would last. After 12 years and a few bouts with Christian marriage counseling because of his wife's infidelity, she told him she didn't love him any more and left him.

He is very angry that his wife tore their family apart and separated him from his kids. Since they separated, he has learned a lot about his ex-wife that he never knew.

We agreed to take things slow and see where they go. He has a lot to work through. It has been six months, and we have been very open about our feelings for each other and what we want. He told me last night that he never knew he had all these walls up, but the longer we are together, the more fears and walls keep pulling him back. He knows that I eventually want to be married again and he says part of his fear is that he never will be married again. He fears making another mistake, letting me and my children down, having a blended family, etc. All the normal worries that anyone would have, even me.

So now neither one of us wants to lose the other. Keep in mind neither one of us is talking about it now, just down the road. He has a long road of healing, and I feel like if we stayed together and he continues to work on his issues, we have the potential to have a wonderful marriage.

But, I don't want to stay in a relationship if he will never be ready for one. Please help me!  What should we do? Take the chance, or should I run from the first man who has come along that has made me feel that I can love again?

Chuck replies:  How is he "working through" this issue? Is he involved in therapy, or is he just waiting to see if time will heal his wounds? Yes, he has been hurt deeply, and I can understand his fear of being hurt again. I doubt, based on what you have written, that he will be able to manage this on his own. One criteria you might want to establish in terms of your decision to stay in or leave the relationship is whether or not he would be willing to enlist the aid of a therapist to heal from this painful experience and explore ways in which he can move beyond his fear of re-commitment. At some point in that process, it would make sense for you to attend some sessions with him. Your participation could help him to understand the depth of your commitment to him, and it could potentially help you make an informed decision about this relationship. I wish you both well.

Seven-Year-Old Stepfamily is Still Struggling. What Can I Do?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reader writes:  I have been a custodial stepmom for seven years. I thought it would get easier with time. My husband's ex continues to control him. She seems to come before me. She is a very difficult woman. This is the reason their relationship didn't work. How can I hold onto strength to keep our family together?

Chuck replies:  You are to be admired for hanging in there as a custodial stepparent for all these years. It's not an easy job under any circumstances. It's even harder when you don't have the cooperation (or appreciation) of the biological parents. As to how to maintain your strength to keep the family together, you will have to continue to rely on your inner resources (emotional and spiritual) and your support system. Additionally, you might need some outside help in improving communication between you and your husband. That could help resolve some of the issues you have with his relationship with his ex-wife.

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.

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