Your Questions Answered

27 10 2008

My husband turns into a different man every time the kids come over. Our entire relationship changes. We don’t have sex. We hardly talk to each other except about things related to the kids. I have gotten to the point where I dread the weeks we have the kids and I’m starting to resent my husband more and more. Help!

This is an issue that every couple who has kids living in the house struggles with. How can you maintain your identity as a couple while you are hit with all the stressors that raising kids entails? It’s important to maintain a sense of togetherness even when the kids are over. That usually means you have to consciously create those moments together. You both have to realize how important they are to the marriage. But those moments of connection don’t have to take a lot of time.

Perhaps setting the alarm clock an hour early so you can get up together and have a quiet cup of coffee every single morning before the kids wake up can help you feel more intimate. If you tend not to have sex while the kids are over, maybe you should both be more conscious of other kinds of touch, such as holding hands or a shoulder rub at the end of the night. Send your spouse an e-mail or two during the day to let him know how much you love him. Spring for a babysitter once a week, or take advantage of having the kids part-time and stock up on your date nights when you don’t have the kids.

I feel like my husband and his ex are using my stepson as a way to get back at each other. They don’t seem to see what they’re doing to him. But I can see it. They make him choose sides, which is totally unfair! For instance, they’ll say, “Honey, do you want to spend the weekend with Mommy or Daddy?” Why can’t they just stick to the schedule? They make him get in the middle of their arguments. I’ve seen him go from a happy kid to a sullen kid in one year. What can I do to help him?

What a heartbreaking situation! This is a popularity contest and a who-has-the-last-word battle at the expense of the mental health of this child. You’re right to be worried about your stepson. Do you remember when Alec Baldwin’s phone call to his 12-year-old daughter was leaked to the press? The pictures of that little girl tell you everything you need to know about that story. She has the look of a kid whose parents use her in a game of tug-of-war.

So what can you do to help your stepson? Be that angel on your husband’s shoulder constantly whispering into his ear. Help him see, gently and with great kindness, how his anger at his ex is hurting his son by placing his child into a loyalty bind. He can’t be asked to choose between his parents. He loves them both. And when one parent badmouths the other, a kid takes it personally because he is the child of that person, too. It’s no surprise that a bulk of the stepkids who really act out as teenagers come from this kind of family where mom and dad are still battling it out.   Many adults I’ve talked to who grew up in stepfamilies talk about this dynamic. Many say they will never get married because they don’t trust people. They’ve never seen a healthy model of a relationship. And if something goes south with a boyfriend or girlfriend, they just leave. Of course there are those kids who swing to the opposite side and choose to become the best partners in the world because they’re so scared of divorce. Either way, when parents put their kids in the middle like this, it causes lasting harm.

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