Q. Many times you have advised engaged couples who are facing possible deal-breaking issues (usually involving other family members) that unless they are both prepared to put their marriage at the center of their lives, they should not tie the knot. How about married couples who are faced with issues later during their marriage?
I am 66 and 12 years into my second marriage. The past six years have revolved around my 25-year-old stepson’s heroin addiction, related felony convictions, sex-offender conviction, prison sentences, and parole violations. My wife has centered our life on her son and in my opinion is his greatest enabler, with no signs of change in the future.
I love this woman and want to spend the rest of my life with her. Before marrying, I agreed that she and her son were “a package deal.” That was when he was a child (his father had died). Who could have seen this coming? I want to feel our marriage is at the center of our lives. I have not felt this in six years. I feel I’m being selfish in wanting my life back.
We have been to numerous counselors only to end the sessions at the slightest hint that the marriage should be of prime importance. We’ve talked of divorce, and I guess that’s where we are heading.
Do you have any wisdom?
A. Let me reframe this for you: In the spirit of the “package deal,” think of this as an effort to save your stepson’s life.
Your wife’s behavior so far has contributed to his worsening situation. Unless she is willing to see things differently and change her behavior, her son will continue to spiral downward.
One reason to place your marriage at the center of your lives is because it will give your family the strength to cope with this extreme challenge. If you two can agree on a basic course of action, your relationship will survive. For inspiration, read “Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You: A Guide for Parents of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Children,” by Charles Rubin (2007, New Century).
Meet with a therapist qualified to counsel families of addicts. If your wife is unable to acknowledge the need for change to save her son, then I agree that sadly your marriage probably will not survive.
Q. My 45-year-old daughter is getting a divorce after 20 years of marriage and two children. As her parents, should we remove all pictures of our ex-son-in-law from our home? We’re not sure what to do.
A. Ask your daughter how she feels about this.
Q. “Grumpy Old Man” wrote to you about his extreme frustration with the presence of neighbor kids in his yard retrieving their baseballs. Kids grow up quickly; these teenagers will soon move past playing baseball in the backyard.
Grumpy will continue to be neighbors with the parents long after the teenagers have moved out. If Grumpy decides to confront them, he may alleviate a temporary nuisance and replace it with permanent bad feelings between him and his neighbors.
Another option might be to approach the kids and ask them to help with a little lawn work in return for using his yard. The teenagers might choose for themselves not to use his yard. Better yet, Grumpy gets help raking the leaves.
A. I love your take on this — and your solution.
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