My wife and I have separated after 12 years of marriage. We have done the whole couples counseling thing and it’s just time for us both to move on. We have a son who is 10 and I am really worried about his adjustment right now. We will have joint custody and are trying to work out an arrangement to keep his life consistent, etc. I know she’s likely to start dating soon – she already may be seeing someone – and I want to find a way to ensure that our son is not exposed to that. Is there a way to tactfully suggest that we agree not to have boyfriends staying over at the house when our son is present? We are working with a divorce mediation service, trying to save money on the legal fees, so I’m not sure how to make this happen legally. You always say to start with a rational conversation, so I’d just like some help on making that happen.
-Starting the Single Life
I appreciate your interest in protecting the 10-year-old. I’m going to take it at face value – you aren’t interested in controlling Ex-wife’s social life, you want to make sure that Son’s life is not complicated by finding random paramours making pancakes in the kitchen each weekend. That makes sense and you certainly can find an attorney who will provide the legal language for your custody agreement.
If you think that Wife is open to having this conversation without making it part of a legal document, I’d always suggest starting with what you are willing to do yourself: “I know that there is a chance I will start dating again and I would like to make the commitment to not have any overnight guests when Son is present.” It’s never a good idea to open a conversation with an accusatory tone about what you think she might be planning to do. From a brain chemistry standpoint, fingerpointing only invites our reactive, reptilian brains to the debate, making no room for our rational, frontal lobe to get involved. You sound reasonable in your concern for Son’s welfare – please make sure that Ex-wife can see you are operating from that place, and that you are not trying to police her social life.
Whether or not Son is showing visible signs of stress about the separation, his life has changed dramatically and it’s likely that he is feeling it on the inside. Setting him up with a family counselor when things are relatively quiet is a good way to make sure he has someone to talk to when more of the reality sets in. Also, please consider finding a support group for him (and for yourself) that brings together kids who are facing family changes. Sometimes healing is found simply in knowing that others are dealing with the same problems we have at home.
My husband is not cheating on me, but I think I know a little bit about how that might feel because he spends the majority of his downtime playing video games–World of Warcraft to be exact. He plays every single night of the week, until early the next morning. We have two small children under the age of five and he helps put them to bed when I ask him to, but you can tell he’s distracted. What’s more I think they can tell he’s distracted, too. Then he goes right back to playing video games. He crawls into bed at 1am or 2am. He leaves for work always in a bad mood, and then we repeat the whole thing the next night. Weekends are a little better in that he doesn’t play during the day, but the nights are exactly the same. He tells me that he has a very stressful job (true) and that this is the only way for him to unwind and enjoy himself. I have tried to be patient and accepting, but I miss him and am so frustrated.
-Single parent by default
The truth is that Husband is cheating – cheating you out of a partner in your marriage and cheating your kids out of having a father.
I imagine you’ve made some great promises to yourself about how much you will take before making a Big Deal out of this, and that line keeps moving every time Husband explains why he “needs” or “deserves” his excessive screen time. Let me be clear, anyone spending that amount of time playing video games is an addict. And anyone who allows this to happen in her household is codependent. It’s just as risky as the gambler who spends the family’s savings while the other partner makes excuses. It’s just as dangerous as the drinker who is still allowed to babysit for the children. I’m not saying you made this happen to your life, but I am saying you have a role in perpetuating this cycle.
The hard part is that we cannot force someone to break an addiction; the person has to be ready on his own. Husband may not be ready to face his music, but it sounds like you are ready to face yours. You are ready to halt this pattern of codependence and you must act on your instincts to protect your kids. They may be young, but they are aware enough to see a family system that overburdens Mom and lets Dad be absent even when he’s physically in the home – and this is a template that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. You owe it to them (and their future spouses) to replace that template with one that demonstrates how an adult takes good care of herself. Find a support system – therapy, clergy, family, friends. And then get yourself to a Codependents Anonymous meeting (Coda.org) where you can learn more about how you got here and how you can make positive changes. Then talk to Husband about your goals and expectations. If he’s not willing to change, he needs to know that you already have.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is TherapyGeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to Stacy@georgetowner.com.