Husband still feels guilty, his kids in their 30’s
How can I communicate to my husband how it feels when he insists on spoiling his adult children?
Hi two sons are in their 30's, both married. I like them both. It was my husband's idea to divorce their mother and he has so much guilt over "deserting" his children that he will give them anything.
After we were married, I discovered that he had gone into bankruptcy and was again in debt because he was always giving them whatever they wanted. He calls it "being a good dad."
Even if we have plans, if one of them wants something, he's off getting it for them. We've talked about boundaries and how healthy it is to teach children to do for themselves. We've talked about balancing our marriage and the needs of his children. He makes promises to me and breaks them over and over. If I stand my ground and hold him to a promise, he does everything he can to manipulate to get what he wants.
I feel like I will always come last in his life. He will not see a counselor.
What can I do? Maxie in Virginia
Your situation is very difficult and I’m so sorry for the stress and hurt that you are experiencing. It’s so disappointing when our spouses are aware of their issues and their negative impact on us and yet are not willing to do the emotional work that would bring everyone to a better place. It’s fear, that keeps them away from help. If only he could see the damage he is doing to all of you.
Hmmm? What can you do to help yourself?
I imagine that you’ve tried many things. Since you’ve been able to talk about some things without success, what else can you do?
There are a few different approaches to this kind of situation.
From what you’ve said, he in unwilling to change.
“People change for 2 reasons” as the saying goes, ‘They change to avoid pain or seek pleasure.”
The other human behavior truth is this, “People make decisions emotionally and rationalize them with logic.”
When you mentioned that he was unwilling to keep his word, are you saying that you two are in agreement that whenever his kids call or ask for help, that trumps anything you two were doing?
This is tough, but I imagine you’ve thought about this. It seems you may be at a point, where you have to decide what you do and do not want from your marriage. It may be time for you to tell him what your boundaries and beliefs about marriage are and this is scary when/if we believe our loved one will simply be unwilling to comply and the relationship has to end. This is a very scary thought.
I’m not one who favors ultimatums or threats. If he is an open manipulator and OK treating you in that unkind and hurtful way because he has rationalized it to serve his children...I don’t know what you can do. He is a grown man, suffering and hurt by his children, afraid they are going to not love him unless he does everything they say (which is a painful reality many of our husbands experience in their post-divorce lives.) However, this dynamic with his kids (30+ I have to remind myself) is something that he is consciously continuing at the expense of being an unloving, hurtful, financially irresponsible husband to you.
As painful as this has been for you to see, it sounds like you have done whatever you can to have him see this. Now your question is how do you communicate how it feels. Have you told him, example by example how you feel? I good model is this: “When you do ______, I feel_______.”
“When _________happens, I feel ______.”
Can you try recapping your feelings using several different examples and asking him for what you would like (financial boundaries, specific times for the two of you that you can count on, working together to find compromises when outsiders interrupt marriage plans, etc.)? From the frustration in your letter, I feel like you’ve done that but just in case…
Have you two made your, “10 Things that DH can do that make me feel loved” List (it’s at the beginning of the mailbox letters)? Is there enough true love between you to build the connection in other ways so that you two can acknowledge his “sickness-of guilt” together and find other ways to support your relationship? He’d have to be willing to understand and acknowledge the impact of his guilt and fears AND ask for your help in order for this to feed your needs-on my experience.
It sounds like your husband’s been manipulated by his “children” for most of his life. This is very very painful and disempowering for the fathers. I’m not defending anything he’s done, just explaining in case it triggers some ideas for you, who knows the details of the situation.
Being manipulated hurts. He’s been hurt and afraid of losing his kids love for so long he may have forgotten just how deeply he’s hurt. Yet, he’s choosing to inflict this pain on you. This is actually quite common. When people have had to endure painful treatment for a long time (usually often in their childhoods as well) they often have very little compassion for someone experiencing the same thing. Sometimes the retort is a cold, dispassionate, “Why are you complaining, it’s nothing compared to what I’ve been having to deal with.”
People in extreme long term pain go one of two ways, extremely cold, or extremely sensitive and compassionate. Many times these two types find each other and marry. It’s more painful for the compassionate person because they haven’t numbed themselves.
Maxie, I really don’t know how to help you here.
I hope you can get very clear on what you want and need from this relationship and if he is not willing to help you get it, then you have some tough, difficult choices to make.
Not knowing more about him and his thoughts, I can’t offer you more right now. Hopefully something here will trigger some ideas for you. Keep asking yourself, “what do I need right now?” Keep talking to him with your truth (as above for telling him the impact of his actions) and using, “I need _______ from you. will you help me find a way t get that from you?” statements.
If you want to write back with more, I will reply again as best i can. You’re in a hard place. Been there and when you have your “moment of truth” inner knowing about what is right for you, you’ll know what to do.
We’ll be here to help as best we can. Good Luck. Be tender with yourself, Cathryn