Question:

My husband and I are separated right now and Im not sure how long well need to be separated. Our marriage isnt great and its just best for now that we separate. My question involves our kids. The kids are staying with me in our home and my husband has another place to stay in town. We agreed to set up a visitation schedule to keep things consistent for the kids. The evenings, though, are totally wide open as far as contact with the kids. My husband doesnt call the kids to say “goodnight” and doesnt ever call them to see how theyre doing. He only sees them for the weekly visits at his place. My kids dont ask everyday to talk to him, but it seems weird that he would be so distant from them during this separation. Should I be worried about the kids having less contact with their dad?

Answer:

Your husband is ultimately in charge of his own relationship with each of his children, regardless of where he lives. My guess is that when he was living in the home, he most likely didnt have a close relationship with his children. Its easy to miss the lack of connection when there is daily physical proximity. Just because a parent is physically around doesnt mean theyre building a meaningful relationship with their children.

If hes not been investing much in his relationship with his children, then your children wont feel theyre missing much with him out of the home. Im not minimizing the fact that the loss of his physical presence may be difficult for everyone, but if your children arent saying much about his absence, chances are, not much has changed for them.

I dont recommend you jump in and force him or the kids to manufacture relationships that arent authentic. This is something you can address with him directly. You might say to him something like, “Ive noticed there isnt a lot of contact with the kids between visits and I want to make sure you know Im supportive of you calling and connecting with the kids as much as you want to.” Make your support obvious and then let him be in charge of building his own relationship with the children.

You can also make sure that the children know they can call their dad anytime they want. If they know its available to them and they choose not to do anything about it, then they are simply being honest about their relationship with their father.

Its also possible that hes upset about the separation and is pulling away from everyone to protest this new arrangement. If thats the case, stay on course with repairing the marriage and dont pull the kids into the middle by forcing contact with them or making it a point of additional contention.

Trust that your husband and your children will create the kind of relationship they want to have with each other. If it doesnt look as connected or meaningful as you would like it, then its important to own your reactions and not interfere. If you engineer something between them that doesnt represent what they really want, then it will ultimately fail. He can decide what kind of father he wants to be and they can decide whether they want to engage with him. As difficult as it may be to watch, you can trust that its exactly what each of them desires.

Focus on making the needed repairs in your marriage and continue to build individual relationships with each of your children. Make your home a safe place for them to talk about their experiences with the separation and anything else that may be on their minds. If they have things to share about their father, you can listen respectfully and validate their experiences.

Separations can expose fractured relationship dynamics that are difficult to detect in the familiarity of daily living. If his relationship with his kids existed more out of passive proximity rather than intentional connection, this is important feedback and a chance to restructure his bond with his children.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a masters degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT