Question

My husband left my children and me more than 20 years ago for another woman. He was addicted to pornography and had multiple affairs, ultimately ending in his decision to divorce. My grown children, especially two of my sons, are still left with a lot of pain from the rejection and his emotional abuse before he left, although they have all tried to do their best and be good children to him under difficult circumstances. He married the woman he left us for. He continues to hate me through the years because he blames me for not being the woman who would fulfill his every need. 

Now he is dying soon. The children are aware of his pornography addiction since it is apparent in his lifestyle, although I don’t think they really know why he hates me so much still or what the real reason is he had the affair and left. They talk to me about their father and seem to want context for this whole situation. I try to be honest as they come to me with questions and answer only what they want to know, but how much information is too much? I have been quite honest in answering a couple of daughters-in-law because they worry so much about their husbands’ pain. 

I also want to warn my children about the dangers of such a lifestyle and such selfishness in marriage. I feel like sometimes they want to know more than they are willing to ask. I have tried through the years to help them maintain a relationship with their father and now my heart aches for both them and him. As they try to understand his life, what is my role?

Answer

Your children need you now more than ever. Your first priority is to be there for them as a constant source of emotional and physical presence as they grieve countless losses. You greatest gift to them right now isn’t going to be details and information about their dad. In fact, their capacity to sort and organize those details is limited when they’re grieving.

There will be time and space for you to impart your warnings about the dangers a life full of lust and secrecy. Now is not the time. Instead, stay close to your children and let them know you only want to offer them a safe place to land. Don’t forget the emotional needs of your children’s spouses. They stepped into this drama and have had to figure out their own place and how they could support your family.

I think you’re wise to let them lead with their questions. Continue to answer the questions they ask as honestly and clearly as you can. There is no need to hide what you’ve been through. However, they will let you know what they can handle. Respect their limits and send a clear message to them that you are only interested in supporting what they need, not what you need. Going beyond what they’re asking turns into you getting your needs met from your children, which doesn’t support them.

If you need a place to organize your thoughts and feelings on how to support your children as your ex-husband passes, do not hesitate to find a wise and trusted confidant who can be there for you. You will benefit from someone supporting you while you support your children.

While it’s tragic that your husband is leaving his children in this state, you can give them space and permission to have closure with their father in the way they need to. They will all experience different forms of closure. Do not direct this for them. Instead, give them permission to approach this transition in a way that best meets their emotional and relationship needs with their father. Each of them gets to decide how they want to say goodbye to him.

Remember that this will be a long conversation with your children that will extend far beyond his passing. You don’t have to unload the entire story with them in one sitting. Each of your children will get to decide how much they want to know and when they want to know it. You can do this gracefully and respectfully, understanding that your children are trying to make sense of the confusion he’s created. You aren’t confused, so they will continue to come back to you to seek clarity and strength. They are fortunate to have you.

 

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 master’s 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