Dear LetterBalm: After months of job hunting, I’ve accepted a position hundreds of miles away in another state. But it means I’ll have to commute between my job and my family. The job is excellent, and the company will help with my travel back-and-forth and living expenses, along with good family health insurance and 401(k) benefits. My wife is angry – she says she’s fed up because she’s had to move twice before for my work, and she doesn’t want to do it again. Plus, our two kids are in high school with one in his senior year, so they can’t move. I leave soon, but I want to put things right at home before I go. Suggestions?
–On the Move
In this challenging economic era, family members are often separated as one or more spouses must go where the work is. Ms. L.B. says your job as husband and father is to reassure your family and keep lines of communication open – everyone must have an opportunity to express concerns and fears before you depart. Be sure to plan one-on-one activities with each of your kids, doing what they like. Make definite plans to be home for certain activities (prom, science fair, graduation, moving to the college dorm, etc.) and be sure your kids know that just because you aren’t home is no excuse for slacking off on studies and responsibilities. Most importantly, you and your wife must agree on how you’ll handle problems and concerns together. There must be daily contact via Skype, text, e-mail or phone. Share every detail of your new job, surroundings, activities, apartment, co-workers and friends with your wife, so she knows you’re being completely open with her. But before you leave, have a few frank talks with her about your worries and needs, and the two of you plan your calendar for scheduled visits and vacations:
Honey, it’s not ideal for anybody in the family that we have to be apart because of my job. I’m worried that I won’t be here for you if problems arise. I don’t want you to think for a minute that I don’t want to share what’s happening in the family. I don’t want us to feel alone and unconnected. We have to agree that you and I will be in touch every day by Skype or phone or whatever works best, and we’ll be completely honest sharing with each other about what’s going on. We can’t keep secrets from each other. Can we look at the calendar and plan my visits home and the next family vacation? I also want you to come for a long weekend as soon as I get settled because the worst part of all this is missing you and not being together. Please, talk to me because I love and respect you and I want this to work.
Dear LetterBalm: My husband and I have two young children. He’s been out of work for several years and has been unable to find any kind of decent employment. I know a lot of families are going through this because of the slow job market. I’ve had to take a full-time job, while he stays home. He’s been drinking a lot, so he’s doing nothing to take care of the house. I’m handling everything – cooking, cleaning, laundry – and paying all the bills, including childcare. My husband has become a sloppy, surly, alcoholic mess. He’s disrupted family gatherings. He yells at me and the kids (often scaring them) and refuses to seek therapy. Friends and family have tried to talk to him. He sits in the dark late into the night, drinking and watching porn. I’m at the end of my rope. I still love him, God knows why, but I want to divorce him. Help!
–Married to a Drunk
Many marriages are certainly under stress from underemployment. But your marriage is in full-blown crisis. Your husband is angry and depressed, and, worse, he’s frightening his young children. Ms. L.B. says you must cast a wide net to protect yourself and your kids – try employee services through your human resources department, look up local clinics for affordable counseling, and see an attorney to review your rights regarding a trial separation. You’re already supporting your family and your home. It is your husband who must leave and consider his options. Follow your attorney’s advice and talk with your husband when he is (relatively) sober. Be mindful that he may not leave quietly, so open with this – more discussion to come:
Owen, I’ve taken steps to begin a trial separation. I’m not going to recite a litany of what you’ve done – you’re an intelligent man, and you know you’ve behaved badly in the past few years. But I will say that I must protect myself and the children from your abusive behavior. I know times have been tough for you, but you’ve hit rock bottom. Only you can decide if you want to get better and participate once again in the life of your family. I miss my husband and the kids miss their father. You need to find a place to live, and you need to consider what you want to do. It’s in your hands.
Dear LetterBalm: A few months ago, my sister’s husband died in a car crash. She and he were married only 5 years, and they had no children. She’s understandably depressed – she’s in a therapy group for young spouse survivors. So, to cheer her up, her girlfriends and I hired a male stripper for her birthday party. We were all having a great time, laughing and stuffing bills in his G-string. He was handsome and funny, and he really got into the dancing and flirting. We had a lot of champagne, and, as the party was winding down, I walked into the bedroom and caught my sister and the stripper having sex. Afterwards, she and I had a big fight and we called each other names. She cried, and we haven’t spoken in weeks. I still think she was wrong to do what she did. What can I say to her?
–Bump and Grind
Please don’t delay. You need to reach out to your sister right away. Sure, what she and the stripper did was inappropriate, but alcohol was involved and your sister’s judgment was impaired. (Ms. L.B. leaves to her imagination what the stripper was thinking.) Having a stripper at her birthday celebration maybe wasn’t the best thing to do, good intentions aside. Clearly, your sib is sad, depressed and, perhaps, angry at her loss. She’s grieving. She probably was embarrassed by her indiscretion and defensive about it. Please don’t judge your sister; don’t press her for an explanation. She needs warmth and kindness from you. Apologize unconditionally. If she won’t take your calls or texts, mail her a note, something like this:
I’m sorry for hurting you on your birthday. It was meant to be a fun celebration, and I never should have judged you for what happened. I can’t possibly know what you’ve been going through since Dean’s passing, and I should have shown more understanding.
As an apology, I’d like to take us to the Mimosa spa for one of our relaxing days together – my treat.
Please, can we go back to the loving relationship we’ve always had? You and I are each other’s touchstone, and I always want to be there for you. Can you forgive me?