Q. Help! This is my first marriage but my husband's second. He feels so guilty about his divorce that he spoils his children—they get whatever they want, whenever they want, with no boundaries. I feel as though they take first place in his life—and they know it! It's ruining our marriage. What should I do?
A. Guilt over the divorce, shame over mistakes made, fear over losing the kids and the resulting tendency to overcompensate by moving from parent to "pal" are only a few of the many land mines in a second marriage. Unfortunately, your situation is all too common.
The number one challenge remarried couples run into is parenting. Loving the children with tenderness and sensitivity is critical. Putting the children before the marriage is fatal. We encourage both of you to set aside an afternoon to discuss seriously these questions.
What role do each of you play in parenting the children? Is there someone you can talk to who understands the unique challenges of second marriages and can help you deal with the issues you can't resolve? What are the boundaries the children must learn to live with? How are you going to show them Christ and his place in your marriage?
Bottom line: the key to keeping the stepfamily together is keeping the marriage number one. The key to being a great parent or stepparent is by first being a great husband or wife. The worst thing you can do to the children is to put them before a healthy, growth-focused marriage.
If the children threaten never to visit again because they don't get their way, the best thing you can do is let them discover that love and loyalty don't come with a price tag. Putting the marriage first and yet guiding and nurturing the children is a hard balance, but necessary for the health of both the marriage and the children.
We've seen many second marriages become rich, vital, passionate, and Christ-centered relationships, but they didn't just happen. They took a lot of time, work, prayer, and forgiveness.
He Won't Help Me Lose Weight
Q. My husband is skinny—and I'm not. While I try to diet and exercise, he won't. When I cook healthy food, he complains. When I exercise, he says I'm not doing it correctly. He tells me I'm not fat and I don't need to be on a diet. But I'm not even five feet tall and I weigh 183 pounds! I want to lose weight for my health. How can I make him understand losing weight is important to me and I need his support?
A. One thing that is almost guaranteed to make a relationship worse is to try to "make" a spouse understand and support you. It sounds as if you've tried and he's unwilling to give you what you want. Don't continue with behavior that's likely to alienate him and frustrate you. With God's help and ample prayer, you may need to choose which issue is more important for you: getting your husband's support or taking responsibility to make choices that are good for you.
Your husband can't keep you from choosing to be healthy. If he won't help you, then you may need to look to your church and your community. Many churches now have support groups for individuals who struggle with weight concerns. If your church doesn't have one it's likely that your community does. Talk with friends who've had similar struggles and see what's worked for them. Get involved in a Bible study group where you can share your concerns and receive the prayers and encouragement of others who care for you.
It's not uncommon for married people to eat different foods. During Gary's cancer treatment and recovery he often needed a specialized diet for his throat and mouth. Gently let your husband know that part of being the best wife you can be involves eating the kinds of food that will help you be healthy. If he responds negatively you can choose to use his reaction as an opportunity to strengthen your resolve. Over time he may see your strength and the value of your choices and begin to support and perhaps even encourage you.
I Miss My Family!
Q. My husband and I live nine hours from my parents and extended family. I knew when I married him it would mean living away from them and I was fully committed to this. But I had no idea how hard marriage and motherhood would be without my loved ones. I've begged my husband repeatedly to move, but he's unwilling to risk leaving his job to start over somewhere new. I feel guilty, because I know I'm supposed to leave my family and cleave to my husband, but sometimes I'm so depressed and lonely I can't bear it.
A. Leaving and cleaving can be much easier said than done. I (Carrie) remember leaving my parents and moving to a strange town in another state so Gary could finish his psychology internship. I was pregnant and caring for a one-year-old child, so it was a lonely and difficult year. But God used that time to help me "bond" with my husband.
This may be a great opportunity for you and your husband to cultivate greater closeness and for you to decrease your emotional dependence on your family. It's not uncommon for difficult transitions to set people up for depression. You may find it beneficial to see a physician to help you determine if you're experiencing clinical depression and if there might be a biochemical component. It will be difficult for you to see and experience your world from a different perspective if you have a depression that could be treated at least in part with medication.
We would also encourage you to read Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus and Marie Chapian to help you develop a more objective perspective of your situation.
Finally, do all you can to get involved in a local church, especially one that has a ministry to young families. You'll be amazed at the encouragement that comes from discovering you're not alone, as well as the strength you'll find in studying the Bible and praying with women who are on the same path you are.
I'm Jealous of My Daughter
Q. I think I'm jealous of my teenage daughter and her boyfriend. They have a great relationship. He treats her like she's the world to him, which makes me wonder why my husband of 20 years isn't treating me this way. They never fight, he buys her things, takes her out to eat, and calls her all the time. I can't help but think if she marries this guy, she'll have the perfect marriage and truly live happily ever after.
A. It can be hard to watch the freshness, vitality, and spontaneity of young love! While your desire for more romance is great, comparing your marriage relationship to that of your teenage daughter is at best foolish and at worst dangerous.
Here's the reality: these young people have virtually no responsibility, tons of energy and freedom, and excessive hormones. This is not the real world. While they might have a job or school, they're not juggling what we juggle while supporting a family, being a spouse and a parent, and handling additional church or community responsibilities.
The jealousy you feel isn't about your daughter. It's about your loneliness and longing for something more. Don't let that something more be an unrealistic fantasy. Turn your disappointment and desire into a renewed commitment to make your marriage the best it can be. All great marriages go through fighting, stagnation, and distance, and come out on the other side richer and more fulfilling.
You'll gain nothing by wasting time thinking about how lousy your husband and marriage are. Take this opportunity to turn your desire toward your husband. Don't nag him, romance him. Encourage him. Make a date and gaze into his eyes and tell him after 20 years he's still your man and you believe the best years lie ahead. A man will stop trying if he feels as though he'll never be able to measure up. But when he feels valued and respected, he's capable of some amazing things.
Gary J. Oliver is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Carrie Oliver, Gary's wife, passed away in 2007. You can find Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
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