Q. My husband and I have been married six years (it's his second marriage). Recently I joined a bowling league, and he freaked out. He wants me to drop out. When he was married the first time, he committed adultery with a woman in his bowling league. Why should I let his problem keep me from the recreation I really need?
A. Because of his past unfaithfulness, your husband knows how untrustworthy people can be. Now he reads his own shortcomings into you and the members of your bowling team. That is his problem. But since you're married, his insecurity becomes your problem as well. Perhaps you can help him rebuild his ability to believe that others can be truthful and trustworthy. Point out that you're not him and that your bowling team is not getting together for purposes of flirting or infidelity. (Unless, of course, your bowling league is a hotbed of affairs, in which case you don't belong in it!) Assure him that you will be faithful—and then do what you can to help him believe it. Ask him what might make him feel comfortable but still allow you to bowl, such as a promise that you'll come straight home after bowling. Introduce him to members of your league, or invite him to come along and watch. As he gets to know your friends, he may be less fearful. If you can, persuade him to join the league. Right now it's tough on you, but as time goes by and your husband gains confidence in your integrity, his fears should diminish.
Q. Two years ago my wife went back to college. I encouraged her to do it, of course, but it has had a devastating effect on our life together. Her excitement about school is tied up with her enjoyment of being out with young people. I feel like the kids and I are a drag to her. I'm lonely and scared that she'll leave us.
A. For every letter like yours, I get 50 with the opposite problem—a wife wondering why her husband wants to be out with the boys, in a softball league or hunting and fishing. It's common for women to be raising "boys" into men during the early years of their marriages. Right now, you've got the opposite problem, and you're right to worry about the dangers. A lot of college guys find excitement in confiding in an older woman—a friend who's experienced, someone to talk with about relationships. It appeals to the older woman too because it plays into her need for fun and attention, while capitalizing on her maternal instincts. The solution is not for your wife to stay a prisoner inside your home. It would be much better for you and the kids to participate in her school life as much as you can. Attend lectures with her once in a while; bring the kids to meet her after class. This will allow her college friends to see her as a married woman—not as a free agent. It will also help you see what her life is like. Maybe you'll find that her time away from home is actually spent on routine or tedious academic tasks, not the frivolous "good times" you're imagining. Meanwhile, if she has been enjoying the mild flirtations of her college classmates, it's more important than ever for you to give her your love and attention. Perhaps distance is growing between you as your wife is stimulated in the world of ideas and you're preoccupied with the daily logistics of everyday living. Try to connect with your wife's intellectual life. Read a book she's reading. Make a point of asking about the material covered in her classes and understanding what it's all about. Intellectual incompatibility is one of the great dividers of couples; it doesn't have to happen to you.
Q. I brought two sons to my marriage. My wife had never been married. After five years, my teenagers and my wife still haven't bonded. She's constantly critical of them. I'm afraid that once my sons are grown, they'll avoid coming home so they won't have to be around my wife. I love my wife and my boys. What should I do?
A. Many couples experience this same problem. Merging families doesn't mean the "blending" comes easily. Sometimes it's a real shock to discover that a couple's bliss does't extend to their kids. Sometimes their greatest joy in each other becomes their children's greatest confusion. if your first wife died, your sons may feel a sense of competition over their mom's memory. Your kids may resist liking your wife, even just a little, because that feels disloyal. The same sense of loyalty may exist if you divorced. To your kids, Mom wasn't all that bad. And your wife may seem like the culprit who took Mom away. Your wife is probably dealing with some shock of her own. Most parents get to grow into the parenting role. It's tough for a woman who never had kids suddenly to have nearly grown ones. When it comes to parental discipline, it's possible that because you can see both sides, you've failed to back up your wife's authority. The "united we stand" aspect of discipline comes much harder in blended families. Often, the "new" member of the family has to convince both her stepkids and her spouse of her ideas on structure and discipline in the family. So far you've taken a "wait and see" approach. It's time to upset this uneasy truce and confront the problems. Tell your wife and your sons how much you love them and for that reason things can't go on as they have. Find some outside help—pastoral counseling or other Christian family counseling. A counselor can moderate the more volatile topics of discussion. And you need to talk about these problems and negative feelings specifically. You may be surprised at the minor things your family comes up with as grievances. Once you've listed the irritants, build a list of things you can all work on together to make things better. As for your fears about the future, don't forget your sons will have matured and gained life experience. They'll probably look back and see more clearly the complexity of your situation. As grown men, they'll recognize their own failures and feel more generous toward you both as parents who make mistakes. Take heart: the teen years can be tough between parents and kids in any family. You've got additional challenges, but with some steps toward change these relationships should improve. Better to work on it than worry about it.
Jay Kesler is president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He was formerly a pastor and also served as president of Youth for Christ.
Jay is not able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a marriage question you'd like him to address in this column, send your question to:
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1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.