Relationship Connection: My children have questions about my dying ex-husband

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 of 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.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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17 Comments

  • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    What’s more strange than pornography addiction is Mormon’s strange obsession with pornography addiction. But I guess anyone who even views porn is automatically a porn addict.

    • The Rest Of The Story November 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      Unless an angel of the Lord appears to you with a flaming sword and commands you to marry not only teenage girls, but also other women who are already married. Then you aren’t a porn addict. You are THE ONE TRUE PROPHET!!

  • Koolaid November 26, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Tell them what attracted you to him. However, did you enjoy watching porn together?

  • Herd November 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Explain the affairs as following in the footsteps of prophet ole joe.

  • Hatalli November 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Be very careful in your conversations with them. You don’t want to come across as being the miserable ex-wife that can’t say enough bad about their father. Kind of puts you in a very uncomfortable situation. I believe the less said about their father, and the reasons for the break up, the better for everybody concerned.
    I know you hate to tell your kids it isn’t any of their business, but the fact is, that the breakup was between you and your husband. If he abandon his kids, then it is on his shoulders.
    Sure, you are likely bitter. I don’t blame you. But don’t unload on the kids about what scum their father is or was. It will help no one.
    And don’t try to disguise your bitterness toward him, as helping your kids avoid future problems. Your kids are grown now, they need you, and always will. But they don’t need you to tell them how to live their lives.

  • The Rest Of The Story November 26, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    “He continues to hate me through the years because he blames me for not being the woman who would fulfill his every need.”

    For starters, I challenge this. Men don’t leave a woman, get remarried, and then still hate the first wife 20 years later “for not being the woman who would fulfill his every need.”

    If he hates you, it’s probably because you’re a B****

  • MOONSAGE November 26, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    Advise. Find a new man that can stand ya, preferably one that’s impotent, tell your kids to get over it and to raise their children correctly, you and your children can have a perfect relationship when they visit his grave, tell them not to teach their children what type of a looser your ex husband was because his DNA is in their make up, u every noticed that KOOLAiD never bad mouths baboons. DNA make up. ps your husband didn’t leave you and hate you because of his addictions, or you falling short being a women, he left you because he’s a dead beat. How do ya think all these other folks, that read these comments, explain to their children that they themselves or losers and deadbeats? Read their comments they just lie.

    • Justme..... November 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Vile. This is the stuff that is ruining the comments forum

  • r u kidding me November 26, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    srrsly. all the people here that comment that are haters.. complain about everyone.. and all i see is the same morbidly unhappy, people.. blah blah blah ” the mormons” and “blah blah blah” probably the mormons… (i’m not even mormon and i’m sick of hearing you pick on them).. your no different from them then if all you do is attack everyone all the time.. your selfish whiners.

    • Herd November 27, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      It’s Obama’s fault. Happy?

  • Zonkerb November 26, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    No problem just tell them your not married to him it’s not your concern any longer. If their that concerned about him tell them to go see him for themselves and get out of your face about it. Instead of doing some pathetic oh boo hoo poor little ole me thing in the newspaper about it….

  • Anon November 27, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Wow, the comments on this story are ridiculous. To the author of this letter: Please ignore the advice of the above commenters. I’m sorry that you and your children are going through this. It sounds like, understandably, their is a lot of hurt all the way around. I wish your family the best through this tough time.

    • Zonkerb November 27, 2014 at 7:18 am

      Wow the comment made by anon on this article are disgusting. Ignorant.. heartless. rude. sickening.. racist. uncalled for. narrow minded trash I’m sorry you are being exposed, to this kind of social filth just ignore it as a comment from a blind and ignorant fool

  • Dana November 27, 2014 at 5:01 am

    1) STOP taking advice from this so called therapist. Grow a spine and get on with your life.
    2)STOP obsessing on your ex and 20 years ago. It’s gone and won’t come back. Bury your bitterness. And get on with your life.
    3)So he viewed/views porn. So What? NEWSFLASH:It’s not your business, so get on with your life.
    4)Your children are grown. Stop pulling them into your bitterness. Let them live their life and you live yours. Get on with your life.
    You see what the recurring theme is? You NEED TO GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE.

  • goodwins November 27, 2014 at 6:14 am

    Pornography addicts suffer from several direct consequences, including increased anger and hatred. Their capability to love others, especially their family members, drops like a rock. It may be helpful after some time passes to review the consequences of pornography addiction (you can find a list at poweroverpornography.com/consequences) with family members so they can understand the addiction and be more willing to forgive. Their (and your) ability to forgive will bless your lives and help with closure.

    Pornography addiction is real with serious negative consequences. Please help addicts get the help they need. 12-step programs or therapy help many. Other programs, like the one in the book Power Over Pornography, are helping others who are too embarrassed to go to 12-step meetings or therapy.

  • Koolaid November 27, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Tell your kids not to get married right out of high school and maybe try to get to know someone who isn’t born and raised here with these behaviors that everyone wants to pretend doesn’t exist here.

  • Brian Homerguy November 27, 2014 at 10:17 am

    Utah has the most pornography addicts per capita. We are number one! I feel our lack of objective education about sex and the puritanical outlook foster the addiction.

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