Relationship Connection: My ex-husband’s addiction has made him emotionally unavailable to our children

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While my children were growing up I was able to protect them, to a degree, from their father’s (my ex-husband) addictions. Now that they are grown, they keep getting hurt by trying to have a relationship with him. It is much the same kind of hurt as what I felt when I was married to him. He expects them to adjust their way of thinking to accommodate his, and if they don’t, he blasts them with “you are the problem, not me.”

He is in a rough place now, and his parents and siblings call our kids to tell them how much their father needs them to comfort him since they just can’t be that for him right now. My kids are torn between trying to be compassionate and their own human pain. Any suggestions would be helpful.


Your children are in a tough spot because they have built-in instincts to bond with their father, but when he’s in active addiction, he doesn’t have the capacity to respond back in nurturing and connecting ways.

It’s virtually impossible to disable our innate desire to reach for connection, so the answer isn’t as simple as telling them to just keep their distance. They’ll need help understanding how to set healthy limits with him.

Family support groups for loved ones with addictions are a great place to get education and support. These support groups for family members can help each of your children begin making sense of their individual relationships with their father. Contact the Dixie Alano Club to locate a family support meeting.

You can remind your children that while there is nothing wrong with trying to connect to their father, they need to recognize that realistic expectations of what he can and can’t give them in return will help protect them. That way, interactions with him don’t leave them feeling diminished and rejected.

While you can’t do anything about what your ex-husband’s family says to your children, you can remind your children that they can set limits with their father the same way his parents and siblings are doing. His family recognizes their limits and your children can also learn to recognize their limits. If their father is burning bridges with loved ones, your children need to have permission to back away to protect themselves.

Setting limits doesn’t mean that your children aren’t being compassionate. Your children need permission to set limits with others to protect their energy, avoid pointless confrontations and to make time for their most important priorities. It’s not self-compassionate when we ignore our own limits. And, it makes it difficult to truly stay out of resentment when we don’t have healthy limits with others.

Your children have been hurt by their father and they will be able to forgive him and have peace when they establish healthy limits with him. It’s impossible to heal wounds that are actively getting agitated. It’s important to make sure these wounds don’t continue to get reopened by senseless interactions with him.

As you give your children permission to pay attention to and honor their own limits, they will be in a better position to interact with their father. Further education through books and group support can also help them learn from others who have been through similar experiences.

Stay connected!

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 his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • comments June 27, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    we need to know what these “addictions” are. Makes all the difference.

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