Amy Dickinson: Stronger marriage could help save son

November 10, 2012

DEAR AMY: Many times you have advised engaged couples who are facing possible deal-breaking issues (usually involving other family members) that unless they are both prepared to put their marriage at the center of their lives, they should not tie the knot. How about married couples who are faced with issues later during their marriage?

I am 66 and 12 years into my second marriage. The past six years have revolved around my 25-year-old stepson’s heroin addiction, related felony convictions, sex-offender conviction, prison sentences and parole violations. My wife has centered our life on her son and in my opinion is his greatest enabler, with no signs of change in the future.

I love this woman and want to spend the rest of my life with her. Before marrying, I agreed that she and her son were a package deal. That was when he was a child (his father had died). Who could have seen this coming?

However, I am done with the daily drama. I feel he is long overdue to take responsibility for his choices and actions. I want to feel our marriage is at the center of our lives. I have not felt this in six years. I feel I’m being selfish in wanting my life back.

We have been to numerous counselors only to end the sessions at the slightest hint that the marriage should be of prime importance. We’ve talked of divorce, and I guess that’s where we are heading. Do you have any wisdom? -- Sad Stepdad

DEAR SAD: Let me reframe this for you: In the spirit of the “package deal,” think of this as an effort to save your stepson’s life.

Your wife’s behavior so far has contributed to his worsening situation. Unless she is willing to see things differently and change her behavior, her son will continue to spiral downward. If he is a heroin addict and she is giving him money, for instance, she might as well put a needle in his arm.

One reason to place your marriage at the center of your lives is because it will give your family the strength to cope with this extreme challenge. If you two can agree on a basic course of action, your relationship will survive. A strong marriage will ultimately help your stepson. For inspiration, read “Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You: A Guide for Parents of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Children,” by Charles Rubin (2007, New Century).

Meet with a therapist qualified to counsel families of addicts. If your wife is unable to acknowledge the need for change to save her son, then I agree that sadly your marriage probably will not survive.

DEAR AMY: My 45-year-old daughter is getting a divorce after 20 years of marriage and two children. As her parents, should we remove all pictures of our ex-son-in-law from our home? We’re not sure what to do. -- Perplexed Parents

DEAR PERPLEXED: Ask your daughter how she feels about this. Some families are able to weather a divorce and still acknowledge a relationship with the ex-spouse as an important part of the family’s history. This is especially valuable to children.

DEAR AMY: “Grumpy Old Man” wrote to you about his extreme frustration with the presence of neighbor kids in his yard retrieving their baseballs. Your answer could have included a couple of other considerations: Kids grow up quickly; these teenagers will soon move past playing baseball in the back yard.

Grumpy will continue to be neighbors with the parents long after the teenagers have moved out. If Grumpy decides to confront them, he may alleviate a temporary nuisance and replace it with permanent bad feelings between him and his neighbors. Grumpy may even find that he will miss the kids later.

Another option might be to approach the teenagers and ask them to help with a little lawn work in return for using his back yard. The teenagers might choose for themselves not to use Grumpy’s back yard. Better yet, Grumpy gets help raking the leaves. -- Luke

DEAR LUKE: I love your take on this — and your solution.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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