Advice by Chuck and Jae

Dealing With Depression in the Stepfamily

Monday, July 12, 2010

Reader writes:  I have recently married the man I have dated for the past 5 years. We have been married for 6 months. We split up numerous times while dating because he would just out of the blue shut me and my kids out and tell me he can’t give me what I want. We each have two children. His children (girl, 17, and boy, 14) do not live with us and the girl hardly visits. His son is with us most weekends and over half of the summer. My children (girl, 11, and boy, 8)  love my husband with all their heart. 

The issue is my husband has turned cold to my children. He has just told me he isn’t happy and doesn’t want to come home to us and that my children fight too much. If they make any kind of noise or have a disagreement, my husband gets mad and doesn’t want to be around them (or me). When I asked him why he has seemed so happy until now, he said it is because we haven’t been home that much since the wedding (we travel with our job together).

I don’t disagree that my children have issues; their actual father is a piece of work and has caused a huge amount of problems that they are scared from. My husband recognizes this, but now he acts like he doesn’t care about any of us. No matter what I do with my children to make things better (I have them in counseling, I keep them away from him at night if he comes home before they are in bed; I try to do anything to make things better), he resents the fact that they exist, and all they want is to love and hug on him, and he cringes. All he will say is, “If it works out, it will work out.” I told him divorce is not an option, and he just looks at me. It is like he enjoys hurting us, and we do nothing but love him. 

He battles depression, and I told him his "pattern" has started and he needs to go to his doctor and have his meds adjusted, to which i get the response, “I am fine.” I don’t know what to do. My children love him so much, and he, for some reason, wishes they didn’t exist. For 5 months he was happy with them, took my son with him all the time, and watched TV with my daughter. Then one day it all turned to cold hate. Please help.

Chuck and Jae reply:  We are truly saddened by the difficulties you and your children are experiencing with your husband. It must be very confusing and frustrating for you.

Based on what you have shared in your e-mail, we believe the issue is primarily your husband’s depression. His irritability, inconsistency, bouts of isolation, and periodic withdrawal from your children are symptomatic of untreated depression. Your suggestion that he see his doctor about this is on target. If he continues to go untreated, his condition will probably worsen. The impact on you and your children will intensify as well.

Since he denies he is having a problem, it’s unlikely he will seek help on his own. Therefore, we recommend you discuss the situation with a family therapist to consider options for persuading him to have his depression treated. One option that comes to mind is an “intervention” conducted in the therapist’s office with you, your children, and your husband present. In this session, you and your children would let your husband/their stepfather know how much you love him and how concerned you are about his emotional health, provide some examples of his negative behaviors and how they have impacted you, and, finally, tell him how important it is to all of you for him get help.

If he firmly refuses to treat his depression, you will want to consider the potential seriousness of the impact of his behavior on the emotional health of you and your children. Then you will do what is best and safest for all of you.

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