Q: My husband and I divorced when our now-10-year-old son was 3. He visits his dad frequently, but unfortunately gets little attention from my ex, who's now remarried and has started a new family. My son tries to be brave, but I know he must feel hurt and rejected. What can I do?
Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president, Family Ministries: Yours is a heartbreaking situation, and my heart truly feels for you. Witnessing your son being neglected by his dad is painful, and you shouldn't dismiss or minimize your feelings - both for you and your son's sake.
After you've acknowledged and sorted out your own emotions, it's important that you give your son the opportunity to identify and express his feelings, too. This is because children can't grasp the complex dynamics of broken relationships. They don't see things for what they are, and often assume guilt for the breakup, believing that they've done something wrong. Don't wait for your son to bring up the subject. He probably won't, especially if he's trying to be brave.
Next, try to uncover what's at the root of your ex-husband's emotional neglect of your son. It may be that he's avoiding you, his new wife is interfering, there's financial strain, etc. Whatever the reasons, he needs to understand and feel the weight his actions are having on his son. You're more likely to achieve this goal and agree to a solution if you appeal to his emotions, rather than by shaming or harassing him.
Finally, do everything you can to find a good man who can encourage and serve as a positive role model for your son. You might approach your father, someone from church, or a trusted teacher, coach or neighbor about the possibility of spending time with your boy. Your son will be sure to benefit, even if his father doesn't participate.
Q: I married my husband purely for pragmatic reasons. As a single mom, I believed he'd make a great father to my child. Now I realize that I never really had romantic feelings for him. Is there hope for our relationship?
Jim: The short answer to your question is yes. Why? Two reasons: First, in cultures where marriages are arranged, we know that couples often learn to love one another deeply, even though their relationships weren't originally based on romantic feelings. This isn't to say that feelings have no place in marriage. They absolutely do. But in this case, the feelings generally follow in the wake of intentional, deliberate actions, growing out of commitment, perseverance and hard work.
In your situation, there's even more reason for hope. Though you're not sure how to make it happen, you want to fall in love with your husband - otherwise, you wouldn't have asked your question. To put it another way, you're dissatisfied with the status quo and willing to make a change. In a very real sense, then, you've already taken an important step in the right direction.
You can build on this foundation by asking yourself what it was that first attracted you to your husband. At some level, the two of you felt an emotional connection and there was something that led you to believe that life with him would be better than life without him. That spark may have diminished over time, but it can still be found and fanned into a flame if you're willing to put forth the effort.
A resource that may help is Emerson Eggerichs' book and CD series "Love and Respect." Our Focus counselors are also available for a free consultation and would love to speak with you. They can be reached at 855-771-HELP (4357).
- Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
Focus on the Family counselors are available Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mountain time at 855-771-HELP (4357). Focus on the Family's website is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
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