What would you say about a common-law wife that after 22 years together and two kids, decided that life with the partner was enough and within a few weeks met up with an old acquaintance and started a relationship, but still demanded to remain in the residence with the former partner. Once the common-law husband found out about this relationship, he demanded that she leave. This action has extremely hurt the partner of 22 years, and he is in fear of losing his two children because of the anger by this man and his action demanding that she leave. — W.D., San Diego, Calif.
It’s curious to me to get a letter in the third person. Makes me think of the ol’ jokes about therapy patients who begin with “I have this friend who ….”
Is “the former partner” you?
What would I say? It would depend. I might say a lot of different things, depending on several different factors.
The first thing I would say is that the “dumped” and betrayed partner (I’ll call him the husband) is almost certainly in a lot of pain. The kind of pain that maims you. Changes the way you eat, sleep and breathe. The kind of pain that utterly debilitates your soul. The kind of pain that changes you forever. Leaves permanent scars.
I would say that anyone in this much pain needs help and support. I would hope against hope that the husband would find that support. No one – and I mean no one – can do this kind of suffering alone. If that man would call me, I would support him. I would have empathy for him.
I would say that the last sentence of your letter is confusing to me. And uncomfortably cryptic. Did you mean that the husband is in fear of losing his two children because he is angry at his wife? Then let me assure you that being angry with a spouse does not — I repeat, does not — have to cost a divorcing and divorced husband his relationship with his children.
The man’s relationship with his children will not hinge on the man’s anger; rather, the relationship will hinge on what the man does with his anger. And that will depend entirely on 1) the kind of support the man does or does not seek and find, and 2) the man’s ultimate character — who the man really is.
Let me offer some illustrations …
If, on the one hand, the grieving, anguished husband has the courage to do the suffering that is his to do, to do that suffering with faithfulness and integrity, to cry every tear that is his to cry, to “take the pain” (as they say in the military), then there is no reason at all for this man to fear losing his children.
If that man of character and courage (described above) will, simultaneously, offer a father’s leadership, nurture and encouragement to his children as those children move through their own suffering, then, there is no reason at all for this man to fear losing his children. If anything, the father and the children might grow closer during this painful time.
If, on the other hand, the grieving, anguished husband has no support, if his pain collapses back upon him, if he cannot find his courage and manly core, if the man’s ego rises up in anger, if the man surrenders to the temptation for vengeance … then, yes, I’m afraid for that man. That man might well make a mess. And one of the possible messes he might make is doing terrible damage to his relationship with his children. Perhaps permanent damage.
A man like that might, for example, pull his children into an ugly, unforgiveable alliance. He might savage the mother, in words, to his own children.
The man you describe in your letter is in fear of losing his own children because of his anger.
Did the man already do something like I describe above?
Even that man would not necessarily lose his children. Not if he was willing to act decisively, immediately and rightly: “I have behaved inexcusably. I allowed my anger to betray my responsibilities to you as your father. I seek your forgiveness.”
What would I say? I would say if that man does not do this, if that man persists unrepentant in conscripting his children in his anger … then, yes, he should be very afraid of losing his children.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.