Ex-etiquette: Family is hurting

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Q. My husband did multiple tours in Afghanistan and has had multiple head injuries. When he came home, he seemed disconnected and it was almost like he didn’t know us. My presence seemed to irritate him, he left the church, and we are now in the middle of a divorce. He met someone while we were still married and chooses to live with her. While that was hurtful and I am having trouble dealing with it, what really bothers me is that he says and does so many things that hurt the children. He asks them who they want to live with and tells them when they are 12, they can choose to live with him. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. They are so confused, and I don’t know how to help them. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Oh my. There are multiple things to address in your question and I am concerned that this format will not do it justice. I hope you are getting some personal counseling.

The primary reason I am responding to your query in particular is because I have worked with so many parents in your position. There are programs out there, but the stresses associated with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be overwhelming and they need ongoing services. Over time family members just get burned out. Many split up as a result.

The effects of PTSD and TBI can change the way a person processes everything, from love to conflict. It affects memory and how one processes the world around them. Partners of those who suffer with PTSD can feel just as helpless as those who suffer with it.


That said, your children are looking for protection and security. There are two things I can immediately suggest to help your children’s father approach these subjects properly. One, therapy, obviously. More is learned about coping with trauma every day with many therapists specializing in trauma recovery. But, two, education. I can’t imagine that your husband would continue to approach things in the same manner if he understood that it is emotionally abusive to ask a child to choose one parent over the other.

Aside from the emotional effects on a child, telling children they can choose where they want to live at a particular age is simply untrue in most states, and in the states that allow a child to choose, there may not be a specific age requirement. For example, in California, the law states a child of 14 can ask to talk to a judge or mediator, but a change in custody is not up to the child, it remains with the court. It’s really a can of worms that misleads a child and undermines your co-parent.

All things equal, if a child prefers one parent over the other, that says more about the parents’ inability to co-parent than a child’s preference. When parents work against each other, of course a child will be uncomfortable and confused. That’s what needs to improve, and that’s where the education comes in. Co-parenting counseling or classes will help. Google “co-parenting” in your area or contact us on the Bonus Families website. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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