Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I am writing to you because I am too embarrassed and disappointed to go public and seek advice.  I accept that I may have intentionally wished away some fairly evident signs while I was dating because I was so desperate to remarry, and now, I am stuck with a very obvious and debilitating problem.  I am hoping you can suggest some way I can save face and rectify this sad situation without the heavy cost of ending my marriage.

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My ex-husband was an abusive drug-addicted thief who tortured my life for six awful years and caused me and our three children to live in fear and shame.  I met and married “Shimmy” when I was nineteen and fresh out of Bais Yaakov. We were introduced through a reputable shadchan, he came from a well respected family, was a top bocher in Yeshiva, and continued learning with a chavrusa when he came home from Israel while joining the family business.  We saw each other five times before we got engaged, as it did not take long for both of us to know that we wanted to get married.  Our families got along wonderfully and everything looked promising.  The wedding was amazing, the sheva brachos week was unbelievably wonderful and, if this was any indication to what our life together was going to be, we had only joy to look forward to.

But, like most things that appear too perfect, this bubble burst five months later when I was three months pregnant.

Looking back, there were some “red flags” that I chose to ignore – either because I was naive or not educated as to what signs to pay attention to. Now I understand that all those compliments and constant phone calls, the demand to know what I would wear to my friends’ weddings or who I spent time with, may have been harbingers of control and behavioral issues.  I also looked away from the fact that he sometimes appeared glassy-eyed and disoriented, thinking these were signs of fatigue and work-related stresses.

They were not.

After we married and almost as soon as sheva brachos were over, he took to staying out late – often two or three nights a week – and became very short tempered when I asked why he needed to work so late.  Although he was demanding about how and with whom I spent my time, I had no right to question him about anything. When I finally got up the courage to ask his mother why business kept him away so many nights, she was surprised and said her husband and other son were always home at seven p.m.

To make a long story short, after checking his closet, I found a stash of what I came to understand were drugs hidden in his hat box. My big mistake was asking him to explain. That is when my gehenom started. He threatened to kill me or say I was crazy if I told anyone, he also began shoving and pinching me whenever he was angry (which became even more often after our son was born and got worse after each of the other two births).

My parents, once I confided in them, encouraged me to ask for a get.  It took five years and a huge amount of moral support and money to finally achieve this goal. As I had held on to evidence that he was a drug addict and a violent person, I was awarded full custody of my three children.

It took me a long tie to get over the trauma and the abuse, but finally, I agreed to enter the dating waters. Three years ago, I met a very nice man, somewhat older than me, a widower with four children, who took a strong interest in me.  We saw each other for some months and I really thought I had met someone settled and dependable who could give me and my children a good and stable life.  I met his children, who were older than mine and they seemed quiet and stand-offish, but I thought that was to be expected.  So, after much soul searching, I accepted his proposal and we got married.

To say that I am happy would be a stretch.  He is a very nice person and treats me well. However, although I care for his children and try to treat them fairly, they keep me at arms length.  My husband purchases toys and treats for his kids, but not mine and, in fact, he does not make any effort to foster a relationship with them.

This is causing me a lot of anxiety and makes for a very cold and unloving environment.  I just don’t know how to deal with the anxiety and frustration.  I don’t want to go through another divorce and uproot my children again.  Like I said he is a very good man who treats me well. What can I do to get him to see my children as part of our family as I do his?

Dear Friend,

So much sadness in such a short time. There are a few thoughts I wish to impart that may help you see more clearly what your options are and which may help you overcome these early obstacles and unite your blended family in the process.

Your new husband is a widower and his children are orphans.  It is quite probable that they had a loving wife and mother who was ripped away from them far too soon. They may not be ready to accept a stepmother, no matter how much she tries to endear herself to them.  Losing a parent, a mother in particular, is hugely traumatic for young children and that their father has now introduced a woman to sort of replace their lost mother is equally so. It sends the message that nothing is permanent and anyone can be forgotten or replaced.  This is unbelievably hard for young children to understand or accept and it may take a very long time for them to warm up and trust someone new.

I don’t know if your husband prepared them for their new reality and believe that the family will probably benefit from some counseling. The children need to be assured that you are not there to take their mother’s place, yet, your presence in their lives can be very beneficial and add a new sense of stability and safety.

As for your husband and how he relates (or does not relate) to your children, here’s what needs to happen. Actually, it needed to be addressed before the two of you decided to marry, but because you say he’s a good guy I think you haven’t missed the boat and divorce does not have to be a consideration. You need to sit down with him and make clear that although your children have not suffered the loss of a parent (in actuality, they still have a father) they are as vulnerable and fearful as his children are.  Explain that you have to work together to ease the individual and collective fears and anxieties of these children and make all of them feel safe and welcomed into your joined family unit.  With this understanding and your combined effort, healing can begin, trust will have fertile ground in which to take root and the channels of communication will open.

Second marriages are seldom easy and effortless, as they are built upon the failure and pain of a demised first marriage.  If adults have difficulties in this adjustment, can you imagine how much harder it must be for youngsters who have a limited understanding of life?  Try to work it through with the help of a therapist and be patient, empathetic and consistent. In time, you will see a united and cohesive family unit emerge from your efforts. I wish you much hatzlacha.

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