Stress of adult difficult children on long-term marriages??


Active Member
I am writing this out of curiosity and I'll admit some of my own angst. husband and I have been married almost 27 years. It has not always been easy but we do love each other and overall our marriage is okay. We are very independent folks but rely on each other for feedback and love. Okay, that said, for those of you in long term marriages/relationship, how has your adult difficult child impacted this relationship?

Our son is 21, has been in/out of our household since he was 18. We currently have no contact with him by mutual choice. However, I know that this has upset both of us to different degrees. My husband has said that this was long overdue (cutting off contact), since he doesn't want to do anything necessary to better himself.

We have not always agreed on what to do, just that we both agree that something should be done. So...what have you guys done to help keep your marriage/relationship alive and healthy? Thanks


New Member
My husband and I went to counseling. We found an awesome counselor who pointed out many things that we were both doing wrong and right and we learned many things about ourselves that we needed to change if we were going to stay married. At the time we were having other issues and difficult child was greatly adding to them. I was enabling, my husband was disowning and it wasn't a pretty site. I learned to enable a lot less and detatch and my husband learned how to detatch without disowning. It isn't easy to deal with a difficult child and not let it effect your marriage if you are both dealing with it in different ways. One important thing we learned was that we each had a right to our feelings and it wasn't up to either of us to change what the other was feeling.


Well-Known Member
In our case, GFGmom just lead to us raising two more. Their
is no other adult that either of us would prefer to share our lives with......BUT......our marriage is dominated by
difficult child issues. Chances are we would both opt to be SO's for
life rather than spouses. At least that way there would be
a way to escape the stress and focus on each other without
interruption and/or exhaustion. It's a bummer. DDD


Active Member

I'm going to be keeping an eye on this thread. My husband and I have been together a long time and until recently were very united in our dealings with difficult child. I'm confident we will be there again but I look forward to reading how others have handled it.




New Member
It is a process and I do not think that you can always be on the same page with your thinking. That said husband and I discuss everything openly and sometimes passionately. Since my difficult child's failure at the Residential Treatment Center (RTC) this past summer my husband says he is "done" but he respects that I still feel a desire to help difficult child in certain ways.
We do not act until we are both in agreement. It was a long rocky road getting here. husband went to CODA, we did individual and family counseling, we had many disagreements. Where we are now was an evolution. We also respect that nothing is static and we revisit our situation frequently to see if we have changed our thinking or need to make adjustments. We have set up guidelines and boundaries. For instance when we have our "dates" we do not talk about difficult child. At any time we can say "I don't want to/can't talk about this right now then agree to a time when we can have the discussion. We share the unpleasant duties with neither of us shouldering a greater portion. husband does the prison visits. I make the necessary phone calls. But yes, difficult child did put unbelievable stress on our family and our marriage. I really think the thing that saved us was being able to admit we needed help then actively seeking it out. We also had to admit to ourselves and each other that neither one of us was always right and sometimes the answer lays in a combination of both our ideas.

Recently husband and I were faced with the prospect of bringing difficult child back into our home. husband was very much against it but said that if I needed to try one more time he understood because that is where he was when we sent difficult child to the Residential Treatment Center (RTC). I didn't want to send difficult child to the Residential Treatment Center (RTC). I didn't think he would do well there and felt that it would be a waste of time and money but I respected husband's need to try. So I went along with it and was supportative and never negative. When it didn't work I never did an "I told you so" because the truth of the matter is I wanted it to work as badly as my husband did. So I guess the key is being able to respect each other's feeling and needs toward our difficult child's and value each other enough to compromise. Especially when the other's needs are intense and compelling. Never act without consulting our spouse. AND never, ever undermine the efforts our spouse puts forth in dealing with our difficult children. If you have an issue deal with it in private and with compassionate understanding and respect. -RM


riding the roller coaster
Our relationship was not in the best of shape after awhile and having a difficult child didn't help us any. We were married for 26 yr., divorced now 3 yrs. I was the idea person from help on this board, reading books or the Parenting Group I went to. Ex did support most of the ideas I would suggest. There were many times though as the 'dueling' with B heated up then ex would wind up yelling at me!! DUh!! Just what I needed.

Can't tell you how many times ex said "I can't do this anymore!" Like we had any choice in it. Glad to see others posts that couples are working as a team. Go Teams!!


Former desparate mom
There are times when I feel resentment that I have the biggest amount of responsibility for difficult child. I appreciate that husband is earning a living but I would have liked him to be more involved in the research, interactions and making choices. He usually had some input and opinion which I respected. I can't always see things the same way he does. He did usually agree with me in the end. A few times I defer to what was his better ideas.
I'm a big fan of compartmentalizing when I can. If there is no crisis brewing, I put the difficult child drama away. We try to talk about other things, involve ourselves in things that aren't difficult child based and make sure easy child gets the attention he deserves.
Sometimes the difficult child drama is too great. We allow ourselves to be sad or mad. The next day we try to put the difficult child drama away. It would take over our lives.

I think there were a lot of things we did instinctually but not always wearing the parent hat is a good thing. If the children aren't around we aren't as parental. Does that make sense?
With an adult difficult child I realized I can't force husband or easy child to have the relationship I think they should have with difficult child. It makes me sad but it's not my place to take on that responsibility.

We did the normal stuff of going out on a regular basis with other adults or alone. When the boys got a little older we took little trips (and some longer ones) alone. We are pretty comfortable just being in the same room.

Taking time to make life parent centered at times, instead of difficult child or even kid centered helped us keep on the same page.

I don't know what the proper marriage counseling approach is but we respect each other's opinions and work. We laugh at the absurdity of our lives with difficult child. A lot. We try to keep the little irritations-little and not a big blow up with hurt feelings. I think we try to keep miserable moods to a minimium or to ourselves so it doesn't hang like a fog over the house. Mostly he goes the extra mile to please me or to help me. I show appreciation for that effort. I go the extra mile to help him. He shows appreciation for my effort. The sense of giving instead of taking seems to be one of the foundations that work for us.

Heck I don't know if next year or the year after we will still be as bonded but all we can do is to keep trying.

Sue C

Active Member
Well, we have been married 31 years. We love each other dearly, but we are not on the same page with regard to difficult child(s) much of the time. I don't want to leave my husband, and he doesn't want to leave me, so I think we just stay frustrated with the situation, spinning our wheels.

About 6 years ago, we did meet with a counselor weekly for one year. Melissa met with the counselor for 45 minutes, then husband and I met for 15 minutes. Sometimes all three of us met with the counselor. Back then, the counselor did make my husband see we needed to be on the same page and things were better for awhile. But after that, he forgot. :frown:

Right now I am so frustrated with Melissa half-heartedly looking for a full-time job and being lazy around the house. husband says it bothers him as much as it bothers me, but I think it's bothering me more. I want to put a deadline on when to tell her she needs to be out; he says that's a good idea but let's put that off. Today I had him go with me to the coffee shop just to get away for 1/2 hour. It felt good!!

We have a vacation fund -- a huge jar we are filling with change. We are looking forward to filling it up and going on vacation without Melissa. Could be years from now, but it is something to look forward to. I think we all need something positive to look forward to.



Active Member
Karen - thanks for that insight. Overall, our marriage has been stressed by other things before difficult child's issues surfaced but nothing that we couldn't overcome.

DDD - yes, I agree with you, SO's for life - lol.

Cookie - thanks.

Rejected Mom - I like your way of agreeing.

IrishKillene - sorry your marriage became a casualty of the kids. That is sad.

Fran - we too use coping mechanisms for our son. Sarcasm and shared misery seem to work as does humor.

Sue - that is a good goal.

Well, you ladies have pretty much figured things out and I appreciate the insight. Sometimes this is so hard. However, I so agree that difficult child chaos has got to quit invading my life.


Active Member
Coming in late on this. We're celebrating 30 yrs next month. However, I'm not really sure where we are. I think we practice crisis mgmt pretty well and we really are each other's SO. husband feels the loss of what could have been and is only now understanding biological based diagnoses. I'm the fixer, the enabler, the explainer, etc.

It's very difficult and sad to see the symptoms of BiPolar (BP) or Borderline (BPD) or whatever come out as undesirable traits and watch how they affect your child's relationship with family and friends, as well as their future, and their past.

We are great compartmentalizers which helps alot. Out of sight out of mind has been our way of coping. I know we are helping possible too much, I know we won't be able to do this forever. I know we are still evolving.


Active Member
Sunny - we too compartmentalize in order to cope. Its amazing to me that those of us that have long term relationship rely on pretty much the same coping mechanisms.


New Member
Great question.

My husband was pretty much determined we would make it. He supported me while I did whatever I needed to ~ went back to school, took classes that appealed to me, whatever I wanted to do. The one thing he insisted on (and still does) is that we share a drink together at the end of the day. Initially, we put on music specific only to that time. (That was my contribution. I wanted something that would set that time apart from any other time. I chose Dean Martin.)

At first, it was so unusual for us to be face to face with only ourselves for company that we were embarrassed. So many horrible things had happened.

I am still very sad when I think about the way everything came out.

So is husband.

But we are still together, and it has been thirty-four years.

So, every day, that is what we did.

With determination.

The last thing I wanted to do was sit with my husband, anywhere.

But you know what?

It worked.

For that one hour a day, there were no phone calls taken, no television, no outside influences at all. To this day, husband and I sit down at 5:30 and have a drink together. We no longer play Dean Martin? But back when our marriage was in shreds, that sort of goofy, out of time and place music made that hour our own.

As soon as we hear that CD, to this day, we smile, and relax, and feel happy.


husband even dances with me. (You know that verse where Dean Martin sings about swaying the woman across the floor? )

We are spending the Winter in Florida?

I brought that CD.

So, there is my answer, I guess. I don't think we CAN recover who we were or what we were working for when our dreams for our families were still intact.

But if our intentions are to recreate our marriages, we CAN do that.

But we have to see rekindling the marriage as a primary intention.

Since my oldest difficult child is in the 10th grade, I don't usually get around to reading this forum very much. Now, after reading judi's post and all of the replies, I know I'll be back often!!!

I know that I can learn so much from all of you with older difficult children who have more experience than I do. I can relate to many of the comments here even if my oldest difficult child is still in High School.

I have been married 18 years. It hasn't always been easy. Our difficult children tore us apart in many ways. I know we are working very hard on staying together and many of your comments make so much sense. I especially like Barbara's on spending one hour together and having a drink.

Thanks for all of your honesty. It helps me more than any of you will ever know. WFEN


New Member
Our difficult child-problems definitely have affected our marriage. husband & I separated for a year (but still spent a lot of time together, and worked on our relationship with a wonderful counselor).

husband and difficult child are more compatible temperament-wise than difficult child and I are. Sometimes I felt like it was husband and difficult child against me. I think I even said to husband once, "why don't you and N live together...I'll get an apartment." Sometimes, husband would make decisions concerning difficult child without consulting me, which burned me up. It was a perfect setup for difficult child to manipulate us. The counselor helped us learn to compromise when we disagreed on a course of action and provide a "united front."

Of course, difficult child was NOT our only issue!

We have been back together for about 18 months now, and our marriage is in good shape. In fact, we will celebrate our 25th anniversary this summer!


Active Member
Came back to check this thread and loved the responses. Before my difficult child went into the Marine Corp my husband and I held together really well. A united front ... but something happened after the he!! we went through the last few months and we started pulling apart...different views on handling the situation I guess. I really believe that we will be united once again but adult difficult children do put a strain on a marriage. :frown: We have to learn different ways of dealing with things almost instantly it seems.



New Member
sat in the parkin lot TODAY and told husband I can no longer live this way!
His reaction to everything is ignore it and it will go away. That is the same way he treated difficult child.

We have gone through alot, but this time is different. I am futher away from him than I have ever been. I don't want to be close to him, I don't even want to talk to him.

Early in our marriage when difficult child started acting out, my husband asked me if it was time for him to go live with his dad. I told husband he would leave before my difficult child does (wrong answer, but I meant it)
My husband then started really trying to control easy child, like we lost one and I don't want to lose this one. I had to stop him alot and still have to remind him that she is not difficult child and we have to give her some freedom.

I feel a great sense of loss with difficult child not here, I believe all husband feels is relief.

The greater his sense of relief is the futher I get away from him. I know that doesn't make much sense, but It is just a really tough time time now.

I have read all the advice to connect with my husband now, but it has changed since difficult child is gone.
I am not sure I even want to connect anymore. I am tired.


New Member
Hearthope, every marriage is different. If this were happening to me though, I would be angry at my husband when the person I was really angry with would be myself.

For not having been able to make a difference for difficult child.

Moms especially beat themselves up when their children are unhappy. A husband will turn away, say it doesn't matter, or call the difficult child names and pretend to be angry.

Their pain festers away underneath, I think.

Keep posting about it, hearthope.

Your husband is hurting, too.

Only the DHs never seem able to let it out.

And unless they CAN express the pain they feel too, it will come out sideways, at you.

At least, that is what happens at my house. :cry:

(Where is that little guy with the tongue out when you need him?!?)

Or better yet, that rolling eye icon!


Wishing well, hearthope.

You and your husband will get through this, too.

I am so sorry this is happening to you, and to your family.