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Carolyn Hax: Marriage at breaking point over husband’s approach to addicted son

4 days ago 21

Dear Carolyn: My 52-year-old stepson is a heroin addict. I have been married to his father for almost 25 years. There are two other sons who are lovely, successful people. The addict stepson has been in trouble with the law since his teen years.

When his father and I married, I was the more financially stable by a wide degree, so I wanted to keep our finances as separate as law allowed. We decided easily who would pay for vacations, finance home repairs, buy cars, etc. Frankly, our marriage was astonishing in its ease. It felt like a fairy tale for the first 10 years.

Since then, my husband's financials changed dramatically for the better and his income is over twice mine. We easily rearranged what we pay for to reflect this.

When I first met the addict son, I was willing to help out. He was in his early 20s, back in town, looking for work, not an addict then. The “help” he gets is now our single biggest expense. It is almost always cash, straight to his pocket. At this point, he is barely making excuses, just a text saying, “I need $50 for gas.” And out the money goes. We gave him money to buy a car and he never bought it. He got a settlement from an accident and lied about where that money went. We have spent well into five figures for attorneys.

I attempted counseling, which my husband was a good sport about. We agreed not to give any more cash, but we never followed up. He lies to me about the money and doesn’t seem to realize I consider him untrustworthy. I worry he may be borrowing money.

The son says he’s in a methadone program, and he was, but I am doubting it now. The son lies and lies and lies, and my husband says he can’t not help his son, even when he catches him lying. I have tried to just accept this, but I haven’t managed it. I have tried to leave him, but I haven’t managed that, either. I want my fairy tale marriage back!

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Of course you do. But no one goes back.

So I urge you to harness the same skill, self-awareness and openness that brought you those happier times toward dealing with these tragic ones.

Namely, accept that your husband won’t stop helping his son, who has a potentially fatal illness. Then, arrange your finances to insulate the money you need for a good life — present and future — from what your husband needs for his son. You tried to stop the spending and couldn’t, then to leave and you couldn’t, so: honesty and containment.

Your husband would agree to that, yes? So set it up soonest by deciding how much cash you can basically set on fire without imperiling your way of life, then put that aside as the sole resource for your husband to use toward his son. The rest goes under your control.

Obviously, your husband can access marital money in other ways, or sign for debt. The point of the exercise isn’t to lock up every cent; it’s to replace conflict and hiding with acceptance and a plan.

If you’re thinking “been there, tried that,” allow me to ask: 100 percent acceptance? That your husband won’t stop trying to keep his son alive? Because that’s what I’m talking about.

Readers suggested Al-Anon and Nar-Anon to help you with this. Consider another counseling “attempt,” too, with this goal: love that coexists with his commitment to hold on to someone so terribly out of his hands.

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