Ask Ms. Vicki: Ultimatums and PTSD
Dear Ms. Vicki,
My husband has children from a previous relationship, but we have custody of them. I have worked hard to be a good mother to them and not show any favorites with them and our children that we have together. We work hard to treat all of the children the same so that no one can feel mistreated. They call me "mom" just like my children. I knew their mother was a part of my husband's past and I am not jealous of her in any way. However, I'd like to explain some recent events that I disagree with.
I don't suspect my husband of doing anything wrong but my stepchildren's mother is planning to come and visit her children (our children) and my husband wants her to stay in our home. I do not want her to stay in my house but my husband has given me an ultimatum: "she will stay here or else." I don't know what the "or else" means but I feel like I'm being threatened. My husband wants his ex to stay in my home for me to entertain her, cook and clean for her. I think he is asking me to do something that I cannot do. I don't have any hard feelings toward her but it's not my place to be her maid. Furthermore, I do not want her to see me as some puppet on a string that my husband pulls around and I don't think it's fair. I don't know what the other option is, but I don't see why I have to let her stay in my home. She is a grown woman; she can stay in a hotel or a tent outside. I really don't feel good about this and I'm surprised that my husband would issue me an ultimatum to force me to do this.
I'm at a loss and I don't know what to do Ms. Vicki. Maybe I should just pack up and leave and they can live happily ever after. I'll take any advice you have to offer.
Your husband appears to be very forceful about this issue. I have a few questions for you. Is your husband afraid if his ex is with the children alone? Is her behavior in question? In other words, I could understand if your husband thinks he should keep a watchful eye out on the children. Of course it would be easier to do this if they are in your home. I know this is difficult for you. Obviously, you feel that your husband's ex is coming to take over your home and your family -- this is a normal feeling. However, let me say that many people in this situation can have good relationships and a good understanding.
Here's my quick advice: since the plan is for her to come to your home, I think you should speak to her before she arrives so you can be a part of the planning. For example, you should set some boundaries with her and feel free to give some time limits on her stay. It is your home and you are the woman of the house. You should have some say-so in this matter too. It's also important for you and your husband not to argue or have disagreements on this issue in the front of the children. Doing so could cause emotional harm, confusion, and even low self-esteem. It sounds like you really love your step-children, so I know you want to do what's best for them.
I think it's inappropriate for your husband to give you an ultimatum and I can understand why you would question this behavior. Because of this I would greatly recommend counseling to help you both sort through some of these feelings. If counseling services are not available on your base I would contact Military OneSource and they will connect you to a provider in your local community. The services are free and normally you can get an appointment within a few days. Have some discussions with your husband and his ex and set some firm boundaries on this issue. Please keep in touch with me and let me know what happens.
Dear Ms. Vicki,
Something is wrong with me but I don't know what it is. I'm wondering if I will ever be normal. I've been deployed three times and I've been redeployed for over a year. I can't sleep without having nightmares; I cry for no reason at all, and social activities are a thing of the past for me because I just don't have a desire to do anything. I'm jumpy and nervous all of the time and watching my back and traffic and crowded places makes me angry. My wife is about to leave me because she wants the "old me". She says I've changed too much and wants me to get help. My libido is gone and this is affecting my marriage too. Why can't I make love to my wife? She could be standing in front of me stark naked and I wouldn't want to do anything. Is this PTSD or am I depressed?
I don't want to be the washed up Soldier who isn't wanted in his company. I don't want people to think I am weak and don't have the willpower to kick this thing. Maybe I just need to give it some time and things will get better and these feelings will go away, right?
Fighting a Different Enemy
It would be inappropriate for me to try and give you a diagnosis but it sounds like you have symptoms of both depression and post-traumatic stress. It's important that you know that you are not weak and this is not about willpower. You have served your country valiantly and with honor. You should allow other professionals to work hard to help you. Look at it this way: now it's our time to return the favor to you for all of your sacrifice. Both post-traumatic stress and depression are treatable and you could get better, but first you need a thorough assessment, a diagnosis and treatment to have good outcomes. Your wife cares, but her feelings are normal too. She might be frightened to see changes in your behavior and may even have some anxiety too. This is very normal. You both could use support and counseling services, and they are available.
My quick suggestion is for you to visit with your primary care physician and explain the symptoms. He/she will make the appropriate referrals. You could also call behavioral health and inquire about an appointment; they could even offer walk-in services. Please know that you are not "used goods". Receiving a diagnosis of depression or post-traumatic stress will not end your career. On the other hand, if you don't seek professional help, it will get worse. Please take your wife to the appointment with you. It's important for her to feel like she is a vital part of your healing and it will be very educational for both of you. Please keep in touch with me and let me know how you are doing. I'm on your side.