"My Dead First Husband Is Haunting My Marriage"

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His Turn

"I'm living in the shadow of my wife's first husband," said Peter, 44, a marketing company executive. "Rob still seems to be so much a part of Cheryl and her kids' lives that I often feel like a third wheel. I constantly find myself second-guessing everything, wondering 'What would Rob do?'

"Believe me, I understand that his sudden death was traumatic for the family. I know the last few years have been hard, and I try to respect that. But our day-to-day life can be extremely frustrating. For one thing, Cheryl is constantly worrying about her kids' psychological health. It's as if she thinks spoiling them is going to make things better. Cheryl has a full-time job, but she still does everything for Scott and Ellie. She makes rules and then breaks them: She'll tell Scott he has an 11 p.m. curfew, and when he waltzes in after midnight she doesn't say a thing.

"They're good kids, but I don't like the way they treat Annie. And I don't like how they treat me either. They're rude, and when I call them on it all hell breaks loose. Ellie cries, Scott tells me I'm not his dad, and Cheryl yells that I'm being too hard on her children.

"Not a day goes by that I don't feel like I'm being compared to Rob -- and never quite measuring up. And then there are times when I just feel totally shut out, like at Ellie's 13th birthday party. Cheryl spent the entire time saying things like, 'I wish Rob could have seen his daughter as a teenager.' And then for some reason she didn't want me in the pictures. She took a few group shots that included me and Annie, but the photos are mostly of her and her kids. Now that I think of it, she hardly has any pictures of me in our house, but everywhere I look I see photos of Rob.

"The funny thing is, Cheryl has told me things that make me think that maybe her first marriage wasn't all that terrific. She once said that she could never talk to Rob about her feelings the way she can talk to me. It doesn't sound as if they shared many of the same interests. But she only remembers the good stuff. She has put Rob on a pedestal since his death.

"We got along so well when we were dating, but now we're constantly at odds. I knew Cheryl was emotional, and that was one of the things I loved about her. But she can be so over-the-top at times. I refuse to get into a screaming match, so I just walk outside to get some air whenever she starts. Then she really goes nuts and accuses me of not caring. I can't win.

"I'm totally committed to making this relationship work. My first marriage ended in divorce. When I remarried I really thought I could get it right. Now I'm not so sure. That's why I suggested we start therapy. I truly love Cheryl and want to build a life with her, but our current situation is just unbearable."

Continued on page 3:  The Counselor's Turn


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