April 15, 2013
James and Dawn say after 18 years of marriage, they’ve recently separated, and their family has been in crisis ever since — with their three children, ages 16 to 21, stuck in the middle of the chaos. Despite Dawn’s desire to save their marriage, James says he’s ready for a divorce. He admits to cheating on Dawn with four different women and says he may be in love with one of them. Why did he stray? And, is there any way he would consider saving their marriage? Dawn admits that she has dragged her kids into their relationship drama and even let them see messages from one of James’ mistresses. How does she explain her actions? And, James and Dawn confess that their fights have grown physically violent — in front of their kids. With their children caught in the crossfire, can this couple repair the damage that’s been done and learn how to fix their fractured family? Plus, hear from the children — why do they say they feel pressured to choose sides?
Three months ago, Dawn says she caught her husband, James, cheating — and that when she confronted him about it, he confessed that the affair had been going on for three years. “I punched him,” she admits. “I was so angry. He betrayed me.”
“There was something missing, something that I wasn’t getting or feeling from my relationship with my wife,” James says, adding that he has been living with his mother since the confrontation with Dawn. “The relationship became very bitter between us. She was always very bossy, controlling of everything I did, and I wanted somebody to respect me; and I didn’t get any respect at home.”
Dawn admits that she and her 16- and 17-year-old daughters went through James’ phone records and called several numbers that they didn’t recognize. “Four of the women who talked with us admitted that they were having sex with my dad,” the couple’s 17-year-old daughter says.
“This cheating has just torn our family apart,” says Camron, Dawn’s 21-year-old son and James’ stepson. “My sisters and I are caught in the middle.”
“In my children’s minds, they feel like they have to pick sides,” Dawn says. When asked by Dr. Phil if she’s contributing to their misery, Dawn responds, “I guess so.”
“I’m not happy with my marriage, and I want out, but at the same time, I’m hurting my kids,” James says. “I don’t know which way to go with this.”
“Do one thing right by these kids,” Dr. Phil tells the couple, adding that they need to put their children’s interests ahead of their own. “’What can we do to model for them behavior that we would hope they emulate going forward?’” he tells the couple to ask themselves — before deciding what to do with their marriage.
Dr. Phil tells Dawn and James that they’ve violated two rules that he has during times of crisis: Don’t burden your children with situations they can’t control; and don’t ask your children to deal with adult issues. “They don’t have the relational maturity to deal with it,” he says. “They don’t know what to do.”
“You never solve problems in a marriage by turning away from your partner,” he continues. He tells the couple that they should leave no stone unturned before getting a divorce, and suggests working on their relationship for 90 days before making any final decisions. “Either you find a basis to sustain this marriage, or you find a way that you can get out of it without making [your kids] pay for it for the rest of their lives,” he says. He offers professional help in doing so, and they accept.