I have a question for you about my daughter, my adult daughter and single mom of four, who I just learned a few days ago has been engaging in an affair with a married man. I hear it has been going on for six months. I know only that. I have no other details and neither does the relative who informed me. For me, as her mother, the rest of the details are not of any consequence.
I have been shocked at some of her risky behaviors over the last few years since her divorce, but this one truly saddened me because of the consequences that could befall her, her children should they ever find out, and the wife, and children that may exist, of the married man.
At my age and at her age, pushing 40, I realize that she is in charge of her own choices and has probably considered the consequences of this behavior. As most women and men who carry on with these kind of affairs, I know she is probably wearing blinders and is caught up in the fantasy, attention, feeling loved and maybe being in love again, and the break from work and raising children alone, etc.
I pray that it ends soon before too much damage is done. I just don’t know if I should try to get her to end the affair before all that damage is done. And most of all, I don’t know if the betrayal of the relative who told me about the affair will become a big family issue down the road. She will know immediately who to blame if I tell her that I am aware of the affair.
Her children, adolescent and teenage years, have already lost a lot of respect for their mother, and their father, due to the issues during and after the divorce. Should they find out about this affair with a married man, I’m afraid they might all act out in time because of the disappointment and anger they will feel towards their mother.
Do I act oblivious to it all or do I sit her down and help her see what could happen down the road with this affair?
Before you begin discussing this with your daughter, I think its wise to consider several factors. First, what is your motivation in wanting to speak with her about your concerns? Do you simply disagree with what shes doing? Are there safety issues that need a warning and redirection? Do you want to better understand where shes coming from and why she would do something like this? Your intention will have a significant influence on the outcome you are hoping to create. If you simply want them to hear your opinion, they will most likely avoid you in the future. On the other hand, if you are approaching them with genuine concern for their well-being, they might be able to care about what youre saying.
As humans, we have a strong instinct to resist when we sense someone is forcing us to change. I imagine this feels more familiar to us as children of a wise Heavenly Father who values agency. The hymn, “Know this, that every soul is free”, teaches this truth so clearly:
Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be,
For this eternal truth is given,
That God will force no man to heaven.
He’ll call, persuade, direct a right
And bless with wisdom, love and light
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.[i]
While you can certainly sit down with her and confront her on all of these choices, its also important to consider the nature of the relationship have you built with her over the years. Do you have a history of sharing your concerns about her life? If you only show up in her life to correct her, she might not want to include you in helping her when things get tough for her. Instead, you might consider working on building the kind of relationship where a concern like this can more easily surface.
I can tell how careful you want to be in your relationship with your daughter so as not to overstep your bounds. If any real change is going to happen, it isnt going to come through threats, criticism, and punishment. As much as you might fantasize about how to shake her into reality, most people change destructive patterns when they fully understand the impact their behavior has on themselves and others. If theyre using all of their energy defending themselves from attacks by well-intentioned family and friends, they wont have the capacity for self-reflection or empathy for others.
Although youd like her to immediately turn from this path of self-destruction and spare herself, her children, and countless others the fallout of her decisions, its best to consider an approach that would allow her the greatest opportunity to become self-aware. She has a long road of repairing the interpersonal damage shes created, so the more she can understand about how shes affecting others, the better off shell be.
How you choose to address this with her needs to be in a way that will make it easiest for her to hear you and feel your concerns. Nephi taught that our Heavenly Father “speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.”[ii] You know your daughter and you know how she learns and understands best.
Regardless of how direct you choose to be with her about this, I still recommend you draw close to her and build a stronger relationship with her. I think this is important because it creates a space where she knows you are there for her no matter how badly she behaves. You are her mother and, consequently, are probably one of the few people on earth who has the persistence to stay with her through good and bad. She needs to be reminded of this truth on a regular basis.
In your relationship with her, you can talk with her about her life, her struggles, and so on. If you are worried about betraying the confidence of another family member, then keep quiet and let your daughter tell you on her own when shes ready. The closer you get to her, the more likely it is she will reveal her struggle.
If she currently doesnt feel bad about what shes doing, hopefully the reality of her secretive behavior will catch up to her and you will be positioned perfectly to guide her when she needs it most.
As you spend time with her, ask her questions that will cause her to reflect on her life. Get her to talk on a deeper level so you can help her self-reflect and consider her life. Since you are careful to protect the family member who shared the information about the affair with you, know that as you spend time building more connection with your daughter, you will be in a better position to ask her challenging questions and even bring up your concerns about choices shes making. Its much more effective to do this with her if you have a relationship as opposed to showing up and confronting her out of the blue.
Dont forget your grandchildren and the loss of parental attention theyre experiencing. The Proclamation to the World teaches us “extended families should lend support when needed.”[iii] While you may not be able to do much to influence your daughter and her self-centered choices, your grandchildren will most certainly appreciate having adults in their lives who arent thinking only of themselves. Spend time with them and immerse them in the joy only a grandparent can provide. Let them know how important they are to you.
There are a variety of ways to approach this dilemma with your daughter. You may decide to take a long-term approach by building a relationship where you can have more influence, or you may choose to confront her head-on and let her know where shes failing. Regardless of the approach you take, make sure to be clear on why you are doing this so she can feel the sincerity of your love and concern for her and your grandchildren. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie was reported to have taught, “we must warm our neighbor before we can warn our neighbor.”
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a masters degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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