I am the father of a 29-year-old daughter, who, less than a year ago, committed adultery that resulted in a divorce to the man she had been married to for the past five years. I loved her ex-husband as my own son. He was a faithful, nurturing provider who always put her interests first. He left his hometown and moved away from his family because she wanted to. He established a very good business, worked hard to provide, and sacrificed for her always.
While they were living with us for a few months last year, he left for a week to work on a project with his dad as a gift for our daughter. She, on the other hand, told us she was going to their apartment in a neighboring city to get it ready. She even sent pictures of her doing so, but we later learned she was never there. In truth, she was out having a three-day affair with a guy she knew from high school. She told her husband about the affair and he left to go back home to get some space. During that time, he was gone again, she invited the other guy back to her new place.
I can forgive my daughter, but I never want to share time and place with the guy with whom she committed adultery! I realize what that may cost, but living and loving my daughter at a distance would be better for me than allowing me to suffer the resurfacing of the frustration and anger that would come from seeing him. She is an adult and pursuing what she thinks is right. I still grieve the loss daily of an amazing young man I called “son”.
Am I wrong not wanting to ever be in the presence or engaged with this adulterous man? It literally makes me physically sick. I will always love our daughter. She may come home anytime. I realize she may choose not to, but I’m a little concerned about the rest of the well-being of my family who feels as I do. I know full well God directs us to forgive and I hope to be completely there someday, but do I have to share time and space with him ever?
You have experienced a great loss and it’s not easy to move on with changes you didn’t expect. Even though your daughter gets to choose how she manages her relationships, she doesn’t get to choose the impact it has on you and other family members. Let’s talk about how you can cope with these painful changes.
Your daughter has put you and your family in an emotionally difficult predicament that isn’t easy to resolve. While I don’t know the complete details of her marital demise, it appears that she decided to leave her husband and move forward with a new relationship. She likely held deeply personal reasons for choosing this course of action that you may never know. Elder James E. Faust noted that regardless of her reasons for choosing divorce, she “must bear the responsibility for the train of consequences which inevitably follow.”[i] These consequences include your discomfort associating with her new boyfriend.
In the same way she’s allowed the freedom to experience her ex-husband and new boyfriend, you’re also allowed the same freedom to experience both of these men. You love her ex-husband like a son and want nothing to do with her new boyfriend. These relationships were swapped out in such a swift manner that it seems like you’re still trying to recover from the emotional whiplash.
Even though she’s moved forward with a new relationship, you may not be quite ready to move along with her. Take the time you need to adjust to these changes. Of course, you still love your daughter and can still love her from a distance while you’re sorting out your emotions. We all need permission to advance and withdraw in our relationships as we go through life. Sometimes moving in close makes the most sense and feels like a natural draw. Other times we might feel hesitant and cautious while we sort out conflicting emotions. Healthy relationships make room for each person to adjust their need for closeness and distance as if they’re tied together with elastic instead of chains.
You can express your mixed emotions to your daughter and hope she can hold space for your conflicted feelings. You might say to her, “I love you dearly and I’m also terribly uncomfortable knowing how to relate to the man who instantly replaced someone I loved as a son.” You can let her know you’re grieving and working to accept this new reality even though you don’t agree with it. I’m sure she can understand, as she is having to live with feeling conflicted emotions as well.
For now, don’t fast forward too far in the future by deciding whether or not you’ll ever be able to relate to this guy. You’re right that even though forgiveness is ultimately the goal, it does take time. In a separate address, President James E. Faust taught that:
“Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.”[ii]
Give yourself the time and space to heal. You might be surprised what happens as you surrender your pain, fear, disappointment, and grief to the Savior. He has the power to heal the messes we create and the injuries we are subjected to as part of our mortal journey. When you feel ready, you might consider spending time connecting with your daughter in ways that make sense to you. If she continues a new life with this man, there may even come a day when you feel open to learning more about him. They’ve made some decisions that have broken hearts, but they are both capable of change. Thankfully, none of us have to be permanently defined by our errors in judgement.
It’s also helpful to decide if you want to maintain a relationship with your daughter’s ex-husband. If he was like a son to you, chances are he’ll still want to have a relationship with you. Even though you lost him as a son-in-law, you don’t have to lose him as a friend. This is a meaningful relationship and there’s no reason it needs to disappear if you both decide you want to continue connecting.
You don’t need to teach your daughter a lesson or punish her. You can trust that she’ll learn the lessons that are customized for her as she lives her life. Some of her lessons will naturally result as you allow yourself to experience the ebb and flow of emotions related to this sudden turn of events. Your healing, your daughter’s healing, and the family’s healing will not come from willpower and positive thinking. None of us have the ability to generate the kind of love required for situations like this without being filled with His love.[iii] None of us can sort out situations this painful without being changed ourselves. I am confident He can change you regardless of what happens in your family.
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 private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[iii] See Moroni 7:48