Question

I filed for divorce a year ago after years and years of being in a controlling and abusive marriage. I found the strength to run. Besides eventually finding out that my husband had a secret sexual addiction our entire marriage, my daughter, who is now an adult, has come to me telling me that my husband molested her five years ago. I know that I must go to the police, and I am reporting it, but how do I accept that my entire marriage was a lie? How do I forgive myself for failing my child?

Answer

I’m so terribly sorry to hear about what you and your daughter have experienced. While I’m grateful you have both found safety away from the abusive treatment, I also recognize that the reverberations of his choices will linger on for some time. Thankfully, healing is possible for both you and your daughter.

It’s understandable why you blame yourself for your daughter’s suffering. This is something all of us do as parents. When we first meet our children in this life, we all make some type of promise that we will protect them from harm. It’s easier to do this when they’re tiny and constantly in our care. As they grow and experience hurtful things, we somehow reflexively believe we could have done something to prevent their suffering.

The truth is that you aren’t responsible for what your ex-husband did to her. He is responsible for the choices he made to violate her. Of course, if you had known about it and refused to act, then, of course, you would have failed to protect her. He didn’t want you know what he was doing to her, so there was no way you could have protected her. It’s critical that you don’t allow yourself to confuse the responsibility for this crime. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t her fault. It was his fault and there is a price to pay.

You didn’t fail her because she eventually told you what happened to her. You believed her, reported the crime, and are now likely getting her the help she needs. I know you would have done something had you known at the time. Again, he didn’t want you to know, so you were powerless to act on her behalf.

I also want to share some other important considerations as you heal from the trauma you’ve both experienced. Please recognize that you were both victims of his abuse. He terrorized your family with his abusive behaviors, his secrets, his blame, and his complete refusal to care about your well-being. Living in an abusive relationship keeps you focused on daily survival, which makes it almost impossible to slow down and tune into the emotional needs of your children. I’m guessing you often felt like you could hardly think straight when you were married to him. However, you found your way to safety and you’re now in a strong place to help her.

Your daughter is going to need your emotional support as she works through the aftermath of abuse. Make sure you’re getting support for yourself so you can be there for her. If you’re caught up blaming yourself or defending yourself, the focus is still on you. Please remember that you didn’t cause this, so turn your attention to comforting her and staying with her through her healing process.

Elder Richard G. Scott shared some important insights about healing from abuse:

Understand that healing can take considerable time. Recovery generally comes in steps. It is accelerated when gratitude is expressed to the Lord for every degree of improvement noted[i]

You and your daughter can grow closer through this experience as you look after her well-being and allow others to help support you in your healing. Instead of you taking upon yourself the responsibility for her abuse and then feeling responsible for all of her healing, I invite you to surrender her completely to the Savior. He is well acquainted with both of your experiences and will carry both of you through this process. Alma clearly taught us about who He is and what He has done for us: 

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.[ii]

Healing from abuse is a physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational journey that takes time. It’s understandable that you would want to take all of this on yourself to protect her from further pain. As you allow her to turn to you for loving support, point her to the Savior, and seek professional trauma treatment, you will begin to feel more hope and peace in the aftermath of these painful experiences.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]  

Download Geoff’s FREE guide to help you quickly end arguments with your spouse: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/3-steps-to-end-your-marriage-argument

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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.


[i] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1992/04/healing-the-tragic-scars-of-abuse?lang=eng

[ii] Alma 7:11-12