Question

My daughter is getting married in Europe soon. She is having a non-traditional wedding that includes four days or so of family, friends, excursions, and time together. She’s expecting her closest family to stay in one multi-room villa together. I am newly remarried, and her dad has a serious girlfriend. Her dad and I have been divorced for years. We can get along at times. This is mainly dependent on him being appropriate and refraining from verbal abuse towards me. It seems like he has so much anger towards me even after all this time. When she initially started making these plans, she talked about renting two villas. I would be in one and her dad in the other. Now she’s talking about renting just one villa.

I have told her about how her dad speaks to me at times. She knows he can be unpredictable and say vile things. I feel like she is being insensitive by asking me to stay under same roof with him. The thought of spending four days in close proximity to him is causing me a great amount of anxiety. I’m trying to keep the focus on her and her marriage but having a hard time. I want to be loving and supportive of my daughter but also want to protect my mental health. Can you please offer some advice on this situation?

Answer

First, I want to commend you for the love and dedication you have for your daughter and for your willingness to prioritize her special moment, despite the personal discomfort it will cause you. The reality of being in close quarters with a verbally abusive ex-husband is undeniably challenging. Your feelings of anxiety and concern for your own mental well-being are totally understandable. Let’s talk about options for how to proceed.

Balancing our personal boundaries with the wishes of our loved ones is always a delicate dance, especially when complex histories and dynamics come into play. One of the most important things you can do for your daughter is to not put her in charge of your mental health or have her manage the dynamic between you and her father. We can’t outsource responsibility for our emotional wellbeing.

While you can share your preferences for what would be most comfortable, you ultimately must oversee what you need during the wedding festivities. Of course, if there are ways to create compromise and support for all the competing needs, that would be the ideal outcome. However, that simply may not be possible. Instead of putting her in charge of creating the conditions you need, I recommend working closely with your new husband to decide what you need to create the best outcome.

When it comes to communicating with your ex-husband, there’s no need to engage him in conversation or coordinate anything with him. If you anticipate needing to exit a conversation with him, practice what you might say. If you decide to use the villa for sleeping and choose to spend time other places instead of with the group, then do so without dramatic flair. There’s nothing wrong with notifying your daughter about your intentions so she can plan accordingly.

If you find yourself having an anticipatory trauma response as you visualize spending time around him, then consider seeking expert trauma treatment to prepare for these interactions. Quality trauma treatment and healthy boundaries can help you stay regulated and balanced for the few days you’ll all be together.

It’s also important to recognize that you don’t have to do any of this alone. You have a new marriage that can give you the strength and support you need to do this hard thing. You also have a promise from the Lord that he can lift heavy burdens so you don’t feel their weight. You are balancing competing needs with good intentions. I’m confident you can be spiritually supported during this difficult time as were the people of Alma when impossible burdens were placed upon their backs.[i] Also, there will be a variety of friends and family there who will provide much needed support and validation. And, don’t forget that you’re the mom and your daughter needs you to show up in strength and courage to support her special day. Remember, anything we can face alone, we can face better together.

In the end, remember that your daughter’s wedding is about love, unity, and celebration. Although old wounds can be challenging, focusing on the joyous occasion might help provide some clarity and direction. Finding the right balance will require creativity, patience, and open communication, but with thoughtful attention, I believe you can create a situation that honors both your love for your daughter and your need for safety and comfort.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com  

If broken trust is an issue in your relationship, download Geoff’s FREE video series “The First Steps to Rebuilding Trust” to help you begin healing: https://www.geoffsteurer.com/freebie

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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.

The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.

[i] Mosiah 24:13-15