Question

I was sealed in 1973, had three children, and later learned that he was cheating on me for the last 15 years of our marriage. I divorced him and he eventually married the lady that he last cheated with. At first, his new wife tried to win over my children. I told my children that they need to try to get along for their dad’s sake, and they did. But she now has little to nothing to do with the kids.

Our only son passed away over ten years ago. He and his father were very close; more like brothers than father and son. They also ran a very successful business together. Since my son’s death, my ex-husband spends almost all of his spare time with my son’s two sons. He ignores my son’s daughter. He spends no time at all with our two daughters, nor their children! The girls don’t like their dad anymore. They refuse to call him or spend time with him because he has hurt them so badly. They also have evidence that he’s cheating on his current wife.

What can I say to my girls, to help them feel better, or at least help them understand and accept their dad’s choice to ignore them and their children? It hurts me to see how their relationships have deteriorated because they were very close to their dad prior to the divorce. The saddest thing of all is that while raising our kids, their dad ALWAYS preached to the kids that “Family is all that matters in this life.” Both of my girls have now left the church. I am so sad.

Answer

You’ve experienced tremendous losses in your family, so I can only imagine how difficult it is to see these losses extend to your daughters and grandchildren. Even though your daughters are grown women with families of their own, the longing to have a secure relationship with their dad doesn’t automatically diminish with age. While you’re unable to change your ex-husband, you can be a source of support and strength to your children and grandchildren.

I see how powerless you feel to ensure that your children and grandchildren experience love and connection from him. Indeed, it is sad that your ex-husband isn’t willing to practice what he preaches about the importance of family. I’m not sure what you believe your daughters need to understand about their father. It appears that they aren’t fooled by his double-speak and are acting accordingly. They already know through their lived experiences that he’s not prioritizing all of his family equally.

Acceptance isn’t the same as understanding. Your daughters understand enough of what’s happening to set limits and protect their hearts. However, acceptance takes more time. It’s a slower process of integrating and reconciling the reality of the situation, longings of the past, hopes for the future. This gentle letting go happens differently for everyone, but the outcome is often similar. We become less reactive, more peaceful, and are no longer tortured by the person or event that previously consumed us.

If you want to be helpful to your daughters, ask yourself if you’ve done your own acceptance work around the losses in your family. When you think or talk about them, do you become emotionally reactive? Do you feel like you need to convince others that you’ve been wronged? Do you have difficulty regulating how long you talk about it? Do you stay preoccupied with his choices and behaviors? If you’re still struggling with these things, then it’s important for you to direct your attention toward your own healing. As your daughters and grandchildren experience your acceptance, it will invite them into their own process of healing.

Acceptance work starts with recognizing the difference between the things we can and cannot influence. For example, are there things you or your daughters need to say to your ex-husband? Are there additional limits that need to be set? Are there additional attempts at reconciliation that have not yet happened? If your daughters have truly exhausted every possible option to reengage him in their lives, then they can rest knowing that the outcome is no longer in their hands. There is great peace in this realization. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s words from Liberty Jail offer us a simple guide in living a life of active acceptance, “Therefore, dearly beloved [sisters], let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”[i]

They can have compassion for their pain, they can have compassion for the missed opportunities with their children, and they can also have compassion for the pain their father and grandfather is experiencing. Acceptance opens up compassion for everyone. Compassion doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t feel sadness and loss for what’s happening. It does mean that they allow themselves to feel the pain of the losses while they honor his choices and consequences. There is no longer an internal battle filled with resentment, rumination, and revenge.

This work is deeply sacred and personal. While you can’t direct this for your daughters, you can teach them what you’ve learned and what you’re learning as you do your own acceptance work. Their connection to you will be so much sweeter as you hold space for them as they grieve these painful losses and find that “peace…which passeth all understanding.”[ii]

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.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.geoffsteurer.com \
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT
Instagram: @geoffsteurer
Twitter: @geoffsteurer


[i] D&C 123:17

[ii] Phillipians 4:7