How do you make sense of a daughter who allows her abusive ex-husband to come live with her because he’s being evicted from his apartment? As parents, we are devastated, heartbroken, and mad. This man has ruined our family and our relationship with our daughter and her sons that live with her. The past abuse he has put his family through is horrible and now our daughter has allowed him in her apartment. He’s not only abusive but he has sent sexual content texts to me, and several female family members. How can we have a relationship with our daughter with him living with her? Is that even possible?
Knowing how to respond to someone who is in abusive relationship isn’t easy. It’s agonizing to watch your loved ones repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way, especially when there’s a substantiated pattern of abuse. Even though you can’t influence your daughter to choose something different, you can decide how you’ll respond to her situation.
First, if you suspect he is abusing your daughter or grandchildren again, do not hesitate to report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. If you’re concerned this type of report will put your daughter and grandchildren in more danger, then make sure you share these specific concerns with child welfare or law enforcement to help them determine their course of action. If you’re unsure of your rights and obligations to report, please consult the resources on https://www.childwelfare.gov/.
It’s also tempting to focus your energy on making sense of her decision to bring him back into her home. When dealing with abuse, searching for the “why” might be instinctive, but it doesn’t lead to providing more safety for the victims. The “why” can only be examined once the victims has reached safety and is able to focus on deeper healing. Getting to safety is the priority and even though you can’t force him out of their home, your connection to her and your grandchildren will keep a bridge open so there can be some type of lifeline if things return to previous patterns.
It’s important for you to become educated about the challenges associated with living in an abusive relationship. It can help you be more strategic and aware of how to proceed you’re your daughter. Leaving an abusive situation is complicated, overwhelming, and often dangerous for the victims. Dr. Jason Whiting compiled a summary of the eight most challenging dynamics that keep women in abusive relationships[i]:
- Distorted Thoughts
- Damaged Self-Worth
- Wanting to be a Savior
- Family Expectations and Experiences
- Financial Constraints
You can read more about each of these research findings here. Before you make efforts to talk her out of her situation, make sure you educate yourself about these dynamics so can offer the right kind of support. If you spend your energy criticizing her choice to bring him back into her life, it will likely be received by her as victim blaming, judgement, and rejection. Instead, I encourage you to focus on how you can stay connected to her in the healthiest way possible. Of course, this may be difficult, as abusers will use isolation from family and friends to control their victim.
I don’t know if she’ll allow you to have a relationship with her or her children. However, I encourage you to do everything you can to keep the lines of communication open so you can be a resource for her and your grandchildren. Your presence and involvement in their lives can potentially provide a lighthouse for them when the darkness of abuse closes in. Your willingness to stay close, believe them, report any concerns, and offer resources is a blessing to this struggling family. You can read more about your important role as a loved one on the Church resource page. I recognize it’s not as direct as plucking them out of this situation and carrying them to safety. However, she has primary responsibility for herself and her children right now. If she’s unable to carry out that responsibility, there are ways to intervene, as already described.
Even though you may need to have your own personal limits about closeness and distance with her situation as she integrates him back into her life, you can still find ways to stay connected to her and your grandchildren. If she seems open to it, you might also be able to offer her access to individual counseling with a trained professional. I don’t recommend you suggest marriage or relationship counseling, as this will only make the abuse dynamics worse and put her in more danger.
I recognize there aren’t direct and clear ways to help your daughter and grandchildren in this tense situation. It’s agonizing to feel like your only option is to wait and watch for something awful to happen. Please know that your interest, prayers, vigilance, courage, and commitment to this family are not small things, so continue to stay grounded and aware so you can find the appropriate ways to help them.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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.