I’m a woman who’d been married for 13 years, and divorced three years ago, after discovering my husband was cheating with another woman.
My problem isn’t with “losing” him, but with the loss of the close relationship I had with my young daughter who was 12 when he left our home.
She was a happy, secure adolescent who adored both her parents, and by 15 has become distant and judgemental of me. She’s said outright that I must’ve been at fault in the marriage and that’s what made him leave.
Now, my daughter barely talks to me when we’re both at home, walks away when I try to engage her in a conversation about her friends and school... even about what she’d like for dinner.
From the first that I became aware of her father’s relationship, I didn’t speak of it to her, never fought nor cried when she was around.
I’d felt a problem in our marriage for the previous year (late hours at work, his increasingly detached attitude towards me, and far less sex) before the reality became clear.
I saw a lawyer and learned what was involved in a divorce, and privately felt that it was better now than later, especially for our child’s adjustment.
When I told my husband that I was aware of his affair, and wouldn’t fight with him over it, he quickly started divorce proceedings and moved to the condo he’s now sharing with his girlfriend.
My daughter delights in telling me about her in glowing terms, and visits their place whenever she’s invited. I tell myself that’s better than youngsters who hate the parent who leaves, and refuse to adjust to the new step-mom or step-dad.
My ex takes advantage of our daughter’s belief that I’m somehow the “bad guy” in our divorce. I heard from a once-close sister-in-law that his whole family supports the false story that I was wrapped up in my own career, and neglected him.
I don’t care what he tells his girlfriend or their friends (he’s dropped many we had before the divorce). But I can’t understand why he doesn’t realize how harmful it can be to my daughter’s self-worth and security to be turned against a mother who purposefully ripped her parents and once-happy home apart.
What can I do to help her adjust to our divorce as a mutual decision, without laying blame?
Worried Mother/Detached Daughter
A very wise therapist told me regarding a different couple’s divorce, that when a family member ends the marriage through cheating, relatives will embrace the new partner as if it was a love match that couldn’t be denied.
That way, the cheater isn’t such a bad person, if both parties can be so loved and accepted by family.
Your daughter’s been fed that fake image of reality.
She’s a teenager without personal experience in cheating and lies. She’s hurting, pushed to believe a false scenario.
Continue avoiding blaming or over-explaining. Stay calm and kind with her. Maintain interest in her schooling/personal interests/activities.
If there’s a specific interest you’ve previously shared - music, art, sports - gently raise the subject from time to time, to remind her of some happy events together.
Even if she resists, don’t overreact. It may take another couple of years for her to normalize divorce in her life, and before she’ll consider talking to a family counsellor about it.
Meanwhile, keep alert to any signs of persistent depression or self-harm. She still needs you.
Reader’s Commentary Regarding the couple, both divorced, whose “Part-Time Love” arrangement doesn’t work when the father has difficulty being responsible for his two sons when he’s on his own without her (March 26):
“His sons will always be his sons. If things are bad now, they’ll only get worse, especially if their mother gets married during the boys’ mid-teen years.
“My ex-step-son was a master manipulator. He managed to turn his mother against me, even after 23 years of marriage. She (and her family) were unable to truly see “reality.”
“Instead of being “gentle and accommodating,” the man’s girlfriend needs to be “firm.” (Accommodating to the boys is okay if in both directions, but not just one).
“If she gives a foot today, they’ll next want a yard.
“So, if the father’s unable to manage his sons, she needs to move on now, especially if he permits the boys to continue with their negative antics towards her.”
Tip of the day:
Divorce is harder on children when one parent’s openly blaming the other.