BY DR. JOSUHA COLEMAN
DEAR DR. COLEMAN
Our daughter married her husband shortly after cutting us off, without any warning like if we didn’t talk or agree to something or somehow mend. We were not invited to the wedding, and we were then told we were awful that we weren’t there. After two years now, she reached out and agreed to begin therapy.
In therapy, she is revealing her stories that she tells herself and others, and I have been completely shocked by the twisting of intention and tone and timing so it really looks like we were ‘awful.’ The therapist is inviting me to tell my story of the same incidents, and she is ‘remembering’ and mostly accepting.
She is admitting that she felt she needed our approval too much and remembers us telling her she gets to make her own decisions in her life. She had a lot of early life trauma that has not been addressed.
She has lied to family and friends with these atrocious stories that we now hear about. Two of my husband’s brothers have bought in and he feels he has lost even more family now. But the toll is huge between us. I have never been in such pain, but I am trying to make it not JUST about her but as a life learning experience and it has been changing me.
My husband is choosing to watch TV from the time he gets off work to bedtime, and then he is depressed and anti-social. He doesn’t want to reach out to a counselor and his family doesn’t have the maturity or compassion to hear his story. I can’t continue to hear him ruminate on the same images and scenarios anymore.
He seems stuck there and it brings me down. He doesn’t welcome any help to think through a different lens. I have asked him not to bring me down when I feel hopeful or that I choose other things to be thankful about.
So we fight a lot more. I feel compassion for him and yet feel like I can’t sit with him in his funk all the time either. What are my boundaries? What is compassionate for him, and for me? I don’t want to abandon him in his pain and I don’t want to abandon myself either.
ANSWER FROM DR COLEMAN:
There are a number of themes here that are important to highlight:
- The stories from the past are very different from your memories of them
- She felt like she needed your approval too much
- She wants to feel like she gets to make the decision for her life
- Your husband’s difficulty coping is bringing you down
It’s not uncommon for adult children to tell highly exaggerated versions of the past. This is sometimes because they don’t feel like their complaints or their need to complain is sufficient so they have to make it bigger to seem worth complaining about.
Secondly, if she felt like she needed your approval too much she may need to devalue you as a way to reduce the value of your approval. “If you’re so messed up, why should I want your approval?” This is all in the context of her wanting to feel more independent of you, which is a not infrequent aspect of estrangement. A common way to feel more independent is to be critical of the parent. It’s a way of leveling the playing field and establishing a relationship that feels more equal. “I’m now an adult and I now get to evaluate how you did as a parent.”
Regarding your husband, I think you have to work on feeling more separate from him. This is sometimes harder for wives than husbands, but it’s a good marital skill to be able to protect oneself from a partner’s depression or anxiety or rumination. I would recommend talking about it very briefly, perhaps a few times a week. Other than that, if he wants to talk to you about it you probably have to tell him that he needs to wait until the time you’ve set aside, otherwise, you won’t be able to listen very well. And it takes too big of a toll on you. That isn’t being selfish. It’s actually better for the marriage if you can set limits in that way.
If you need more help dealing with an early reconciliation with your adult child, then join us for: MY ESTRANGED CHILD IS BACK: NOW WHAT?
How to Handle that Challenging Early Phase of Reconciliation
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