Good Monday Everyone,
I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, thanking those you know and love for being “them”. I don’t think we do that enough. We’re quick to criticize, slow to encourage and affirm. We may think good thoughts, but often forget to actually say them. Today’s challenge: Bless someone with the gift of your encouraging words. You can give someone a great gift that only takes a few minutes of your time. Send them a hand written note telling him or her something specific that you appreciate or love about them. Trust me, it will make their day and they will savor it again and again. The Bible tells us that “Pleasant words are sweet to the spirit and healing to the bones” Proverbs 16:24.
Today’s Question: My husband was physically abusive to me about 5 months ago. Since that time the kids and I have not been living with him. My husband wants to reconcile and has been going to counseling over this time period and has stopped drinking. His counselor feels that he is showing improvement. He has shown changes over this period of time and has been showing greater improvement the last 2-3 months.
My oldest daughter who is 13 hates him. She wants nothing to do with him. I validate her feelings and he does too. He doesn’t cover up what happened and knows that it is his fault. He takes full responsibility. My counselor and his counselor both told us to just let her have her space, and don’t force her to go with him and that he will have to prove that he’s a safe person to her. It’s been 5 months and my husband tries to talk with her and offers to do things with her. He lets her know that he is there to talk with if she wants to but she has a wall up, cries and is angry about him.
How can he prove he has changed when she only sees him maybe 4-8 hours a week? He loves her and wants a relationship with her. He wants to make things right, and has not pressured her, but he is frustrated because he doesn’t know how to make things better. I feel very in the middle.
I don’t know if her being a teen or naturally stubborn plays into things at all either but it is all so heartbreaking. I am confused and dealing with things myself so it is very overwhelming for me. I don’t know when his behavior will be good enough for either of us. Any advice?
Answer: You are in an awful place and my heart goes out to you. There is so much in your question that you didn’t say and so I’m going to start by asking some questions. Your answers to those questions will shape much of my response.
Is this the first and only incident of physical abuse or just the latest before you took action to leave? I think it’s important to make a distinction between a single abusive incident (which all of us are capable of) and an abusive relationship in which abuse (whether physical, verbal, emotional, economic, spiritual, and/or sexual) is a regular part of the relationship and is used to intimidate and control another person.
If this was a one-time incident, you were wise to put your foot down immediately and say “This behavior is so inappropriate and destructive to the health of our family, I will not tolerate it.” and separate. Your husband has taken responsibility for his drinking and abusive behavior, gone to counseling and is working hard on not repeating it ever again. I applaud both of your efforts here.
If that is the case then I think it might be time to help you daughter express specifically what she is hurt by and/or angry with and what her father could do to make amends to their relationship. Did she witness the abuse? If so, she might be experiencing some post traumatic stress and need some help in processing those memories.
I also think that you might start talking with her about forgiving her dad, even if she doesn’t trust or feel safe with him yet. She is at a very vulnerable age where she is tempted on all fronts. Holding on to hatred and bitterness gives Satan a foothold into her spirit and emotional life (Ephesians 4:27). Even if she isn’t ready to reconcile with her father, she needs to not only feel her feelings, she needs to process them in order to move on and let go of this hatred.
On the other hand, if this was not a one-time incident but the last episode in a series of abusive incidents then there is a lot more damage to the family, marriage and children and 5 months is hardly enough time for adequate healing to take place. Sadly, too many spouses’ allow one time abusive incidents to grow into a regular pattern of abusive behavior because they did not draw a firm enough line at the first whiff of abusive behavior.
Your counselors are right to give your daughter space, but is she able to express specifically why she hates her father and what he has done to hurt her? For example, has he been abusive to her (physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually?) as well as to you? How has their relationship been throughout her 13 years? Did they ever have a close bond? If not, why not? If so, what ruined it? Perhaps at some point in the counseling process, your daughter could join your husband for some family counseling or repair work on their relationship. I would suggest at least some of this be done before any talk of coming home is done.
You ask how can he prove he’s different if he only sees her 5-8 hours a week but if he can’t show her he’s safe during those 5-8 hours, he won’t be able to do it longer term. It starts slowly and then builds. Although you say your husband has been patient with the healing process and takes full responsibility for his behavior, by the overall anxious tone of your letter, I suspect you are feeling some internal pressure to hurry the process along. I think you’d be wise to pay attention to where that is coming from? Is it from your desire to please everyone, fix things and create this happy family or is it from him wanting you to allow him to come home or do something to change your daughter’s attitude?
We must be discerning of an individual who may be sorrowful, but not necessarily repentant of their abusive behaviors. Here are some of the things I look for when trying to discern if someone is truly repentant:
1 They accept full responsibility for their actions and attitudes (no blame-shifting).
2. They acknowledge their brokenness and sinfulness in detail.
3. They recognize the effects of their actions on others and show empathy for the pain he/she caused.
4. They are working to develop new behaviors and attitudes of healthy relationships.
5. They can an accept consequences without demands or conditions.
6. They are willing to make amends for the damage they caused.
7. They are willing to make consistent changes over the long term.
8. They are willing to be consistently accountable to someone.
Go through this list. Has your husband shown enough evidence of these 8 steps and do you see specific progress in step 4, working to develop new behaviors and attitudes of healthy relationships? If so, then I think you can be his greatest cheerleader with your daughter. If not, then perhaps you need to press pause and wait to see the fruits of repentance evidence themselves more fully.