I have a question for you about my daughter, my adult daughter and single mom of four, who I just learned a few days ago has been engaging in an affair with a married man. I hear it has been going on for six months. I know only that. I have no other details and neither does the relative who informed me. For me, as her mother, the rest of the details are not of any consequence.
I have been shocked at some of her risky behaviors over the last few years since her divorce, but this one truly saddened me because of the consequences that could befall her, her children should they ever find out, and the wife, and children that may exist, of the married man.
At my age and at her age, pushing 40, I realize that she is in charge of her own choices and has probably considered the consequences of this behavior. As most women and men who carry on with these kind of affairs, I know she is probably wearing blinders and is caught up in the fantasy, attention, feeling loved and maybe being in love again, and the break from work and raising children alone, etc.
I pray that it ends soon before too much damage is done. I just don’t know if I should try to get her to end the affair before all that damage is done. And most of all, I don’t know if the betrayal of the relative who told me about the affair will become a big family issue down the road. She will know immediately who to blame if I tell her that I am aware of the affair.
Her children, adolescent and teenage years, have already lost a lot of respect for their mother, and their father, due to the issues during and after the divorce. Should they find out about this affair with a married man, I’m afraid they might all act out in time because of the disappointment and anger they will feel towards their mother.
Do I act oblivious to it all or do I sit her down and help her see what could happen down the road with this affair?
Before you begin discussing this with your daughter, I think it’s wise to consider several factors. First, what is your motivation in wanting to speak with her about your concerns? Do you simply disagree with what she’s doing? Are there safety issues that need a warning and redirection? Do you want to better understand where she’s coming from and why she would do something like this? Your intention will have a significant influence on the outcome you are hoping to create. If you simply want them to hear your opinion, they will most likely avoid you in the future. On the other hand, if you are approaching them with genuine concern for their well-being, they might be able to care about what you’re saying.
While you can certainly sit down with her and confront her on all of these choices, it’s also important to consider the nature of the relationship you have built with her over the years. Do you have a history of sharing your concerns about her life? If you only show up in her life to correct her, she might not want to include you when things get tough for her. Instead, you might consider working on building the kind of relationship where a concern like this can more easily surface.
I can tell how careful you want to be in your relationship with your daughter so as not to overstep your bounds. If any real change is going to happen, it isn’t going to come through threats, criticism and punishment. As much as you might fantasize about how to shake her into reality, most people change destructive patterns when they fully understand the impact their behavior has on themselves and others. If they’re using all of their energy defending against attacks by well-intentioned family and friends, they won’t have the capacity for self-reflection or empathy for others.
As much as you’d like her to turn from this path of self-destruction and spare herself, her children and countless others the fallout of her decisions, it’s best to consider an approach that would allow her the greatest opportunity to become self-aware. She has a long road of repairing the interpersonal damage she’s created, so the more she can understand how she’s affecting others, the better off she’ll be.
I recommend you draw close to her and build a stronger relationship with her. I think this is important because it creates a space where she knows you are there for her no matter how badly she behaves. You are her mother and, consequently, are probably one of the few people on earth who has the persistence to stay with her through good and bad. She needs to be reminded of this truth on a regular basis.
In your relationship with her, you can talk with her about her life, her struggles and so on. If you are worried about betraying the confidence of another family member, then keep quiet and let your daughter tell you on her own when she’s ready. The closer you get to her, the more likely it is she will reveal her struggle. If she currently doesn’t feel bad about what she’s doing, hopefully the reality of her secretive behavior will catch up to her and you will be positioned perfectly to guide her when she needs it most.
As you spend time with her, ask her questions that will cause her to reflect on her life. Get her to talk on a deeper level so you can help her self-reflect and consider her life. Since you are careful to protect the family member who shared the information about the affair with you, know that as you spend time building more connection with your daughter, you will be in a better position to ask her challenging questions and even bring up your concerns about choices she’s making. It’s much more effective to do this with her if you have a relationship as opposed to showing up and confronting her out of the blue.
Don’t forget your grandchildren and the loss of parental attention they’re experiencing. While you may not be able to do much to influence your daughter and her self-centered choices, your grandchildren will most certainly appreciate having adults in their lives who aren’t thinking only of themselves. Spend time with them and immerse them in the joy only a grandparent can provide. Let them know how important they are to you.
There are a variety of ways to approach this dilemma with your daughter. You may decide to take a long-term approach by building a relationship where you can have more influence, or you may choose to confront her head-on and let her know where she’s failing. Regardless of the approach you take, make sure to be clear on why you are doing this so she can feel the sincerity of your love and concern for her and your grandchildren.
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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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