Last week, I published the first part of my response to a question about a complex family problem involving a wife, husband and daughter. I am continuing the response in this week’s column. The letter is reprinted below so that my response is easier to follow.
Dear Dr. Chani,
Can you please give me advice about how to deal with my husband, who does not defend me when our daughter is disrespectful? Ever since our daughter was little, whenever I would discipline our daughter, my husband would side with her and reprimand me in front of her. It has now been more than 20 years. Our daughter has grown into a mature woman and is married. She has become increasingly disrespectful to me over the years. At this point, even her own husband has mentioned that he notices how disrespectful my daughter is to me.
There is also something strange about my husband’s behavior with our daughter. He is inconsistent. When it comes to disciplining our two sons, he can be very demanding and assertive. Why is he so quick to defend our daughter, when he easily criticizes similar negative behaviors that our sons do?
I have spoken to my husband about these issues many times throughout the years. He knows how deeply upset I am about it. When we discuss how hurtful our daughter’s comments to me can be, he usually blames me for her behavior. I do not understand why. Yet, sometimes he does seem to understand my perspective, and he says that he will speak to our daughter. But nothing ever seems to happen.
How can I deal with the pain from so many years of mistreatment by my daughter and from my husband’s lack of support?
Last week, I explained why it is important for parents to work together as a team when disciplining children. When parents have differences of opinion about how to discipline a child (as is often the case), it is best for them to discuss them in private, and work through the issues so they can present a united and consistent approach toward their child.
I also encouraged you to behave toward your husband with the respect and support that you would like him to show toward you. Modeling desirable behavior can have a significant positive influence on your husband over time and improve your relationship.
Another essential aspect to work on is to improve your relationship with your daughter. That dynamic has suffered greatly over the past two decades and needs to be understood. It is possible that much of the tension in the relationship stems from your daughter. Yet, it is likely that some of the negative feelings that have resulted over the years come from actions and behaviors you have done, too. It is sometimes hard to figure out what is contributing to the problem.
I encourage you to begin to have some conversations with your daughter. Open up your heart to be curious to understand your daughter’s feelings. Be prepared to think about what may be bothering her and upsetting her. This can help you gain self awareness about what you can do differently to improve your relationship with your daughter.
As you listen to your daughter, try to empathize with her feelings. Attempt to understand the situation from her perspective and understand why she feels that way. Avoid judging her for how she feels and dismissing her reason to have her feelings.
It can be extremely challenging to empathize with your daughter since she is usually disrespectful and confrontational toward you. Keep in mind that empathizing does not mean that you agree with her perception of the situation or her behavior. Empathy only requires you to try to understand why she feels her way. You are trying to put yourself in her shoes. You are trying to understand how your daughter sees things, even if her way does not seem to be correct. Her feelings are still significant and important for you to understand.
A rule of thumb in relationships is that we often have blind spots. A blind spot is an area that is known to others but not known to oneself. We cannot always clearly see how others perceive our behaviors toward them and our interactions with them. It is very possible that you have a blind spot regarding your relationship with your daughter. The most reliable way of noticing your blind spots is by getting feedback from others.
An ideal person you can turn to in order to help you notice your blind spots could be a psychotherapist. I encourage you to turn to a therapist for help with this triangular relationship. A therapist has experience understanding relationships and helping people see them clearly and improve them. The right therapist can help you uncover areas in your relationship and your own behaviors that you might not have previously noticed.
In addition, a therapist can help facilitate some of the difficult conversations between you and your daughter, and between you and your spouse. All of you might gain from noticing your own blind spots and seeing how the others understand these interactions.
Another reason I encourage you to seek the help of a therapist is that there might be underlying reasons for the difficult dynamic you describe. These may be impossible to identify and deal with on your own. For example, each person in your situation brings his or her own personality to this dynamic. Each person has predispositions to feel and react in certain ways. In addition, people can also perceive what happens around them and respond in a unique way because they are triggered by previous experiences in their lives. There may also be underlying mental health challenges, previous trauma or abuse. A therapist can ask open-ended questions to help each of you explore the underlying issues. There may be factors that are contributing to your situation that you do not realize.
The triangular relationship problems that you are describing are complex. They have been created over years and it might take time to unravel them. The way to do that includes an adjustment to the way you interact with your husband, beginning to have productive conversations with your daughter and seeking the advice of a therapist.
Wishing you much success,
Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships, and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her new online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Send your question to her at [email protected]