April 8, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

My Husband Undermines My Disciplining Our Daughter

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 over 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 over 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?

Sincerely,

Laya

Dear Laya,

You are suffering from a longstanding triangulated dynamic in your family. It involves you, your husband, and your daughter. You wish you could teach your daughter to respect you and have your husband’s support for that. Yet, he repeatedly interferes with your attempts to correct your daughter. Not only that, he blames you for her behavior. It sounds like your husband thinks that he is doing the “right thing” by defending your daughter.

So far, your attempts to discuss the issue with your husband have failed. For a period of over 20 years, you have not managed to convince him that he should support you in disciplining your daughter. He persists in thinking that he needs to oppose you to protect your daughter. Most likely, he thinks that he is doing what is best for your daughter. Yet, it has not helped.

It is time to take a new approach and do what is truly best for your daughter. That is very different from what your husband thinks might be best. What helps your daughter most is for your husband to support and respect you. Aside from the benefits that you might feel, this is extraordinarily important for your daughter.

It is critical for parents to stand together as a team and present a united front as much as possible. A parent may think that what they are doing is moral and just when they defend a child from their co-parent who is discipling. Yet it is just the opposite. That hurts both the spouse and the child. The spouse feels undermined, disrespected and abandoned; the child feels unstable and confused. When a child experiences one parent aligning with her against the other parent, it makes the child feel disrespect for both parents. On a deeper level, it breeds a lack of trust in people. After all, why should the child trust others when her own parent turns against his spouse?

One of the most important gifts in the world a parent can give to his child is to love and respect the child’s other parent. While there may be instances where a child will disagree with another parent in front of the child, the overall dynamic between parents should be harmonious, with the parents working together as a team. A child should feel that her parents respect and trust one another.

This is especially true with an emotionally sensitive child. A typical “difficult” child is usually emotionally sensitive and incredibly aware of each parent’s weak points. She will quickly determine how to play one parent against the other to her own advantage. Although the child perceives that she got what she wanted in the short term, unfortunately it ultimately reduces the child’s happiness. Driving a wedge between parents and turning one parent into a “good cop” and the other into a “bad cop” damages the child’s relationship with the “bad cop.” It also decreases the child’s sense of security about her parents’ relationship and, by extension, undermines her trust in relationships in general.

This is not only a parenting issue; more importantly, it is a marital issue. Right now you are in a love triangle. You are competing with your daughter for your husband’s respect and partnership. The feeling that you are in competition with her exacerbates your frustration toward her. It is likely that it triggers you to react even more strongly to her disrespectful behavior toward you. It also deeply pains you because you repeatedly experience your husband turning against you. This distances you emotionally from your husband and weakens your marriage in general.

It is important for you to have a conversation with your husband about this. Discuss with him that even if he disagrees with your discipline toward your daughter, he needs to talk to you about that privately. In public, he needs to support you. It is best for your daughter and for both of you.

It is advisable for you to start your conversation by acknowledging that you appreciate his concern for your daughter’s well-being and that you understand why he supports her when you criticize her. When you open your conversation that way you are beginning in a positive manner and expressing that you understand why your husband does what he does.

Transition your conversation to your main point by explaining that you also want what is best for your daughter. Help your husband realize that while he thinks he is assisting your daughter, it ultimately hurts your daughter in the long term. Express to him your expectations for how you can work together, both in private discussions and in public, to modify your daughter’s behavior effectively as a team.

Aside from having conversations with your husband about his behavior, there is an essential component that is entirely within your power to change. Look in the mirror and examine how you can model the behavior you want from your spouse. Your spouse’s behavior does not usually exist in a vacuum. The more you put effort into respecting your spouse, the more he will respect you. Sometimes he will not even realize what is effecting that change.

One of your greatest tools in your relationship is your own behavior. Influence by example. Since your dynamic is 20 years in the making, it will take consistent effort over a long time to see a shift in your husband’s behavior. Yet if you commit to respecting your husband and acting toward him in the way you want him to treat you, you will be amazed by how he will mirror your own example.

Next week I will discuss how you can take steps to improve your relationship with your daughter so that you are not dependent on your husband to manage your daughter’s feelings toward you.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


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].

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