Relationship Connection: Should I confront my adult daughter about her affair?

Question

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?

Answer

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.

Stay connected!

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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.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • chupacabra August 6, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Stellar Advice. Words to the wise!

  • Cougar August 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Depends. Are you one of those St George cougars, woman who chase men the same age as their daughters? Competing with the daughter? Cougars are okay, unless of course the boys they are hitting on are friends of their high school age daughters or under 18. Anyway, I hear affairs are commonplace in St George, men and women alike are seeking physical satisfaction from someone other than their spouse, and possibly with someone not of the opposite sex. During the 19th & 20th century, this culture thought it was okay for men to have multiple women. It’s the 21st century now and women are getting into the action, too! As the saying goes “You’ve come a long way, baby!” My thoughts on this are the area men probably ought to have a DNA check on their kids, or those kids they think are theirs!

  • Hatalii August 6, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    OK, you say your daughter is “pushing 40.” She is long past the stage where you are likely to have much influence on her life, particularly if you are telling her she is wrong about something.
    I believe you should just “butt out” of this situation. It will develop however it will, but one thing is certain, if you try to counsel her about her behavior, it will be you that she blames when it all falls apart. Which of course, it is going to.
    I think you should also ask yourself, “what was the reason that this other family member told me?” And how does this person know about it. Is it something she learned, supposedly in confidence, or is it something she happened to find out accidentally. And of course the other question, the really big question, “is this family member correct? Or is she jumping to conclusions? Or is she deliberately trying to stir up trouble?”

  • The Rest Of The Story August 7, 2014 at 1:56 am

    Dear Mom,
    Unless the guy is abusing your daughter or grandchildren, in which case you have a right to step in to protect them, then your daughter’s love-life isn’t really any of your business–unless she chooses to share it with you. I would guess she struggles with self-esteem issues. Keep in mind, parents may sometimes contribute to their children’s self-esteem issues, whether they intend to or not. No doubt, her divorce has also affected her self-esteem. I would agree with those who counsel you to be self-aware here. Confronting her uninvited at her age will most likely turn out badly. These are lessons she has to learn on her own, so let her go it alone, but be there to love her, without judging her, if/when things fall apart. As far as her relationship between herself and her children, that too is her issue to deal with. If your concern is for your grandchildren, you can try to be as steady of a model of motherly love and acceptance for them as you can, but she–and they–will each have to forge their own relationships as their lives progress. It’s just the way of things.

  • Worthy August 7, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Just wondering if she doesn’t get caught, is she still temple worthy? Funny how these cheaters and liars maintain their temple worthiness. You’d thing the temple god would strike them down as they crossed the temple threshold for their immoral ways. Maybe they get a free pass for being current with their tithings.

    • My Evil Twin August 7, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      What is with you and all this “temple worthy” stuff? Did you get ex-communicated?

      • Not a Bishops Wife August 8, 2014 at 6:08 pm

        WORTHY Mormon women worry more about what man their Bishop is going to assign them to next then temple worthiness. 🙂

  • EL JEFE August 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Mom, this is none of your concern. Everyone involved (with the exception of the kids) are consenting adults. Granted, the children (of both parties) are caught in the middle and the outcome will be theirs to contend with. Unless there is abuse of the children, (and if there is, should be reported to authorities) you need to butt-out. A 40 year old is plenty old enough to know better and so is the boyfriend. They and they alone are the only ones who will determine what will happen in the end. Just make sure you are there for all parties, especially the children, who will need grandmas loving support.

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