Relationship Connection: How do I walk away from my adult daughter’s drama?

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Question

Our eldest daughter (soon to turn 40) started telling “stories” in high school. One story was that I had a little boy that died. She had a picture of herself holding a friend’s child she passed around. I passed it off that she needed more attention and that our frequent moves and relocations were stressful to her.

She eventually married a guy that cheated on her and left her with an infant. She moved in with us, but then began making public Facebook postings that we have “abused” her for 20 years.

She married a European man after an online courtship. She borrowed money to fly him over for a “meeting” and they got married immediately after he stepped off the plane. She never repaid the money we loaned her for the ticket. Instead, we received vicious emails to us and all of her siblings saying we never support her in her decisions.

She had three more children with him and then he left her. We have bought her cars, paid her rent, bought groceries, and supported her financially through her divorces and remarriages.

She has alienated all of her siblings with her lies. Our daughter has strained our marriage almost to the breaking point. I need for someone to let me know that I am OK to walk away.

Answer

Your marriage is more important than preserving a relationship with your 40-year-old daughter. She is an adult and can be responsible for the train of consequences she’s created over the past few decades. You and your husband need each other more than ever. Now is the time to turn toward each other and begin enforcing healthy limits with your daughter.

Unless your grandchildren are at risk of being abused or neglected, there isn’t much you can do to protect them from their dramatic mother. I can’t even imagine how sad and painful it must be for you guys to watch your daughter cut her children off from her family.

You have generously opened your home, your wallet, and your heart to your daughter. While investing in the lives of our loved ones doesn’t always make good financial sense, it’s common to go against our better judgment and keep investing. This might happen a few times, and then we recognize it’s a black hole. It sounds like you’re way past that point. I don’t understand how financially supporting her makes any sense.

What does “walking away” look like for you?

I assume it initially means closing your home and wallet. You might even need to set emotional and relational limits until she shows that she can be respectful and appropriate in a relationship with you. This may never happen.

She’s someone who needs professional help and support, but is unlikely to get it, as I’m sure she doesn’t believe she has a problem.

Learning to live with someone who possibly has a mental illness is a strain to individual health, marriages, and families. I recommend you get support from a NAMI chapter, who offer free classes and support for family members of the mentally ill. Additionally, there are great books on boundaries that can help you learn to protect your own mental health. Two favorites are: “Boundaries” by John Townsend and Henry Cloud and “Pungent Boundaries” by Nancy Landrum.

We often struggle with knowing how to create distance between us and the crazy-making behaviors of a loved one plagued by addiction or mental illness. Our reflex to “walk away” doesn’t always feel right, as we see their struggle.

You don’t have to abandon the relationship entirely, but you can abandon the pathological patterns between the two of you. This may end the relationship, but unless the patterns can change, there won’t even be a relationship. Respect yourself and love her enough to set and keep these limits to protect everyone.

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, 2015, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Mean Momma January 28, 2015 at 11:12 am

    One word…. BOUNDARIES!!!

  • Hataalii January 28, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Sad to say that what you are doing is called “enabling.” When ever you do something that helps a self destructive person, whether it is from a mental problem, or a substance abuse problem, to “get by” with their behavior, you are an enabler.
    I’m not saying it is your fault that your daughter acts the way she does. But I AM saying that it is your fault that she has been allowed to continue in her behavior while living off of you. It is way past the time for you to show some “TOUGH LOVE” here!
    How do you walk away from her? It may not be easy, particularly if she is living with you. If she is, the first thing you must do, is to move her out. Even if it means reaching once again into your pockets to pay the deposit and rent for the first month on another place for her to live. And then if you have to, physically move her stuff out, or pay someone to do it.
    I’m betting that your daughter has been involved at one time or another with law enforcement. Let her know that any monkey business on her part, over the moving, will result in the cops being called.
    Once she is physically out of your house, or if she already is physically out of your house, let her know your wallet and checkbook are CLOSED. And stick with it.
    What I’m reading here, just screams of substance abuse on her part. If this is the case, she is likely to try anything to get a buck from you. If you have been foolish enough to give her any account passwords, get them changed immediately. Change the locks on your house. ALL of them.
    Should she somehow access an account, or break into your house, call the cops. This is going to be up to YOU and your hubby. Nobody else can do it for you. Find the strength in your soul to know that without your continued enabling, she is going to have to go her own way. It just might help her to mature, to know that mommy and daddy aren’t gonna be their to bail her out.
    People in her position are terribly manipulative. She will say anything to get you to change your minds. STICK TO YOUR GUNS ON THIS, if you ever want to see this woman have a life worth living.
    It may take years. She will likely have to hit bottom before she can start the long journey back.

    • CaliGirl January 28, 2015 at 6:14 pm

      Obviously, you’ve never had to officially evict an adult family member. It’s not as easy as you think especially if they have established residency. You can call the police but they won’t back you up if the family member shows a license or something showing they reside there. The best you can do is call a locksmith and change the locks as soon as they leave the house for a while. And then DONT ANSWER THE DOOR!

      • One for the road January 28, 2015 at 7:36 pm

        OMG you are such a bag of hot air. Hey stupid.. If her daughter has been there for more than 6 months it’s her legal place of residence. And to remove someone like that you have to engage in the legal proceedings of an eviction notice… and for the rest of your comment all I can say is. Duhhhhhhhh. Sometimes it’s better just better your mouth shut

    • Notforfree January 28, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      I’m laughing to hard to concentrate LOL. you should be asking for advice not giving it out… as the other poster commented. You need to take up the art of keeping your shut because hot air is all I see also

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