I have always felt parents should be united in discipline with their children. This has worked well for many years but as the teenage years have come upon us with our children, it has become hard if not impossible for my husband and I to agree.
Our teenage daughter has struggled with anxiety and depression since about age 9. We have gone through a lot of counseling (she and I together) which has brought us really close, whereas my husband is mostly critical of it. She is doing much better now thanks to good help.
A year ago this same daughter announced she considered herself an atheist. We are both devastated at what she has announced, but my husband is angry.
She is a relatively good girl, lives by our house rules, and goes to church, contributes positively in church classes, et cetera.
My husband overreacts to everything our daughter does and they argue constantly. We are also now arguing, as I see the way he is acting is pushing her further away. We have seldom argued in 20 years of marriage.
She has now confided in me that she is probably gay or at least bisexual. I reacted a lot better than I think she expected, showed love and no anger. I have discussed who she has a crush on at the moment and in the past; she has yet to have kissed either a boy or a girl so it is only crushes. She does not want her father to know.
This is where I struggle. I don’t want to tell him, as I fear his angry reaction and pushing her further away. But, I don’t believe we should have secrets in our marriage. How do I act when I disagree with him and his behavior and feel a need to protect my daughter?
While I’m grateful your daughter has a safe place to discuss her beliefs, identity and feelings, I’m also concerned about the stability of your marriage, as you now have been pulled into a secret-keeping role with your daughter.
I see that you and your husband have been split over the years on how to best help your daughter. It sounds like he’s had a difficult time with her therapy and other interventions you’ve arranged to help her. Has he been a part of these discussions, or are these things you have unilaterally decided? If he’s been left out of these decisions by you deciding he doesn’t get to have a voice in these matters, then I can understand why he would feel upset.
If you’ve extended him full transparency and opportunities to be involved, but he’s chosen not to, or has become so reactive that it derailed the process, then it’s important to turn toward him as a spouse and co-parent so you can both work in your daughter’s behalf.
You and your husband are obviously coming from different approaches on how to parent your daughter. This is a good time for you both to work harder than ever to understand each other and find common ground for her benefit. Your daughter deserves to have the full support of both her parents who can be there for her as she navigates the future.
Now that she is revealing more information that is more difficult for your husband to hear and process, it really exposes the split in your marriage. Your daughter is going through a challenging time right now and she shouldn’t have to carry the additional burden of knowing that her mom is keeping a secret for her. This alienates her even further from her father and sets you both up to see him as a threat.
If you really feel like your husband is a threat to your daughter’s safety, then that’s a different issue that should be handled with outside support. However, if he’s struggling to understand her, then he needs a chance to learn how to be there for her, even if it’s painful for him.
I believe your husband has the potential to be a major support and influence in her life if given a chance. I’m certain he loves her as much as you do and I believe it’s unfair and harmful to keep him in the dark. She deserves to have as much support as possible during this challenging time.
The challenge is this: You’ve already established a relationship with your daughter in which she knows you are split with her father and won’t share things with him. If you’re going to parent her together from this point forward, you’re going to have to make some difficult decisions about supporting her by keeping secrets, or supporting her by working in a unified way with her father.
If you decide to include your husband in your daughter’s life, make sure to talk with your daughter about your decision before you share anything with him. She may not agree with it, and even threaten to stop talking with you. I think it’s healthy for children to know that mom and dad have a tight marriage and co-parenting relationship. Children need to know that mom and dad work together on behalf of their children.
You can validate the fears she has that dad might get upset and how scary that is for her. At the same time, reassure her that you have confidence in him that he can learn how to be a support to her. Tell her you don’t want to keep secrets from him and that something as significant as this development is, is something you certainly don’t want to hide.
You want your daughter to have joy and you want peace in your home. This only comes from being unified. Begin with your marriage and together you can figure out how to best reach your daughter. As you have confidence with her and with him that this can lead to greater family unity and closeness, your role will change from secret keeper to unifier. Your daughter, your husband, and you all need more openness and unity as you move forward with these new and unexpected opportunities for growth and connection.
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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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