Sometimes a new Chapter shows up unwelcome and unexpected. It happens when carefully laid out plans are suddenly tossed out the window. It’s a “someone-just-pulled-the-rug-out-from-under-you” kind of feeling.
We all get a chance to experience those life changing events. And they’re never easy to navigate. I recently heard from a mom whose daughter is facing her own dilemma and is looking for some answers. Here is her story, and the best advice I can offer.
“My daughter & son-in-law have been happily married nearly twenty years and I’m the lucky grandmother to their four children. Things were fine between them until Susie (not her real name) discovered her husband has been unfaithful in recent months. She is hurt beyond words.
Susie recently returned to the work force but is not yet financially able to support herself. Her husband has promised he won’t cheat again & wants to work on the marriage. At this point my daughter isn’t sure whether or not to stay in this marriage.
As her mother, it’s difficult to watch Susie go through this. How do I help her? What can I tell her to do to help herself? Is there anything I can do?”
I’m so sorry for your daughter, for your grandchildren, and for you. Susie has come to a fork in the road and now it will be a process for her to figure out which path to take.
I understand how desperately you want to help your daughter. No matter the age of our children, we hurt when they hurt. We’d move mountains to insure they always have a happy ending and sometimes those happy endings don’t come soon enough.
You’re hoping I’ll have a few words, a paragraph, a book, some sage advice, a never-fail script of what to say and do to somehow get Susie to a happier place by tomorrow. Unfortunately those words haven’t been written because they simply do not exist.
The best thing to do? Listen to your daughter and be supportive as she weighs the pros and cons of her situation. She is the only one who can decide which path to take. Your role is not to choose for her, it’s only to listen as she sorts through her options.
No matter how it appears from the outside, remember that the only people who really know what goes on in a marriage are the two people involved. The rest of us are merely onlookers and have no idea what happens behind closed doors.
Steps You Can Take As a Mom
- Let Susie voice her thoughts . . . it’s called talking to think . . . so they’re verbalized and not continuously swirling around in her head day and night. Allow her to park them with you. As Susie’s mom, you always provided a safe place for her as a little girl. Now provide a safe emotional place for her as an adult. A place where she can vent and cry, rant and rave and not be judged. Your role is to encourage her to think through her available choices and the ramifications of each. It’s a tall order.
- Never, ever be judgmental of her husband no matter how big of a rat you might think he is. I’ve known well-intentioned friends and family members who have been quick to tar and feather a cheating spouse only to have it backfire when there is a reconciliation. You stand a good chance of alienating the relationship with your daughter if you speak too soon. An even bigger chance of alienating your grandchildren. When in doubt, zip it.
- Encourage Susie to find a qualified mental health professional to counsel she and her husband together. Suggest she go by herself if her husband refuses. Notice I don’t say, “Tell her to get counseling.” You encourage. You suggest. You say, “Have you ever thought of . . . ?” Susie is the one that has to do this. You can’t do it for her.
You indicated finances are an issue. Is there a university nearby? Does it have a counseling, social work, or marriage & family therapy program? Often these programs have student interns at the graduate level who provide counseling under supervision of their superiors. Sessions are usually free of charge or available at reduced rates to clients.Are Susie and her husband affiliated with a church in their community? Would their pastor be someone whom they respect and trust for guidance in their marriage?If there is little chance of Susie and her husband seeing a trained counselor . . . and if they are committed to each other . . . “Relationship Rescue” by Dr. Phil McGraw is an excellent resource. He’s become a media star but of all the shrinks out there, Dr. Phil is the best credentialed, most down-to-earth, and knowledgeable of them all. I think his is one of the most effective relationship books in print.
- Encourage your daughter to improve her situation at work whether it means taking on more responsibility or making herself available for additional training which will lead to increased compensation. Susie will be moving toward improving her financial situation and self-worth which is positive regardless of the outcome of her marriage.
I know couples who have been through similar situations, taking months . . . sometimes years . . . to work things out. Yet when they’re successful those marriages are some of the best I’ve seen.
I also know couples who have stayed together in hopeless, loveless marriages and been unhappy most of their adult lives.
There are no easy answers.
My Own Story of Divorce
After nine years, I knew my first marriage was not going to last a lifetime. I had two little kids, a part-time job, no savings account, and a compact car with a ton of miles on it. I had my college education and the advice of my therapist who said, “Get a job. Establish credit in your name. Get yourself prepared for what’s ahead. It’s not going to be easy, but if you know in your heart it’s the right thing to do, you’ll make it work.”
My mom stayed on the sidelines, never offering her opinion, just some much needed TLC when I was feeling low. Which was often. But she never let me wallow in my situation.
When my divorce was final I had my personal belongings, some furniture, and half of the debt of my ex-husband’s business. That’s it. I appealed to the loan officer at the bank asking him to release me from the promissory note. He declined saying the bank knew I’d repay the loan even though my former husband probably would not. I had to borrow money from my mother to have enough money for two months rent on a modest, two-bedroom apartment.
It was a tough, tough time. A nightmare for me. Equally for my children.
And yet . . . we survived.
And so will your daughter.
It WILL Get Better
Let Susie know she will figure out what’s best for her. Let her know you’re behind whatever decision she makes because she’ll make the decision that’s best for her. Let her know you love her. Support her. Admire her courage. Let her know there will be brighter days ahead.
Because there will be. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next week. But they’re out there. And she’ll find them again.
All the best,