Good Monday Everyone,

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, thanking those you know and love for being “them”. I don’t think we do that enough. We’re quick to criticize, slow to encourage and affirm. We may think good thoughts, but often forget to actually say them. Today’s challenge: Bless someone with the gift of your encouraging words. You can give someone a great gift that only takes a few minutes of your time. Send them a hand written note telling him or her something specific that you appreciate or love about them. Trust me, it will make their day and they will savor it again and again. The Bible tells us that “Pleasant words are sweet to the spirit and healing to the bones” Proverbs 16:24.

Today’s Question: My husband was physically abusive to me about 5 months ago. Since that time the kids and I have not been living with him. My husband wants to reconcile and has been going to counseling over this time period and has stopped drinking. His counselor feels that he is showing improvement. He has shown changes over this period of time and has been showing greater improvement the last 2-3 months.

My oldest daughter who is 13 hates him. She wants nothing to do with him. I validate her feelings and he does too. He doesn’t cover up what happened and knows that it is his fault. He takes full responsibility. My counselor and his counselor both told us to just let her have her space, and don’t force her to go with him and that he will have to prove that he’s a safe person to her. It’s been 5 months and my husband tries to talk with her and offers to do things with her. He lets her know that he is there to talk with if she wants to but she has a wall up, cries and is angry about him.

How can he prove he has changed when she only sees him maybe 4-8 hours a week? He loves her and wants a relationship with her. He wants to make things right, and has not pressured her, but he is frustrated because he doesn’t know how to make things better. I feel very in the middle.

I don’t know if her being a teen or naturally stubborn plays into things at all either but it is all so heartbreaking. I am confused and dealing with things myself so it is very overwhelming for me. I don’t know when his behavior will be good enough for either of us. Any advice?

Answer: You are in an awful place and my heart goes out to you. There is so much in your question that you didn’t say and so I’m going to start by asking some questions. Your answers to those questions will shape much of my response.

Is this the first and only incident of physical abuse or just the latest before you took action to leave? I think it’s important to make a distinction between a single abusive incident (which all of us are capable of) and an abusive relationship in which abuse (whether physical, verbal, emotional, economic, spiritual, and/or sexual) is a regular part of the relationship and is used to intimidate and control another person.

If this was a one-time incident, you were wise to put your foot down immediately and say “This behavior is so inappropriate and destructive to the health of our family, I will not tolerate it.” and separate. Your husband has taken responsibility for his drinking and abusive behavior, gone to counseling and is working hard on not repeating it ever again. I applaud both of your efforts here.

If that is the case then I think it might be time to help you daughter express specifically what she is hurt by and/or angry with and what her father could do to make amends to their relationship. Did she witness the abuse? If so, she might be experiencing some post traumatic stress and need some help in processing those memories.

I also think that you might start talking with her about forgiving her dad, even if she doesn’t trust or feel safe with him yet. She is at a very vulnerable age where she is tempted on all fronts. Holding on to hatred and bitterness gives Satan a foothold into her spirit and emotional life (Ephesians 4:27). Even if she isn’t ready to reconcile with her father, she needs to not only feel her feelings, she needs to process them in order to move on and let go of this hatred.

On the other hand, if this was not a one-time incident but the last episode in a series of abusive incidents then there is a lot more damage to the family, marriage and children and 5 months is hardly enough time for adequate healing to take place. Sadly, too many spouses’ allow one time abusive incidents to grow into a regular pattern of abusive behavior because they did not draw a firm enough line at the first whiff of abusive behavior.

Your counselors are right to give your daughter space, but is she able to express specifically why she hates her father and what he has done to hurt her? For example, has he been abusive to her (physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually?) as well as to you? How has their relationship been throughout her 13 years? Did they ever have a close bond? If not, why not? If so, what ruined it? Perhaps at some point in the counseling process, your daughter could join your husband for some family counseling or repair work on their relationship. I would suggest at least some of this be done before any talk of coming home is done.

You ask how can he prove he’s different if he only sees her 5-8 hours a week but if he can’t show her he’s safe during those 5-8 hours, he won’t be able to do it longer term. It starts slowly and then builds. Although you say your husband has been patient with the healing process and takes full responsibility for his behavior, by the overall anxious tone of your letter, I suspect you are feeling some internal pressure to hurry the process along. I think you’d be wise to pay attention to where that is coming from? Is it from your desire to please everyone, fix things and create this happy family or is it from him wanting you to allow him to come home or do something to change your daughter’s attitude?

We must be discerning of an individual who may be sorrowful, but not necessarily repentant of their abusive behaviors. Here are some of the things I look for when trying to discern if someone is truly repentant:

1 They accept full responsibility for their actions and attitudes (no blame-shifting).
2. They acknowledge their brokenness and sinfulness in detail.
3. They recognize the effects of their actions on others and show empathy for the pain he/she caused.
4. They are working to develop new behaviors and attitudes of healthy relationships.
5. They can an accept consequences without demands or conditions.
6. They are willing to make amends for the damage they caused.
7. They are willing to make consistent changes over the long term.
8. They are willing to be consistently accountable to someone.

Go through this list. Has your husband shown enough evidence of these 8 steps and do you see specific progress in step 4, working to develop new behaviors and attitudes of healthy relationships? If so, then I think you can be his greatest cheerleader with your daughter. If not, then perhaps you need to press pause and wait to see the fruits of repentance evidence themselves more fully.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous on December 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Speaking as a woman who has seen an abuser change, the list leslie provided is a very good checklist to evaluate true change. Also, make sure to test it over time (2-3 months or 5 months is really not very long). Physical abuse is always accompanied by emotional abuse and those manipulations and patterns can be very difficult to change.

    I am concerned for your daughter as 13 is a tough age in general. Just being in a home where abuse is occurring has a profound effect on children. I hope you can find someone for your daughter to talk with about how she is feeling.

    Best Wishes!

  2. Anonymous on December 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I, as well, am concerned for your daughter. The father/daughter relationship for a 13-year old girl can be in a state of change anyway, and to add verbal/emotional/physical abuse coming from her father, whether she witnessed it or not, can be so scary and have such a negative impact on her.

    Please, please, please take your time in helping her. Give her as much time as she needs to process this. A 13-year old is not an adult, and most likely will not be able to process this the same way you have.

  3. Amy on December 4, 2010 at 12:28 am

    The list that Leslie provides to see if someone is truly repentant is excellent. It is important not to go by someone being sorrowful and sad about what they did, but truly see if they are sincere in changing their destructive behaviors. Talk is cheap, but actions speak loudly on whether there is true change.
    When my abusive husband of 20 years left almost 2 years ago, I prayed daily for God to keep my eyes opened to the truth, and He did. I was constantly shown through my husband's actions and from what others shared with me re: the lies he told about me, that change was not happening, even though he constantly spoke of wanting to get counseling and such.
    And it does take time for healing. I'm still working through it and my two teen sons need space to get to that place where they forgive and are not full of bitterness towards their father.

  4. John on April 4, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I am a Christian father who had an accident on the workplace when a heavy fast falling overhead shop door was slammed on my head by a fellow employer and suffered neck and lumbar herniations, associated blindness from temporal visual field defects and has a traumatic brain injury (TBI). I had enrolled in college at a local community college three weeks before the accident, to complete what I had started some 25 years earlier. I do realize with the injury, combined with trying to be a wonderful husband and father the girls needed would be difficult, along with completing my college would be a bit much, but I was prepared to handle the challenge. I had lengthy talks with my family and they said they would support me if this is what I wanted to do. My counselors, friends and doctors agreed if I was to work again I could not do it with my back, but had to be employed with my mind, which in most all cases required a college degree, which I didn’t have, but had accumulated 45 hours from past previous attempts. So at this point I went for it, but with neck and a full concussion this was going to be rather difficult. and was informed by my psychologists and doctors to return home after being living away to attend college. During every other weekend we were together, but this was not enough for a healthy family environment. When I was offered the scholarship we as a family talked about it. The family accepted it. At the time those children living at home were our two daughters 13 and the youngest just about to be 10. I talked with the girls about this and the oldest said she is fine. The youngest didn’t know how to express herself. I was away for about 5 years until the end of a masters degree. One of the most difficult things was happening to me about midway through my masters was I could not stay awake for the life of me. I was seeing a sleep neurologist who was not offering much help, so I managed to source a more qualified sleep neurologist. To speed things up I found a great sleep neurologist and I graduated college. During the middle of my masters degree I could not stay awake and didn’t know what was happening to me. After graduation and wrecking my car 100 feet outside my apartment the time I was writing my thesis, which I was so tired. I graduated and we were trying to get to the bottom of my tiredness. My doctors told me to return home and try and reunite with my family. When I went home they became used to living without me and looked at me and said what are you doing here? I realized what was going on so I knew I had a slow and long road ahead with God’s help to mend what brokeness there was with me being away. With the neuorologist’s findings I have a sadly have a severe case of narcolepsy which was going to be a difficult one to get even stabilized. My wife is strong, but the news was a bit much for me after all the work we all patiently went through to attain my college degree to better the family, like went up in smoke before our eyes. The heartbreak led to problems we started to have with yelling at each other and this is verbal abuse. I talked with my doctors and don’t know what to do. The youngest doesn’t want to be in the same room with me and literally hates me. I had even been hospitalised for a suicide threat with a gun. The constant screaming, a yorkie terrier barking all the time, our yoingest hating me is a bit much for my wife and I. We have been to some counseling and constantly seeking God’s help. Our daughters are very successful in school. The oldest has almost completed her degree at a well named university. The youngest is about to graduate high school and is a member of the student council, active in sports and has acheived a lot aa far as school and the community are concerned. She attends church at a local body. I attend church at our church while in college. The oldest attends church there as well as the youngest daughter loves the church there as well. My wife loves the church as well. We will make it I believe with God’s help, but there are certain things attributed with the injury which get on my nerves bad. A constantly barking yorkie and whistling. It never bothered me before, but it is a mind blower for me. I love my wife dearly. She is such a wonderful mother to our children and wife to me. My psychologist jokes and comments “You are going to have trouble in your home with a lady in menopause and a man with a TBI.” I ask for your guidance because I am torn by our youngest hating me. She is seeing a school counselor. My wife’s dad was living in our home for three years and I asked him to find a place to live after being there 3 years. It was difficult to understand how my wife could be screaming at the top of her lungs to my face with her father standing 5 feet away. This was so humiliating. My wife and her family are from Philippines and they cater and respect their elders. So there are many variables to our problem. Dealing with multi culture learned traits, brain injury, menopause, abandoning my daughter at a young age, not being able to work until I am better stabilized with my TBI and mainly the narcolepsy. It is difficult, but is possible only with God at the center. Thanks for readingand possibly commenting with my correspondence.

  5. John on April 4, 2014 at 11:39 am

    (Revised)
    Hello Leslie,
    I am a Christian father who had an accident on the workplace when a heavy fast falling overhead shop door was slammed on my head by a fellow employer and suffered neck and lumbar herniations, associated blindness from temporal visual field defects and has a traumatic brain injury (TBI), frontal lobe syndrome and anxiety/depression. I had enrolled in college at a local community college three weeks before the accident, to complete what I had started some 25 years earlier. I do realize with the injury, combined with trying to be a wonderful husband and father the girls needed would be difficult, along with completing my college would be a bit much, but I was prepared to handle the challenge. I had lengthy talks with my family and they said they would support me if this is what I wanted to do. My counselors, friends and doctors agreed if I was to work again I could not do it with my back, but had to be employed with my mind, which in most all cases required a college degree, which I didn’t have, but had accumulated 45 hours from past previous attempts. So at this point I went for it, but with neck and a full concussion this was going to be rather difficult.  We were together on average every other weekend, because the school is 90 miles from home. After looking back, I believe this was not enough for a healthy family environment. When I was offered the scholarship we as a family talked about it. The family accepted it. At the time the children living at home were our two daughters 13, and the youngest just about to be 10. Our oldest child is a son and he had already left home. I talked with the girls about this and the oldest said she is fine. The youngest didn’t know how to express herself. I was away for about 5 years until the end of a masters degree. After school was completed and I graduated, I was informed by my psychologists and doctors to return home to reunite with the family, after lived away from home to attend college. One of the most difficult things was happening to me about midway through my masters and I couldn’t stay awake for the life of me. I was seeing a sleep neurologist, who was not offering much help, so I managed to source a more qualified sleep neurologist. We worked on trying to get to the bottom of why I was always so tired. My sleep studies showed while I was in REM sleep, I would be there for one and a half hours at a time and my deep sleep was only a few minutes. After graduation and wrecking my car 100 feet outside my apartment, which was the time I was writing my thesis. I graduated and we were trying to get to the bottom of why I was always so tired. When I returned home to try and reunite with my family I encountered trouble. They became used to living without me and looked at me and said “What are you doing here?” I realized what was going on, so I knew I had a slow and long road ahead with God’s help to mend what brokeness there was with me being away. With the neuorologist’s findings I have a severe case of narcolepsy, which is expensive to treat and was going to be a difficult one to get even stabilized. My lumbar required two surguries as well with an eventual fusion. My wife is strong lady, but the news was a bit much for us, especially after all the work we all patiently went through to attain my college degree. I did this to better the family and it seemed like it went up in smoke before our eyes. This heartbreak started leading to problems in the home and with our marriage, as we started yelling at each other and hurting each other with words, which is verbal abuse and not helping the children either. I talked with my doctors and don’t know what to do. The youngest doesn’t want to be in the same room with me and literally hates me. I had even been hospitalised for a suicidal threat with a gun. With the constant screaming, a yorkie terrier barking all the time, our youngest hating me and other issues, is a bit much for my wife and I to handle. We have been married almost 23 years and this is very difficult to bear for all of us. We have been to some counseling and constantly seeking God’s help through church marriage seminars. Our daughters are very successful in school. The oldest has almost completed her degree at a well named Texas university. The youngest is about to graduate high school and is a member of the student council, active in sports and has acheived a lot a far as school and the community are concerned. She attends church at a local body. I attend church at our church while in college. The oldest attends church there as well as the youngest daughter loves the church there as well, but it is too far she feels. The youngestcwill attend college yhere upon her high school graduation. My wife loves the church as well. We will make it I believe, with God’s help, but there are certain things attributed with the injury which get on my nerves badly. A constantly barking yorkie and whistling. It never bothered me before, but it is a mind blower for me. I love my wife dearly. She is such a wonderful mother to our children and wife to me. My psychologist jokes and comments “You are going to have trouble in your home with a lady in menopause and a man with a TBI.” I ask for your guidance because I am torn by our youngest hating me. She is seeing a school counselor. My wife’s dad was living in our home for three years and I asked him to find a place to live after being there 3 years. It was difficult to understand how my wife could be screaming at the top of her lungs to my face with her father standing 5 feet away. This was so humiliating. My wife and her family are from Philippines and they cater and respect their elders. So there are many variables to our problem. Dealing with multi culture learned traits, brain injury, menopause, abandoning my daughter at a young age, not being able to work until I am better stabilized with my TBI and mainly issues with the narcolepsy. It is difficult, but is possible only with God at the center. I think I have been selfish with the feat of possibly attending school, but my family, doctors and friends informed me by saying it was great to keep me busy during a 7 year court battle with the injury. Thanks for reading and possibly commenting with my correspondence. God bless and again I give you many thanks.

    John

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy Note® II, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

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