Faith, Family, and Facing Change: Talking About Divorce with Adult Children

My friends, it’s time for fresh starts and new beginnings. The chill of winter is melting away, and the budding and blooming plants, trees and flowers are reminders that profound transformation is in God’s plan for this next season in North America. Spring brings more than just warmer weather and blooming flowers; it’s a symbol of healing and renewal, much like the thriving plants in my 2 hydroponic gardens that I started this winter here in Phoenix. I have been growing herbs and vegetables through the winter months, defying the cold and birthing a fun, life-giving hobby. I love growing my own food! This season reminds us, as my own garden has, that change is natural, and growth is possible even in the least expected conditions.

Question:

Hi Leslie, I am so thankful I found you. I have been in an emotionally abusive marriage for 28 years and trying to not completely lose myself and find strength to believe it doesn't have to be this way. My question is: How do you tell your kids you are getting a divorce. We have not made that final decision, but one thing that keeps me stuck is knowing that I would be breaking up our family and what that would do to our kids. My daughter is 22 and my son is 19. Both are strong in their faith. My daughter has seen all that has gone on and is fully aware of my husband's behavior. Though I know she would love to see a healthy family, I don't feel like she would fault me or be surprised. My son is strong in his faith and also extremely knowledgeable. I feel he may see and believe some of what I feel women have been raised to believe about divorce. He sees his father’s behavior and just kinda goes with “that's dad.” On one hand I want to show our children a healthy marriage and family and on the other hand I want to show them it's not okay to be treated like this and God wants more of each of us. Do you have advice around this for me and my guilt. Also, scripture and words in telling our kids. I know deep down my children love me and want the best for me, but it does paralyze me in making a decision with the guilt that I could mess up my children and break up our family.

LeAnne’s Response:

Dear Beloved Reader,

Your heartfelt message resonates deeply, reflecting a journey of immense strength and faith through 28 years in a challenging marriage. It's clear you're navigating this path with great care, seeking a balance between your deep commitment to your family and the need to live in an environment free from emotional abuse.

Your children, at 22 and 19, are at stages in their lives where they can understand complex emotional landscapes. Their strong faith, like yours, is both a source of comfort and a lens through which they view the world. Initiating this conversation requires sensitivity to their individual experiences and beliefs.

Back in November I answered a similar question and gave these thoughts– I invite you to have a look and prepare yourself well for your upcoming conversations and decisions.

Today, I want to speak to the guilt you’re feeling—the kind that comes creeping in when you think about the possibility of ending your marriage. It’s a heavy thing to carry, and it’s got a way of making you question whether you’re making the right choices, doesn’t it? Please find comfort in the words of Matthew 11:28, where Jesus invites those who are weary to find rest with Him. That's a rest from all burdens, including the kind that guilt lays on your shoulders.

Taking steps to remove yourself from a destructive marriage isn’t a betrayal of your family; it’s an act of bravery. It's not about failing to fix what's broken; (I imagine you have “tried everything”) It's about realizing that some things and all people are beyond your control, and that’s okay.

When you sit down with your kids, you might find it natural to let this guilt sneak into the conversation. Remember, you're modeling what it looks like to choose health and peace over remaining in harm’s way. Jeremiah 29:11 can be a powerful reminder that there's a hope and a future on the other side of tough decisions. Open the door to courageous conversations about how hard choices can lead to the healthiest outcomes.

As you navigate this conversation, give yourself grace. It’s not about assigning blame; it’s about seeking a more peaceful, safe, and healthy life for yourself, your husband, and your children.

For your daughter, who has been more aware of the situation, a direct approach that acknowledges her understanding may be fitting. Start with, “I’m aware that you notice the challenges at home, and I value your insight and strength as I think about the best path forward for us all.”

For your son, who may have a different perspective, framing the discussion around the concepts of respect and dignity, might resonate more deeply. Say, “We all seek a life where love and respect guide our actions—both within our family and in our relationship with God. I'm contemplating changes that align with these values, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.”

Guilt often arises from our deepest love and commitment to our family. Yet, as you've wisely noted, God desires more for us than to remain in destructive relationships.

You've been carrying a huge sense of responsibility, which is both a testament to your strength and a burden you've had to bear.

Let’s continue with a chat about what belongs to you, and what belongs to others. In other words- boundaries. Like a gardener who prunes away the withered branches to allow new growth, setting boundaries is often a vital step towards health—for yourself and for your family. Proverbs 4:23 teaches us to “guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,” reminding us that our emotional and spiritual well-being is the wellspring from which our life flows. By guarding this wellspring, we ensure that we can give the best of ourselves to God and to our loved ones.

Deciding whether to end an emotionally abusive marriage isn't just about dissolving a relationship; it's about affirming your worth, taking responsibility for your safety and taking ownership of your life choices is not a denial of responsibility to your family; it’s a recognition that you can make choices for your well-being. In doing so, you model to your children what it means to take personal responsibility and not be paralyzed by the fear of others' reactions or the guilt of choosing a healthier path. It’s a powerful lesson vital at any age.

Reach out to your support network during this time. Engaging in discussions with faith leaders who understand the complexities of an emotionally destructive marriage offers you a space to explore your feelings and the potential impacts of your decision in a supportive environment.

Join us here in Conquer! 

For you and your family, there will be moments of grief, confusion, and potentially, relief and newfound peace. Encouraging open, ongoing communication about these feelings is vital. The conversations will come in many layers.

Looking forward: Just as spring follows winter, bringing new life and beauty, so too can your family find a renewed sense of unity and purpose through this transition. Your decision will be made from a place of love and a deep desire for a future where each of you can thrive in an environment of respect, safety, and peace.

My friends, How have you planted the seeds for a future where the values of dignity, respect, and love are not just ideals but lived realities?

8 Comments

  1. Caroline Abbott on April 10, 2024 at 10:46 am

    I have been where you are right now. I did all I could to “save” my marriage. Over time I realized I couldn’t save it alone, a marriage takes two people. My kids were teens when we split. Some of them have been very supportive, and have realized that their dad is abusive. Others have struggled, especially when I remarried, and told me I didn’t have “biblical cause” for divorce, so remarrying was committing adultery … I am sure these are words straight from their father’s mouth. I had to make some hard choices, but I don’t regret my choices for a second. My kids all married healthy people, people just like their step-dad. I am sure they would have made worse choices if I had stayed. And, God gave me the courage to step out in faith in ministry, to write books about abuse, to become a counselor to others experiencing abuse. My life now is beautiful and fulfilling. I would NEVER go back to what I experienced.

    • Caroline Thompson on April 11, 2024 at 9:42 am

      I love that you are in a healthy relationship, Caroline. I too am in an emotionally/spiritually abusive relationship. I discovered porn on the home computer 4 years ago. He is doing nothing to get help for all his childhood trauma (and trauma from a first marriage that ended with the wife and their 18 month old daughter moving hundreds of miles away). Our 30th anniversary is this September. We have 5 grown children. The youngest ones are 21 yr old twins who still live at home. He has very little connection with his children as well.
      We live in the same home but separately. I don’t believe God is telling me to leave my home. I also believe He said to wait 5 years(from the discovery of the porn) which will be August 2025.

      • Caroline Abbott on April 12, 2024 at 9:52 am

        I love that you are honoring what you believe God has asked of you. I pray you are able to find good people to support you (support groups, counselors, friends) as you walk this difficult road.

  2. Cynthia Shirley on April 11, 2024 at 9:12 am

    2 years ago, I finally ended my 39 year marriage by filing for divorce when I realized “this (abuse) is never going to end” My daughter (age 36) said she was never more proud of me. We’ve grown closer. My 2 sons have been so conditioned and manipulated by my ex and his father they have sided with their father. I’ve been on my own 4 months now since the divorce became final. The difficult part is not the smear campaign and seeing him re-invent himself in his own hometown. The hard part is trying to find ways to communicate with my sons. My older son has cut me off. He’s very much like his father and grandfather. My younger son is not like them but he is easily manipulated by his older brother who he’s always looked up to and manipulated by his father who plays the role of the victim in everything. We were close during his high school years but his father (my ex) worked hard to change that. The rest has been easy and the freedom has allowed me to begin growing spiritually. I’m not isolated any longer. Within 4 months I’ve met and made many Christian women friends. Still the weight of their resentment and watching them become more like their father is painful. I’m pouring out prayers for all the women who seek Leslie’s counsel and her ministry.

  3. D.D. on April 11, 2024 at 10:49 am

    I actually did an Internet search on how to tell adult children about an impending divorce and I found that helpful. I wrote out what I wanted to say and rehearsed it so that I wouldn’t get sidetracked. My husband and I had been separated for three years so my approach was a little different than just springing the idea of divorce on someone with no warning. following are a few things I shared with my son who was in college at the time.

    About the marriage:
    Your dad and I have not been able to talk through a lot of things & get them resolved because his way of handling things have been damaging, and some things occurred that have caused me to feel unsafe. I am going to be okay regardless.

    To my young adult son:
    I know this is painful to you and probably embarrassing.

    It is normal for you to have strong feelings of being hurt, upset, sad, angry, resentful because it’s loss, it’s grief.

    You may feel unsure about or even have a distorted understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like, and you may question your own ability to maintain a lasting relationship, but I want to encourage you in that area to be observant and learn and allow God to refine the rough places in your own life that lead to maturity and wisdom.

    I also want to encourage you to avoid any destructive behaviors to numb any pain you feel as you process this, but rather to press into God; His word says that He is near the broken hearted. And He is the one who gives us strength to endure, no matter our circumstances. And ultimately peace. Read Psalms.

    How do you feel? What are you thinking? What are your concerns? Do you have any questions?

    Encourage him to get therapy to deal with the emotions he is feeling and the questions he may be having.

    My son seemed to take the news well. He wasn’t surprised, partly because we had been separated for so long, but also because he had observed his dad’s destructive behaviors. That said, he did not want to go to counseling and to this day does not want to open up or discuss anything about it. He tells me that he has worked through it, and although I question that in my own mind, he is the only one who truly knows. We were always very close and have remained so. I am very thankful for that.

  4. Joan on April 11, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    So encouraged that I am not alone. I have been struggling in an abusive “Christian “marriage for 29 years. My children are all adults 31yrs, 28yrs, and 19years. I have 2 grandchildren and another one in the way. My daughter first introduced me to Narcissism 11 years ago through her counseling. I have been enlightened through the study of Narcissism over the last five years. Including reading Leslie’s books and blogs. Knowledge has been empowering to help me consistently put up boundaries. Dealing with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder is exhausting. I am in counseling now to prepare for divorce. I never thought I would face this decision but my husband chose not to do counseling. His position is “take it or leave it”. We will be married 33years in June. I have exhausted all resources and now my future health is compromised. Through prayer and godly counsel I know it is time to move on.

  5. LeAnne Parsons on April 12, 2024 at 10:37 am

    I am so honored to hold space and hear your stories… thank you for sharing with us! You are loved and supported in this space my friends!

  6. Kari on April 14, 2024 at 4:14 pm

    This resonates with me as that is the age of my children. Thank you for sharing.

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