Dear Beloved Readers,
Welcome to November, dear readers, and greetings from the sunny state of Arizona! As the rest of the country begins to bundle up against the chill of autumn, we here in the Grand Canyon State are still basking in the warmth of our desert paradise. November is a month of transition, where the scorching summer heat gives way to cooler, more comfortable temperatures, making it the perfect time to explore all that this unique world has to offer. So, grab a cup of your favorite fall beverage, cozy up, and join me as we address a deeply sensitive topic that many Christian women find themselves wrestling with. It is a heart-wrenching dilemma—how to talk to your adult children who've grown up witnessing the storms of an unhealthy marriage.
Question: “What do I tell my adult children who still live at home and who have seen a very unhealthy marriage their whole lives and choose to believe it's because I don't like their dad? I can no longer stay. What they don't know is he's an alcoholic, sex addict, controlling, emotional abuser who won't get therapy and is just trying to stop or cut back on his behaviors now that he knows I'm ready for divorce.”
Dear sister! I see you, hear you, and feel you. Thank you for the courage to show up here to seek support. It's not just about your children thinking that you don't like their dad. I too am a Christian woman acquainted with divorce, alcoholism, sexual addiction, as well as the power and control dynamics. The ripple effect of each is devastating and destructive.
Your children are witness to the external stresses, yet are unaware of the inner struggles both you and their dad are battling. My mother was an alcoholic, my family members have been abusive. I was aware of the bad behavior. I didn't want to admit it. I was afraid to acknowledge the harm and the hard. Yet, I lived it. You, your husband, and your kids are living hard and harm too.
Your husband is responsible for his behavior. You are responsible for yours. I pray that he will take the steps necessary to get healthy. He cannot do this work without support and help. These behaviors are destructive. They are destroying families by the thousands.
Adult children may not be able to fully grasp the depth of the issues within their parents' marriage. In fact, many do not want to believe that either of their parents would embrace destructive habits. It is easier, (although not healthy or true), to say someone dislikes another human than to accept that abuse is happening. The truth is that abuse and addictions of any kind are harmful and destructive.
Before discussing what to say, let’s explore WHO you want to be and HOW you can prepare yourself for this crucial conversation. I pray it will be the first of many meaningful moments.
It’s time to gather up your courage and share the truth.
There are steps you can take to have a courageous conversation with your kiddos. Let’s start there.
Pause. Take a breath and spend some time to get clear about the challenges you have been wrestling with. How have his choices impacted you?
As you pause, focus on understanding, not blame. Even though it may be a natural impulse to cast blame, avoid that strategy.
Pray. Ask God for the courage to see and speak the truth. He will give you wisdom to know what to say and when. Ask Him to give you a heart of humility so that when you speak the truth, you will do so with grace and love. James 1 says that if we lack wisdom we can ask God and he will give it to us.
Preserve your Identity in Christ. Take time to reflect on your own life experiences, beliefs, and values. Consider how your faith in Christ has shaped your identity and influenced your decisions, virtues, priorities, and relationships. Remember that your identity in Christ is not based on your performance or achievements but on God's grace. It's about who you are in Christ, not who you are in your own strength. Who does God say you are? Take ownership of your worth.
Listen to my interview with Leslie for some guidance and direction here: We talked about values and virtues!
Prepare your words. Hard words need not be harsh words. This is too important a conversation to leave to chance or emotions. Take the time to write out what you want to say and rework it until it says exactly what you want it to say. Rehearse what you’ve written at least 20 times. This is a difficult conversation and you want to make sure you say what you want to say without forgetting something. You may only get one shot at this kind of conversation, do everything you can do to say it well (Psalm 141:5).
As you plan and prepare, provide information about the challenges your family has been wrestling with. Share specific instances without casting blame. This approach will help your adult children understand the gravity of the situation without feeling pressured to take sides.
You may want to include something like: “I am aware that you have seen and felt some of the difficulties in our family, especially in my relationship with your father. I need you to understand that what I am about to share is not easy, and it's not because I don't “like your dad.”
“There have been issues in our marriage that go beyond personal likes or dislikes. Your dad has been struggling with addiction and emotional issues, and this has created an unhealthy environment for me.” I love our family. I am no longer willing to live with the unhealthy choices your father is making.
Prepare your heart. As you uncover these truths, approach the conversation with honesty and compassion. There may be a wide range of emotional responses from your children—confusion, anger, sadness, and even denial. Hold their emotions with patience and empathy. Get curious and if appropriate, ask them how they have experienced their father. What they have noticed about their dad's behaviors, and habits? Be willing to answer their questions when appropriate. You can validate their feelings, even if you don’t agree with them. Reassure them that your love for them remains unwavering.
Be prepared for their reactions, which may include confusion or questions.
Practice. Rehearse out loud what you’ve prepared. Listening to yourself say what you want to say over and over again will help your emotions calm down and better prepare you to speak calmly, clearly, and firmly. Your words will be better received if you are direct and not overly emotional.
Don’t forget a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Plan the time and place. Don’t initiate this difficult conversation when you are tired, hungry, or distracted by other things. After all your prayer, preparation, and practice, ask your children for a time to be set aside to talk where you can ensure the best chance of being heard.
Place the Outcome in God’s hands. He is faithful. You can’t control another person’s feelings or reactions, but you can control your words and your voice tone to make a positive outcome more likely. However, the scriptures remind us, “As much as it is up to you, be at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
My friend, there are times when humans do all of the right steps, and yet our loved ones are unable or unwilling to hear what we have to say. This is not the time to return to your own unhealthy ways just to keep the peace or preserve the relationship. You must persevere in your own growth yet show patience with your children, asking God to help them see.
When you’re finished, respectfully listen to what they have to say, yet don’t allow yourself to be mistreated. Extend the benefit of the doubt and when you don’t understand ask curious questions to clarify.
Your decision to have conversations that matter takes courage. I believe in you!
Knowing what you will tolerate and what you will not can be one of the most loving things you can do for your relationships. Living in alignment with your values is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and your family.
Addressing this situation will call you to greater patience, love, and an abundance of compassion. It won't be easy, but it’ll be worth it! With God as your guide and support, you, your husband and your children can find a healthier way forward. One step at a time. Please let us know how your conversation goes!
My friends, How have you prepared your body, mind, heart, and words for difficult conversations?
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