Good Morning, Friends! My name is Susan King, a coach on the Leslie Vernick & Co. team. I have the opportunity to fill in for Leslie by addressing today’s blog question.
As I let my dogs outside this morning, I was reminded of the coming fall. The morning air was cool and crisp; children were getting up and out for school. Like many midwesterners, I am sad to let go of the beautiful summer weather and all the fun that summer brings.
Last month, I was able to spend a week relaxing on a lovely beach with friends. This month, I have been participating in back-to-school night, the town picnic, and varsity football volunteer opportunities. As the seasons transition, so do my responsibilities, my schedule, and my wardrobe.
Taking time to transition is important to me. I find it helps me to remain centered and brings a sense of calm. And I don’t just mean transitioning from one weather pattern to the next. Life is full of transitions, some are welcomed and some come with protest. For me, transitioning means letting go of one thing and preparing for another. I like to take a pause to consider my thoughts and feelings connected to the letting go. Then I notice my thoughts and feelings about what is to come. When I pay attention to myself, I discover who I am and what I need. This process allows me to know how to best help myself and find the right support.
Perhaps you are in a life transition, where life was one way and it is shifting to something different. Maybe it's a relationship that once felt loving and safe but now you are noticing destructive patterns. If that is true, don’t stay in those patterns holding on to what once was. It may be time to transition into the reality of what is now and get more support or learn new skills to help yourself be well.
Today’s question: Do you have any advice on how to create a safety plan when your husband parentally alienates during a disagreement? My husband will often say “Why is mommy so angry? Or, go away mommy! Mommy is mean! Mommy is angry” When I am oftentimes not even raising my voice, I am just disagreeing and standing my ground. My husband will keep this up for hours! Any advice? Thank you.
Answer: Your question is much appreciated. I am sure many readers can relate to this issue, which is very common in destructive marriages. The tactic of parental alienation can be effective, and you are wise to seek out ways to help yourself with this problem.
I will assume this is a long-standing pattern that you have already tried to address head-on with a conversation. For the sake of the readers, I will give an example of having a private, assertive and respectful conversation with your husband about how he communicates to the children.
You might say “I have noticed lately that you are directing your questions and comments about me to our children. It seems like this may be causing them to think poorly about me. Is that your intent? I would prefer that you address me directly about these things. I don’t think it is helpful to our family for them to hear these messages from you. Are you willing to talk to me directly when you are upset with me?”
By inviting your husband into healthier interactions, you may find that he is willing to make changes. You are also letting him know that what he is currently doing is not okay with you.
Your husband’s voice isn’t the only one influencing your children. You also have a voice in your relationships with them. You can talk to your children directly about your truth without dishonoring your husband. You cannot control what your children believe, but you can make sure they have the opportunity to know your character by being intentional about the ways you interact with them and others.
It sounds as though your children may be young; your truth to your children in the moment may sounds like, “Mommy isn’t angry or being mean. I have a different opinion than Daddy. Disagreements can be hard, but they are normal in relationships. We can still love others who disagree with us.” Or perhaps you are angry; you may want to acknowledge your feelings. “I will own my own feelings here. Mommy is angry because Daddy is speaking to you about things that are between him and me. I am not going to go away just because we don’t agree. We can be together even when we are different or have big feelings.”
Your truth to your husband in the moment may be, “I am willing to talk to you about how I feel. Are you interested in listening to me about my feelings? When you tell me to go away, it seems like I am only welcome in the room if I am reacting the way you want me to react; is that true?”
If you are using your voice and the parental alienation persists, document what you are experiencing. You may want to seek legal counsel in order to learn your rights and how to protect yourself in the event of a divorce or separation.
The most important way to plan for your safety from parental alienation is to get support, get counsel, and make sure you don’t allow your voice to be silenced by your husband’s attempts. He may be trying to devalue you or make you seem crazy. Don’t lose yourself in the midst of this problem. When you are provoked by a harmful person, it can be easy to react in ways that do not align with your character and values. Get the help you need in order to keep your own integrity.
Beloved readers, how have you managed your situations with a destructive person who tries to alienate your loved ones from you?
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How do I stop living in fear of my husband’s words?
Blessings everyone! I am truly grateful for all of you who take the time to read this blog. If you haven’t noticed, I’m taking just a little bit of my blog space to share some personal musings and thoughts with you from time to time. I want to get to know you and for you…
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Morning friends, I appreciate your feedback on incorporating some new topics into the blog next year. We’re going to start next year by talking about our “shadow” side and false self. I think it will be beneficial for you to understand this concept not only for your own emotional, spiritual and mental health but also…
I have the opposite problem. I am in a nasty divorce with my husband has falsely accusing me of “parental alienation”. Go read up on Richard Gardner, the “founder” I parental alienation. He was a pedophile who came up with this BS theory to get the courts to justify allowing him to continue molesting his children, and for other abusers to continue abusing their children. It was a way to discredit protective mothers in the court room. Seriously, just Google his name and you will be shocked. I’m sorry for what you are going through, but be careful using that word. It has been outlawed in Europe, and even debunked and discredited by most medical associations in the United States including the American psychiatric Association.
I am sorry to hear that, Olivia! It can be very stressful to deal with those accusations. May God place His protection over you.
I’m so sorry to hear about what you & your children are going through. I know it’s sickening that a father could intentionally harm their own kids by harming their mother…but that has been my reality too… (via a 30-year-abusive-marriage-from-hell.) If my “battle weary” perspective can help anyone, please keep reading. Knowledge is power & knowing the opposition’s “Achilles Heal” is also powerful. Truth Be Told, Parental Alienation is not a “new” phenom… it’s just getting more & more recognized by the divorce courts & psychiatric communities, so make sure your lawyer is well versed & up-to-date with the DSM-V status of “Parental Alienation” as an “official” diagnosis because taking the stance that PA doesn’t exist could harm your case because there are different potential/not yet “official diagnosis” of Parental Alienation: (1) “TRUE Parental Alienation” — (2) “FALSE ACCUSATIONS of Parental Alienation” — (3) Reverse or “Mutual” Alienation by BOTH parents… My abusive spouse has been alienating our 23 yr old son against me for 23 years. The “good” news is that a Mother’s Love is INVINCIBLE so my son has not been 100% “alienated” though he has emotional scars that will haunt him & his own family/kids the rest of his life. The only thing atypical about my case circumstances is that: (A) I’ve got 23 years of hard evidence/proof of alienation: videos, audios, photos, medical (psychiatric & psychological records),letters handwritten, police reports; clothing, “gifts,” witnesses like school teachers who tried to intercede, etc. — that could prove my husband practiced Parental Alienation against me using our own son; and (B) I never “reverse alienated” my son by trying to alienate my son from his own father & I also have proof of that as well. So (PLEASE) be careful about what strategies you & your lawyer decide to use since Parental Alienation diagnosis is gaining ground. I just saw on a Facebook group that a Parental Alienation Professional Group (of licensed psychologists & therapists) are petitioning for the DSM-V (psychiatric manual) to get edited to include “Parental Alienation” as an official diagnosis so PLEASE tell your lawyer to look into this & see if this is a real possibility or not that could impact your case. Please know that I have no “skin in the game” nor any special “agenda” because I never made it into Divorce Court, so I speak without bias , prejudice or any personal agendas. Parental Alienation is (BOTH) a real, toxic abuse tactic (AND ALSO CAN BE A FALSE TACTIC — A LIE) used to accuse an innocent parent of intentionally alienating their kids). I know you are in agony in the “Gladiator Arena” we call “Divorce Court” but we moms know the power of our love for our children so you WILL make it & succeed in protecting yourself and your children! NEVER give up! Reality Check to Help Moms Protect All Our Children: When Hitler’s Nazis forced machine guns into the hands of Jewish children at Death Camps & sadistically commanded those children to “choose” to shoot/kill either their mother or father into those mass grave pits… these poor children were “brutally mentally crucified & traumatized” – they were forced to “choose” to kill their own mother or their own father…. THAT is exactly what True Parental Alienation does to a child’s heart, mind & Soul (along with other lifelong scarring & damages)…. So be cautious & keep up-to-date & aware of what is happening in the psychiatric/psychological fields so you can protect your children. A Mother’s Love is INVINCIBLE & in your heart you already know this. So… Maybe… some of us moms are just destined by God to go through “King Solomon’s True Mother Test?” I chose to be King Solomon’s True Mother.– because I could not hand my son a “Nazi machine gun” & demand that he shoot his own father, which would be akin to asking my son to shoot himself… Because I would sooner let King Solomon rip that sword through my heart & slice me in half… before I picked up a sword & intentionally put it through my son’s own heart. Somehow, someway…. hang on… find sanctuary & peace… so your children will have their mother; keep your eyes on the prize: Your children’s hearts… I pray for your protection & healing & your children’s protection & healing. In Love, Light…and Peace.
Do you have any links that can help attorneys be informed about PA so that they can defend mothers against false accusations?
I have been going through a high conflict divorce with my husband who is also claiming parental alienation due to our son not wanting to see him because of the abuse. Our son was diagnosed with PTSD in the Summer of 2021 after I left. My husband used to make similar comments to our son when we had a disagreement. When things were going good he would tell our son derogatory jokes about me and get him involved in making fun of me in a way to belittle me. I would address such issues and things would escalate. If he knew something bothered me he would intensify whatever it was I didn’t like. The verbal and emotional abuse soon turned to physical abuse like squeezing my wrist in my public if I said or did something he didn’t like. Reaching over and pinching me. This to escalated after I addressed this behind closed doors, in 2019 my husband was arrested and charged with domestic violence. I still didn’t leave! “Trauma Bond” Then the emotional abuse turned towards our son in 2020 and we were all locked in the house together. This emotional abuse soon turned to physical abuse towards our son. This is forced me to leave on May 13, 2021 at 5:30 in the morning! Please leave before your children are affected as bad as mine. Sadly, I didn’t know I was a domestic violence survivor until after I left.
It helps me to kindly yet firmly restate my own worth verbally. Ouloud. I am a beloved daughter of The Most High God. My thoughts, feelings, needs, beliefs…the core of my heart matter a great deal to God. My response internally is I start to go numb in such interactions. This is God’s signal to me that I am not feeling safe in the interactions and that I need to re-enter in Him. Casting my pearls before somone who is behaving with swinelike disrespect to me and trampling on my heart is a signal to state some healthy boundaries dries while requesting g change. Bottom line…my heart so osely to God’s that my heart is the hidden treasure and the only way to get to it is through God. Restate that. I like your wording in how she speaks directly to her children and how she sets appropriate adult boundaries regarding the matter to them.
The pearl of great price is not accessed by robbing the a d violating the protective shell with harshness.
Thank you for that reminder, Kim! Our words have power. You are indeed the daughter of The Most High King.
I have been suffering the effects of parental alienation since my divorce from a (narcissistic cheating manipulating) husband of 20 years. It is extremely painful to have no relationship with two of the precious three children that I homeschooled from birth (I believe education begins before their born) until placing them in private school so I could earn a living to support us only to have my older two children tell me (after they begged to have a choice which parent they would live with and when they would come and go) that they no longer wanted to live with me and stopped spending any time with me. Then they accused me of abandoning them when I remarried and moved three hours away. The youngest has continued to have regular time with me and my now husband and has a positive bond with both of us. Not sure what to do about the older two since the counselors I attempted to hire would not take the case because of the children’s resistance and not wanting to force counseling (I’m not into forcing either, but something is wrong with this picture!). I understand it takes a lot of time and money to win a case on parental alienation and then, what do you gain if there’s not counselors that are qualified to bring real help? Just taking it to the Lord in prayer. He’s the only One who knows how to untangle the messes in our lives. And, by the way, the alienation groundwork was laid during the marriage. It only exacerbated after the divorce. I didn’t see it coming though, and probably would have done some things differently if I had recognized it earlier on. Now it’s been about a year and a half without them. My solace is that the Lord sees. The Lord heard. And, He has a plan. O, for grace to follow it and not run ahead or lag behind. He loves us and our children more than we do and He works all things together for our good if we will love and trust Him above all the other competing voices! He alone is able to adjust all things perfectly and is always safe to trust—even when we don’t understand or we have to wait!
Yvonne, thank you for sharing. I am earlier in my process but it following yours closely. Your story gives me hope. Yes, the Lord has a plan and works all things together for the good of those who love Him.
I have set boundaries with my husband after years of trying to talk to him with no resolution. We have been separated now for over a year and a half, and there has been no evidence of heart change. He continues to be cruel, selfish, won’t take responsibility, and consistently violates my boundaries. He even forced me to have sex with him in the wee hours of the morning in April while my small children slept nearby. I had set a boundary around intimacy that it would not be a possibility if he did not demonstrate consistent kindness and respect toward me. I’m dealing with that trauma which he sees nothing wrong with because I’m his wife and he has a right to me. The kids do not know the depth of his cruelty toward me. He makes comments about me to them, that I don’t care about them because I’m ruining their home, or even that I am cheating and that is why I don’t want to be with him. Lately, he is sulking, and pouting in front of them and they feel responsible for his emotional state just as I have and still do. I don’t know how to deal with this. How do I get past the feelings of being responsible for his sadness when I set boundaries? It is hard to maintain healthy boundaries when he is sulking, refusing to eat or sleep and telling me that he can’t live without me. It is hard on my children to see him like this. How do I help myself and my children cope with this behavior? I feel that I am being emotionally manipulated, but there is part of me that is scared of what he will do. Help!
Kim, his pouting and sadness are manipulating behaviors of a three year old. What a shame for a grown man to behave this way! Keep in mind that he is choosing to behave this way as his way to try to punish you for not giving him what he wants. It might help to keep reminding yourself that these are childish behaviors, not appropriate for a grown man. Please do make it clear to the children that this is not their fault and that they are not responsible for his emotional state. This behavior is HIS CHOICE, and it has nothing to. do. with them. A three year old might not be able to live without his mother, but a grown man can certainly manage to live without his housekeeper/cook/sex partner/etc.
Your boundaries have obviously made an impression on him, or he wouldn’t be responding to you in this way. He’s showing his true colors now, and you need to STAND YOUR GROUND! And that time he forced you to have sex? That’s called rape, my sister, and he has NO right to rape you. My heart aches for you, and I pray you can stand your ground and speak the truth without wavering. Much love.
Kim, you are not responsible for your husband’s emotional state or his abuse. You are describing what sounds like marital rape. Even though it is a hard step to take, legal help may be necessary for your safety. Don’t hesitate to call 911 if your safety is being threatened. The domestic violence hotline is 1800.799.7233. Please get the help you need. Your safety is my main concern at this point and developing a safety plan is a necessary first step. Getting support from the Leslie Vernick & Co community can help you develop strong emotional boundaries so that you don’t take responsibility for anyone else’s emotions. Take care of yourself!
Great topic and great advice on your part. Thank you- your insights were practical and proactive. Proactive… that’s a word I’m choosing because I’ve heard so many women express frustration and perceived helplessness around this treatment. And when they don’t have a partner who’s interested in preserving their relationship with the kids, they suspect they’re blindsided and demeaned purposefully.
I would really appreciate more conversation around this topic and even for it to expand to the parental alienation of adult children. Many women have shared that their ex-spouse will make plans that monopolize their adult kids > take them on family vacations, out to family dinners, holiday arrangements , etc. This happens often when the ex was an emotional abuser, but is now remarried and has created an alternate family. At the same time, he’s working on a victimized narrative and setting the adult childrens hearts against her.
Anyway- I’m sure you yourself are familiar with many of those kinds of stories. Again- I’m appreciative of your post and would love to expand this to a much larger conversation in the coaching community.
Peace to you
PSAP PMAP CSC APSATS
Thanks for your comments, Keri! The scenario you describe is a difficult one, for sure. Adult children will choose to believe what they wish. We are here to help women become the best version of themselves. Character speaks for itself over time.
Thank you for sharing this! I am unfortunately living the nightmare scenario you described, almost exactly. My ex-husband was physically and emotionally abusive to me when my children were younger. My adult children do not know this. Most of the abuse happened when my children were very young, late at night when they were sleeping or when they were at school. They never saw the bruises or knew about the marital rape that occurred.
God has helped me to forgive my ex-husband over the past 10 years, and I encouraged them to forgive him also. However, my oldest daughters behavior starting changing towards me. I just didn’t understand why. Just recently I found out that my daughter believes that I was the abuser and that I was at fault for the marriage breaking up. She has been the closest to my ex and I believe he may have played the victim to her. She is now convincing my other adult children. My heart is just broken. I can’t tell them now what he did to me, I don’t think they’ll believe me and they’ll hate me for destroying their view of their dad. I just don’t know how to deal with my adult children alienating me and believing that I was the abuser. This just cuts me to my very core.
My younger son recently saw a counselor who has told him that being spanked with a paddle was physical abuse. He now believes I was an abuser also and that he must have repressed memories because he doesn’t remember being spanked that much! He wasn’t spanked that much, it was a rare occasion, a last resort.
I thought being diagnosed with breast cancer in the past was devastating but this is worse. I am still recovering from treatment. I just don’t understand and feel so abandoned and mistreated, first by my ex husband and now by some of my adult children. Trusting in God for his help with this.
Cindy, speaking the truth is always best. Why not tell the children, who are now adults, exactly what went on in your marriage? Do you have any documented proof that you can show them, like photos or emergency room bills? If you do talk to them, do it in a way that is not defensive, but in a way that speaks the truth honestly. Give them the other side of the story, as right now, the only story they have is the one their father tells them. They have a right to decide who they are going to believe.
I don’t like operating from a base of “your truth” in conflict. Using language like that acknowledges that what is about to be said is not objectively true, but is only subjectively true. In other words, it is a watering down of the concept of truth & fact by presenting mere opinion & subjective perspective as “your truth”. Either parental alienation is actually happening or it’s not. If it’s only in the mind of the person claiming to experiencing so that it is only his/her reality, but not actually objective reality, then the problem is a problem of skewed perceptions in the complainant & not a legitimate behavior problem in the other person. But if the problem is objectively the other person’s behavior and not any degree of a perception problem from the person complaining, then using terms like “your truth” contribute to GASLIGHTING. Truth isn’t subjective whereas opinions & perspectives are….and that’s the God’s honest truth.
So well said! Thank you for clarifying. My previous “Christian therapist” gaslighted me for years about “my truth” and my husband’s. Ultimately, I felt blamed for not being able to make the marriage work despite the fact that I worked hard on learning how to communicate “my truth”, set boundaries, clearly share my needs (which he has consistently raged at me about), etc. I finally had to leave her and am grateful to be with a new therapist. I also felt judged and manipulated by previous therapist as someone pointed out, she was trying to sabotage my impending divorce. Her “Christian” views seemed to be guiding her behavior. As a Christian, I don’t get this.
Thanks for the response, Gisele. Yes, truth is something that gets debated quite a lot in our culture today. In my writing, I was not referring to the truth of parental alienation. I was referring to the personhood of wife and mother, her truth of who she is. Only she knows how she feels. Her husband is creating a narrative about how she feels and who she is. That is not for him to decide. She can use her voice and display her character so that others experience the truth about her. Certainly experience and perception are subjective. People must decide what they believe to be truth. God gives us freedom and opportunity to know and experience His truth and still some do not believe. In time, Truth will be known.
I almost totally disagree with your advice. Better advice is to run don’t walk from this abusive husband/father. Because he is, indeed, abusing the children with this kind of talk. Get the kids into counseling PDQ. My ex and his fourth wife (who was still in pigtails while he and I were married) turned this type of thing on my early twenty’s sons. The younger swallowed it hook, line and sinker with the result that nearly thirty years later he and I have a minimal relationship. My older son, thankfully, is much more balanced and decided what the ex and new spouse had to say was bunk. The saddest thing is that the brothers are no longer close either.
Janet, I appreciate your engagement with the blog. Abuse is not something we take lightly as a team. Each situation is so different and complex. We are here to assist and support but not to tell women when to stay or leave. With proper help, the path becomes more clear. As you will read in the other comments, parental alienation can continue even after leaving the relationship. Running from the relationship won’t dissolve this issue.
I feel like my husband may be trying to cause my grand children (early 20s) to disrespect me (not his biological grandchildren) . He started calling me by my first name to them. When I told him I preferred that he call me “Grandmom” when speaking with them about me, he escalated it, once doing it 3 times within about 15 minutes. I feel like he is trying to get me angry so I will react angrily in front of them and look like the bad guy. I also have caught him making faces behind my back to them. One of them even told my daughter that Granddad is a “stinker.“ Is it possible this is innocent, trying to be funny, or is he intending to do this. How do I handle this? It seems as soon as he finds out something bothers me he does it more.
If he called you by your first name instead of respecting your request to be called “Grandmom,” thirteen times in fifteen minutes, he’s doing it deliberately. Nothing innocent about this! He’s being childish and nasty. Is this longstanding, or is he perhaps starting in the early stages of dementia?
Susan, it is possible that he is trying to be funny. It is also possible that he is trying to get you to be reactive. Maintain your composure and don’t get reactive. If you have addressed it directly and he has not honored your requests, ignore childish behavior. Your grandchildren are seeing his character. They will see yours as well.
Thanks for this topic. I really appreciate the example given. And I really like the suggested language to speak to the children. But I see a lot of issues along with the triangulation in this whole interaction that are good for more discussion.
Consider that a husband could even say such words thinking that he was being funny or cute. He may have had a home ruled by his Mom’s anger. None of this is what we want in our homes. He needs help if he is will accept it.
1. The children need to learn that it is ok for Mom, Dad or them to be angry.
2. They need to learn how to express their anger in healthy ways and apologize if they fail to do so. The same for Mom and Dad.
3. And they need to learn to respect and obey whether Mom or Dad is angry or not. We don’t want families in which kids only respond when everything escalates into anger.
Thank you, Karen. Yes, these are good points. The wife/mother in this scenario can use her voice and her actions model this for her children even if the husband/father does not.
This is a very difficult and painful topic. I experienced alienation, albeit it is was with only one child, and not all of them. It was done covertly in their teen years. So I was blind to what was happening until the point where that one child hated me and wanted nothing to do with me and it caused rifts with their siblings as well. So whatever the evolving term may be, parents are powerful influencers for how children will view and interact with the other family. Alienation is real and heinous. If you are seeing it out in the open, in my opinion doing nothing is NOT a healthy option for kid(s) or for you. Speak age appropriate truth in that moment. “H, I am not angry, I am (name the primary emotion). ” If you are angry you can say “I am angry because I am hurt/frustrated (name the underlying emotion)….but I am definitely not mean. It’s not ok for you to call me that” or “Expressing a different opinion doesn’t mean I am angry or mean, it simply means I have a different idea. Are you interested in hearing about my thoughts now Or do you want to take a break and hear my ideas later today?” If you can, do not leave the room/situation as that will send the message that he says “go away mommy” and it works.
Model for everyone in the moment, that you are assertive, have self-control and how you’d want conflict to be handled. If he continues with the childish rant, you can call it out “You are starting to sound mocking. I can’t have a conversation with anyone who is mocking. I’m here whenever you are ready to talk instead of mock.” or “I love you very much but I don’t like how you are talking to me right now. Let’s talk about this later”. I think this is super important with younger kids, because they will pick up from him how they can talk to mom and it can potentially push your buttons to anger with them later should they pick up this approach with you. You can also when reading with your kids or watching something, point out to them when you see the characters handle disagreements respectfully and maturely and those where they dont. When there is name calling and how that’s not ok. You do not have to draw a direct connection to dad’s behavior. Most likely they will connect it for themselves in time. Also, when you mess up in your anger (and we all do), model for your kids how to apologize if you yelled or mocked. Talk in times of non-conflict about how we can lose our cool but we don’t lose our love for the other person.
Finally, if it is safe for you to do so, in private tell him exactly and briefly what needs to stop. Create a boundary around this destructive behavior. Get professional help for your kids should you start to see them pulling away from you/ talking to you like he does, etc. The good news in my story is that once the teen went to counseling, they understood what had been done to them, and relationships are being restored.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience, Dani. Praise God for restored relationships!