Wow, we’ve had a lively discussion this past week and you all are learning how to speak up for yourself, ask compelling questions and challenge one another while staying in CORE. Please continue to be careful about jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about another person’s motives. Healthy debate and disagreement invite us to reflect and think but it’s crucial that we first listen respectfully to one another.
Nobody is right all the time. What we think the Bible says just might not be what it means. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought they had the “law” nailed down. They were confident that they understood the Holy Scriptures. Yet when Jesus came on the scene, he turned much of what they thought and believed upside down. Sadly they refused to listen and learn a new way of thinking or being. It was too threatening and challenged their entire religious power structure. It was easier to kill the messenger.
I’ve always invited and respected a healthy dialogue even when we disagree. This is the only way to keep our own mind from getting cobwebs of our own making. Let’s continue to stretch ourselves to know God, his Word and one another.
Today's Question: I have only recently accepted that my marriage is fully abusive and I am struggling with the concept of needing a safety plan but considering I check off 6 of the 9 “DANGEROUS” attributes, I guess it is true. I am afraid that at some point in the future I will have to separate in some way.
The problem is, I know my spouse is actively recruiting my children, 19, 18 and 15 years old, against me. Telling them how much I am hurting him by setting boundaries. I don't want to speak negatively about him to our children but I am so afraid to lose my kids if I need to separate. What do I do?
Answer: I am so glad you are waking up to the danger for you in your marriage and also the possibility of your husband alienating your children against you. Unfortunately, this tactic is common in abusive marriages and sometimes it is very effective.
It sounds like you have been a woman who has “put up” with everything that has been dished out to you, with no protest or boundaries, believing it was the right thing to do. Now you have learned how unhealthy that posture is and have begun to use your voice and set boundaries. However, your new voice is foreign to your family and in using it, you will likely be labeled as mean and uncaring.
Why is that? Because their history and definition of a good mom, even a good Christian woman is that she has no boundaries. She never says no and always accommodates everyone else despite what It costs her. And from what you wrote, you have silently aligned with that picture as your children have watched you over the years.
When you raise your children to see the role of wife and mom to be one of sacrificial service, where a good mom or wife has no needs, feelings, or boundaries of her own, it now plays into the storyline your husband will begin to create about you. In everyone’s eyes, you have changed. You are being selfish by asking for something or expressing your feelings. You are being ungodly by refusing to go along any longer. You’re the one who is breaking up the home because now you have these boundaries.
I don’t say this to hurt you but for the benefit of the younger women who read this blog. You must recognize over-functioning not only hurts you, it hurts your children and your marriage. When you have young children it’s important to teach them that you are a person, not just a role. You must begin to establish the importance of mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom in your household.
When a woman values her own self, she speaks up for what she wants or needs, even with her own kids. Click To Tweet
For example, you might say, “No I can’t do that for you right now, I’m busy doing my art project, or studying for my class.”
As you regularly practice this, your children begin to learn that you are not just a mom, but you are also a person who has your own life and needs and goals. They learn that you do not exist just to serve them, but to glorify God by your life and that includes doing things that may have nothing to do with your role as wife or mom.
But that does not help you where you are right now. So let me give you some ways to begin to mitigate the possible alienation of your children.
1. Commit to telling the truth, which is the first component of my CORE Strength teaching. Own and confess your problem with your children. You said you don’t want to disparage your husband and I applaud you for that but you still must speak the truth to them.
For example, you might say to young adult children, “I’m learning something about myself that I need to change. I’m learning that I’ve never been honest with myself or you guys about what bothers me, or what I need, or how I feel.
I’m learning that you can’t have loving or healthy relationships with people who don’t really know you. I also am learning that to have a good relationship with someone it requires both people to give and both people to receive.
I think I’ve taught you as kids that it’s okay to receive good things from dad and me but not to give back and I don’t think that’s been good for you. So I’m changing and it might look like I’m becoming mean or selfish but that’s not what’s happening.
I’m just trying to be more real and honest with how I feel and what I need. I love you and want to have a good relationship with my children and in order to do that, I need to hear and respect your feelings and thoughts, and likewise, you need to hear and respect mine. I need to be available to help you out when you need me to and likewise, I need you to be willing to help me out when I need you to.”
You can’t control what your husband tells them about your changes but you can control what you tell them about your changes. You have some say in the story they hear so make sure they hear the truth. You can’t control what they choose to believe but you can give them enough information to believe something different than what their father may tell them.
2. You can be truthful about your marriage and your husband without being disrespectful or disparaging, especially when the children are older. For example, if dad is acting threatening or scary you can say, “Sometimes I’m scared of your dad. He doesn’t handle his temper very well and it scares me.”
If he only does this with you, it will be harder to say this because they have no evidence so instead you can say, “Dad and I are having problems and I’m not sure I will be able to continue to live with dad unless he or we get help.” Again, you are giving your kids enough information to contradict their father’s version of you being an uncooperative or ungodly woman breaking up the home.
You cannot control which parent your children choose to believe but you can give them a different version of things to think about (without all the gory details). Here’s another example. When your kids accuse you of “taking all dad’s money.” You can respond. “I don’t have the power to take all of dad’s money. The judge decides what is a fair and legal distribution of our joint marital assets.”
You can factually explain things without saying that Dad is a liar or a bad person.
Remember, even if he’s been a lousy husband to you, if he’s been a fairly decent father to them, your kids won’t want to take sides. And most kids do want to love both of their parents, even when the marriage ends.
Work hard to empathize with their feelings, while holding firm on your boundaries. For example, “I understand this hurts.” Or “I know you never imagined that dad and I would get a divorce.” Or “I know you don’t understand all the reasons why I’ve made this decision but I don’t want to put you in the middle.” Or “ It’s okay for you to love both me and dad, even if I can’t stay married to him.”
The more you can stay in CORE, showing your children your own strength and stability, coupled with empathy for the pain they are going through, the more your good character will reveal itself to them regardless of what their father says. It may take time and a lot of patience on your part, but continue to work on you and pray for them. The alternative is to return back to the voiceless, choice-less woman you were, which does not help you or them.
Friends, what have you done when you sensed your spouse was alienating your children against you?