My daughter is in an abusive marriage, what do I do?

It’s extremely upsetting to learn that someone you love so much is in a relationship with a controlling and cruel person. Your first inclination might be to do something heroic, like confront the abuser and give him an ultimatum that if he lays a hand on her, he’ll have YOU to answer to. Trust me, I lean towards that response.

Unfortunately, as good as it might feel to do, charging in “loaded for bear”, will only make matters worse for your daughter. Resist any urges you have to run over there and let that bastard have it. If you confront him, she will be the one to pay for it when he’s got her alone and there’s no one to protect her.

The best thing you can do is to continue being there for her. Tell her that you understand her situation, you’re sorry she’s in it, and that it’s not her fault. Let her know that she can call you any time, day or night and that you will always be there for her.

Do not judge her for staying with him. There are so many reasons women stay, and if she senses that you want her to leave and that you don’t understand “how in the world she could stay”, she will most likely throw a wall up between you two and then you’ll lose your position of influence in her life.  She’ll stop sharing with you what’s going on, and you won’t be able to help her when she needs it most.

It’s important not to put pressure on her to leave her husband or make immediate decisions. This can be a tough piece of advice to follow because we want our children to be safe and not be treated like this. But it is an extremely complicated decision to make, and she must be the one to make it when she’s ready. It’s not something that can be forced unless you know that she or her children are in imminent physical danger or you witness violence. In that scenario, call the police.

Remember, too, that you must be wise in communications with her. Your son-in-law may be monitoring her texts, emails, mail, and listening in on conversations. Be careful how you word things; don’t put her in harms way or jeopardize your relationship by being to pushy or obvious with your approach.  Being patient and gentle with her will have the greatest benefit in helping her.

You can also make sure she knows the number to the National Domestic Abuse hotline (1-800-799-SAFE). My hope is that other countries also have hotlines that victims can call.

I think it’s very powerful for a mother or a father to let an adult daughter know that the abuse is not her fault, that you are there for her day or night, and that there is no shame in leaving a marriage when there is abuse. As a matter of fact, I’d tell your daughter that it takes an incredibly brave woman to leave an abuser, but that no matter what she chooses, and it is her choice to make, you admire her and know what an incredibly kind and strong and loving person she is.

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