Are you a despairing mother whose daughter is in an abusive relationship and you’re at your wits end trying to work out how best to support her?
Have you opened your home time and time again, then your daughter comes home and you and your family try and help her through the drama she’s having with her abusive partner, but then she goes right back to him?
Is watching the way he treats your daughter breaking your heart?
Judy, whose heart was breaking witnessing her daughter living with an abusive man, made a comment about her daughter under my post Warning Signs that your Male Partner is Controlling you:
“We hardly ever get to see her …. It’s all a lot of small things — calling her names, abusive to the max, being unfaithful. It doesn’t matter what this boy does she takes him back.”
Another mother told me:
“My daughter and I and her dad are really close and love each other loads. My husband and I have always found his behaviour to her to be selfish, sexist, uncaring, disrespectful and at times cruel. When I visited her to talk about what we were seeing, her reaction was withdrawn and non-committal, she was very loving, but said we had blown it out of proportion.”
This mother was advised by Domestic Violence organisations not to push her daughter to take any action and to leave such decisions to her. Current research shows this is the best action in cases where coercive control is involved. But that may seem counter-intuitive to you. I’ll explain how to support your daughter below. Meantime, this mother went on to tell me some ways she tried to support her daughter. This mum’s approach is the recommended way, despite her daughter minimising her experience:
“I tried to keep checking on her — she always said things were fine and they were getting on well. Their wedding went ahead, he behaved very nicely in front of all the guests. All my friends said we were worrying needlessly — however he is very convincing. As time’s gone by my daughter became pale and ill looking, and seemed deeply unhappy. We noticed behavioural changes including she is now saying and doing things to try to please him even when totally against her character and interests. . . . . Recently she seems to be withdrawing from me in particular — doesn’t reply to my emails and avoids taking my calls. Again we told her our concerns about the changes we were seeing in her and about his behaviour towards her. But this time she vehemently denied everything, said she was happy, accused us of having it in for her husband and judging her marriage, and mostly refused even to hear our reasons for concern, so it was all very difficult. Taking her denials as a cue we didn’t mention the word ‘abuse’, we tried to keep it calm and play it down a bit, and at no time did we criticise her husband as a person – only some of his behaviour. I have to confess that I am finding it all a terrible strain and miss my daughter very badly, but realise that there is not much else that we or anyone can do at this stage other than, whenever possible, to monitor the situation, fight against the increasing estrangement of our daughter from us her family, give her a bit of relief from the relentless abuse every now and again if we get a chance to do so, and make sure that if we get a chance to let her know we are there for her.”
Have the impacts of abuse led your daughter to . . . .
- become defensive and push you away?
- be jumpy, hypervigilant, and walk on eggshells round her partner?
- appear to bury her needs and her pain, minimise the harm being done to her?
- modify her behaviour to fit in with his wishes, demands, commands?
- seemingly not assert herself, not challenge or confront her partner?
- do whatever it takes to avoid or reduce his abuse?
- avoid revealing the truth of her situation to outsiders?
- develop fatigue, exhaustion, confusion, depression, anxiety?
- live with shame?
- consider herself as unworthy, not good enough, inadequate, and that something is wrong with her?
- ignore her own voice and intuition?
- lose her perspective and adopt his?
One mother told me that as time has gone by, she and her husband feel in a catch 22 situation because their daughter has drawn back from them even more, is less communicative and in less and less contact. This mother said that:
“if we try to overcome this with lots of phone calls, emails and suggestions to meet up it seems to feed into her husband’s smear campaign about us. He has made up fabricated stories about us to our daughter — that we are pushy, intrusive, over-protective and jealous of our daughter’s closeness with him and his family.”
What is he doing that’s causing your daughter to reject you?
His month-by-month smear campaign slowly, but surely, divides and conquers the loving relationship between daughter and mother . . . .
- He instils stereotypes into your daughter’s head by telling her that you are a lying, interfering, overbearing and meddlesome mother-in-law who needs to back off.
- He uses a system of rewards and punishments — rewarding her loyalty to him and punishing her for reaching out and connecting with you.
- He fosters distrust in her by manipulating her belief system, her interpretations and perspectives about you by telling her that you’re extremely controlling.
- In conversations and arguments with your daughter he consistently degrades, insults and criticises you, slowly teaching her to hate you, others in the family and friends.
- He constantly tells her that his perspective is right and her family’s perspectives, beliefs, behaviours, and lifestyle are bad, wrong, false, etc.
- He lowers your family’s status and talks up his own family’s status. Many mothers I’ve spoken to who are going through these experiences have observed that the man’s entire family supports his divide and conquer strategies.
- He restricts her relationships with her family by saying he loves her and wishes she’d spend more time with him and his family.
- He may outright prevent any alliance between your daughter and you by restricting contact in any form — phone and Skype calls, and time spent face-to-face. He may insist she move towns or countries with him, isolating her from family and friends.
- And finally, he brainwashes her into believing she needs to grow up and separate from you by telling your daughter she’s just a ‘mummy’s girl’.
Rachel, who rejected her mother whilst in an abusive relationship gives advice to mothers:
“I did that to my mum – didn’t talk to her for 6 months. Sadly she passed away. I had only just begun talking to her to be honest. My ex hated my mum and I didn’t talk to her as it was easier than getting him angry with me. She was a dragon and I stayed away, coz if he knew he went over and threatened her. My advice is never shut the door on your daughter and know she loves you but it’s hard.”
Failed attempts at supporting your daughter?
Instinctively you might have tried to get your daughter to leave her partner, tell her you don’t like him, tell her to assert herself and stand up to him, tell her to meet her own needs and stop kowtowing to him. You might have become angry and aggressive and threatened to cut off support. In exasperation you might have told her she’s stupid, obviously can’t think for herself and you might have confronted him. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a coercively controlling person, they believe they are always right and are driven to get their way at all costs. They deny wrong-doing, minimise harm caused, and they blame and manipulate the victim. If anyone tries to interfere in his “territory” he will retaliate — he will turn your attempts into an excuse to further degrade you and he will continue to coerce your daughter into taking sides — he will do what it takes to make her be loyal and dependent on him, and to be disloyal and break away from you.
Your daughter is doing the best that she can in these abusive circumstances
Research shows that while in relationship with a coercively controlling man, women are constantly safety planning, constantly managing ways to keep herself (and her children if she has any) . . . . keeping as safe and sane as possible. And she manages this whilst also dealing with his tactics that have distorted her reality and perspective. It is often safer to stay in the relationship than to leave. Leaving a controlling man is the most dangerous time for many women. The chance of further control, and further violence rises when she leaves, or threatens to leave. If he has not used violence in the past, the chance that he will do so at this time is high because coercively controlling men, for various reasons, cannot stand it when they lose control of their partner. Leaving is the most common time when a controlling man murders his partner — many controlling men threaten to kill their partner if she leaves, which is one reason women refuse to talk to outsiders about the abuse they’re experiencing. Check out my blog on assessing danger here.