What can I do about an adult child who mistreats her spouse? Our daughter is married to a good, kind, giving man. We love them both very much, but most of the time my daughter is disrespectful and mean to her husband. He's passive and just takes it from her. It pains me to see her constantly treat him this way in front of us, their children, and other people. I want to speak with my daughter about her behavior, but my husband feels like I would be overstepping my bounds. Our entire extended family is aware of and upset by this, and the situation is only getting worse. What should we do?
That's hard to say without more information. From our perspective, it's difficult to know exactly what you mean by "disrespectful and mean" in this context. Are you talking about serious verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse? Or are you simply saying that your daughter tends to adopt a harsh tone when addressing her spouse? These distinctions could make a huge difference in the long run. If you believe that her behavior is seriously destructive – a genuine threat to someone's physical safety – you may need to step in and try to do something about it. If not, it becomes a judgment call.
A great deal depends upon the quality of your relationship with your daughter. If the lines of communication between you are such that you think she'd be open to hearing your concerns, we suggest you talk to her about your feelings. Naturally, you should take some time to think things through very carefully and plan your strategy before taking this step. You might say something like, "We can't help noticing the way you talk to Bill. The whole family is aware of it. It hurts to hear any wife address her husband in such critical and dismissive terms, but it's especially painful when the couple in question are your own daughter and son-in-law. Do you mind my asking what's going on between you two? Would you like to talk about it?" If she responds positively, you can follow up by praying with her and discussing the problem at greater length. Wise motherly advice is a good thing, and most daughters welcome it when it's presented in the right way. But you need to bear in mind that advice isn't advice until it's asked for.
If your daughter proves resistant to your overtures, we suggest you back off and commit the situation to the Lord. As a full-fledged adult and a married woman, she is now your peer in every sense of the term rather than your "child." Try to look at her and her husband as if they weren't related to you. If you adopt this perspective, you'll be far less likely to inappropriately inject yourself into their relationship. In many cases, caring concern expressed by a third party – a pastor, mentor, counselor, or good Christian friend – to whom your daughter might be more inclined to listen, may prove to be a more effective means of intervening.
Meanwhile, if your daughter's method of relating to her husband makes you uncomfortable or creates an awkward situation for other guests in your home, you can easily remedy the situation by adopting a "my house, my rules" approach to the problem. You can't change another person's behavior, nor do you have the authority to dictate to another adult how she should talk to her spouse. But you can say, "At my house we have a rule that everybody is required to treat everybody else with respect. If you don't want to observe my rules, you don't have to come to my house." If your daughter refuses to comply, stop inviting her to family gatherings.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss this situation at greater length with a member of our staff, we'd like to invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling Department.
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Parenting Adult Children