Question:

I have always felt parents should be united in discipline with their children. This has worked well for many years but as the teenage years have come in this has become hard if not impossible for my husband and I to agree. Our teenage daughter has struggled with anxiety and depression since about age nine. We have gone through a lot of counseling (her and I together) which has brought us really close where my husband is mostly critical of it. She is doing much better now thanks to good help.

A year ago she announced she does not have a testimony and considered herself an atheist. We insisted she has to continue with church, early morning seminary and church standards. We are both devastated at what she has announced but my husband is angry. It also came out she had read a lot of anti-Mormon stuff on-line.

She is a relatively good girl, lives by our standards and goes to church, contributes positively in church classes, etc. He overreacts to everything she does and they argue constantly. We are also now arguing as I see the way he is acting is pushing her further away. We have seldom argued in 20 years of marriage.

She has now confided in me that she is probably gay or at least bisexual. I reacted a lot better than I think she expected, showed love and no anger. I referred her to the church website “Mormons and Gays” and have discussed who she has a crush on at the moment and in the past, she has yet to have kissed either a boy or a girl so it is only crushes. She does not want her father to know.

This is where I struggle. I don’t want to tell him, as I fear his angry reaction and pushing her further away. But I don’t believe we should have secrets in our marriage. How do I act when I disagree with him and his behavior and feel a need to protect my daughter?

Answer:

While I’m grateful your daughter has a safe place to discuss her beliefs, identify, and feelings, I’m also concerned about the stability of your marriage, as you now have been pulled into a secret keeping role with your daughter.

I see that you and your husband have been split over the years on how to best help your daughter. It sounds like he’s had difficult with her therapy and other interventions you’ve arranged to help her. Has he been a part of these discussions, or are these things you have unilaterally decided? If he’s been left out of these decisions by deciding he doesn’t get to have a voice in these matters, then I can understand why he would feel upset.

If you’ve extended him full transparency and opportunities to be involved, but he’s chosen not to, or become so reactive that it derailed the process, then it’s important to turn toward him as a spouse and co-parent so you can both work in her behalf. You and your husband are obviously coming from different approaches on how to parent your daughter. This is a good time for you both to work harder than ever to understand each other and find common ground in behalf of your daughter. She deserves to have the full support of both her parents who can be there for her as she navigates the future.

Now that she is revealing more information that is more difficult for her your husband to hear and process, it really exposes the split in your marriage. Your daughter is going through a challenging time right now and she shouldn’t have to carry the additional burden of knowing that her mom is keeping a secret for her. This alienates her even further from her father and sets you up to both see him as a threat.

If you really feel like your husband is a threat to your daughter’s safety, than that’s a different issue that should be handled with outside support. However, if he’s struggling to understand her, then he needs a chance to learn how to be there for her, even if it’s painful for him. I believe he has the potential to be a major support and influence in her life if given a chance. I’m certain he loves her as much as you do and I believe it’s unfair and harmful to keep him in the dark. She deserves to have as much support as possible during this challenging time.

The challenge is that you’ve already established a relationship with her your daughter where she knows you are split with her father and won’t share things with him. If you’re going to parent her together from this point forward, you’re going to have to make some difficult decisions about supporting her by keeping secrets or supporting her by working in a unified way with her father.

If you decide to include your husband in your daughter’s life, make sure to talk with your daughter about your decision before you share anything with him. She may not agree with it, and even threaten to stop talking with you. I think it’s healthy for children to know that mom and dad have a tight marriage and co-parenting relationship. Children need to know that mom and dad work together on behalf of their children.

You can validate the fears she has that dad might get upset and how scary that is for her. At the same time, reassure her that you have confidence in him that he can learn how to be a support to her. Tell her you don’t want to keep secrets from him and that something as significant as this development is something you certainly don’t want to hide.

You want your daughter to have joy and you want peace in your home. This only comes from being unified. President Henry B. Eyring taught that “[Heavenly Father] cannot grant [unity] to us as individuals. The joy of unity He wants so much to give us is not solitary. We must seek it and qualify for it with others. It is not surprising then that God urges us to gather so that He can bless us.”[i] The only way for you to have true peace and joy in your family is to bridge the gap between these divided relationships.

Begin with your marriage and together you can figure out how to best reach your daughter. As you have confidence with her and with him that this can lead to greater family unity and closeness, your role will change from secret keeper to unifier. Your daughter, your husband, and you all need more openness and unity as you move forward with these new and unexpected opportunities for growth and connection.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

 

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

[i] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/our-hearts-knit-as-one?lang=eng