My 14 year-old daughter doesn’t want to talk much with her father or spend any time with him. She says “hello”, “good morning”, and “good night” and will answer a question, if asked. For the past two years, she’s been feeling like he doesn’t really listen to her, he doesn’t understand her, rarely wants to bend or be flexible on issues, and they’ve had many, many arguments which I believe were unnecessary. We are married and live together, but don’t have a good marriage. We rarely discuss things in front of our teenage children, but they sense we don’t have a loving relationship. He now wants to force her each month to have father/daughter time alone doing an activity. He believes some of the activities should be based on what he wants even though she isn’t interested in that activity. He thinks children should want to please their parents and that’s what they are supposed to do. He thinks that this will help to repair their relationship and one day she’ll enjoy their alone time. Should a teenage girl be forced to have father/daughter alone time doing an activity that she doesn’t want to do?
While I imagine your husband could improve his relationship skills with your teen daughter, I believe your broken marriage is creating the negative impact on their relationship. At some level, I imagine your daughter is simply modeling the distance you’ve established in your marriage.
You’re right that your children sense the lack of a loving relationship. Consequently, they also know to keep their distance if mom and dad aren’t feeling close. I have to wonder if your daughter feels disloyal to you if she has a close relationship with her dad.
Granted, your husband may have difficulty connecting to you or any of the children, thus creating the struggle with her. However, instead of focusing on what she should do with her relationship with her father, I recommend you focus your energy on getting your marriage straightened out. Chances are, if you’re feeling close to your husband, your daughter will feel more comfortable connecting with him.
I imagine she not only senses the lack of love between you and your husband, but also notices the hundreds of other non-verbal signals that show you are avoiding each other. Are you open to working on your marriage and sending a clear message of unity and connection to your children?
Until your marriage is stronger and your daughter receives the message from you that the coast is clear to connect with dad, I wouldn’t make her relationship with him a huge deal. In fact, I would approach your husband and tell him that you want to work on your marriage because you believe it’s negatively affecting the relationships with the children.
If he won’t work on the marriage, then forcing your daughter to connect with him will be a losing battle. She can learn to stand up for herself and tell him what she likes and doesn’t like. Ultimately, her relationship with him is something she’ll be in charge of, so allow her to decide what she wants to do. While you can do everything you can to strengthen your relationship with him, your daughter will have to decide if she wants to be close to him.
If he expects you to back him up and force your daughter to do things with him, this is where you can redirect the conversation back to the failing marriage. You can tell him that you don’t even feel close to him and want something different. Take charge of your primary relationship with your husband so you can create a climate of connection in your family.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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