I fear my daughter will reject me if I separate from her father

Tell Me About It: I find myself staying in a relationship that is impacting on my emotional health and I feel so desperate

PROBLEM: I believe I am stuck in a cycle of being hurt and ignored in my marriage and I just feel the timing is never quite right to leave. I worry I won’t cope as things will probably get harder before they eventually improve. I have a 12-year-old daughter who naturally loves us both and I desperately want her to learn and know how a man should behave towards a woman. At the moment, I’m scared because she seems to have got closer to him and I fear she will reject me if it is known that I have decided on separation. I worry about the timing since my parents have faced my siblings separating as well, which is most unfortunate. They blame themselves as they think it must be something they did or didn’t teach us growing up.

I believe it is because we are good and kind people and perhaps we were unfortunate to have been preyed upon as really there is no reason to why it has happened. I find myself staying in a relationship which is proving to impact more and more on my emotional health and it is particularly difficult at the moment as I’ve such low self-esteem and feel so desperate at times trying to cope. I have visited my GP and begun antidepressants and counselling which is helping.

I just need to find the strength once again to face the decision to leave, I think.

ADVICE: You sound very stuck, but the fact you have seen your GP and are attending counselling is the beginning of action. Decision-making is very important to our well-being and not making a decision, or putting it off, has consequences which you are now suffering. Our confidence depends on making good decisions for ourselves and on being heard and understood. You will have the latter need met in counselling but you can begin working on your decision-making right now.

It sounds as though you have decided on separating. If so, the next question is what are the steps towards achieving that? If we do not follow our decisions with planning, actions and commitment, we can end up in an entirely different place to the one we intended. This means that you need to take actions (speech and behaviours) that follow this decision: your husband is the first person who needs to hear from you. While it is very difficult to do this, it will have the effect of committing you to a process of separating.

Your daughter loves you both and her best interests will be served by her parents taking responsibility for their relationship and managing the separation well. Mediation offers expertise and negotiation and couples can engage and follow a well-known path to an agreed solution. You want your daughter to see what good adult behaviour is like and this is your opportunity to show strength, compassion and determination.

Perhaps part of your difficulty with self-esteem is related to your idea that you and your siblings can be “preyed upon”. If you hold on to this notion you will believe that you are not in charge of your emotions and relationships but are being oppressed. Is this really true? The danger with continuing with this idea is that it leaves you feeling small and vulnerable and perhaps with the idea that you need rescuing. There is no reason why “good, kind” people cannot also demand respect and allegiance. There may be a family tradition of self-blame and this can lead to a very inward and self-negating stance. That your siblings took action is worth noting, as there is also a family story of eventually taking difficult decisions. It seems that trusting your intelligence and taking action at the right time is something that needs developing.

Right now, you need lots of self-care but this also means doing something that causes you great distress, so good resources and supports are needed. Keep your mind on the next step only, as otherwise you are likely to shrink from fear of the imagined impact on your relationship with your daughter. Demonstrate to her that your love for her is unbreakable and respond to her issues with calmness and confidence. Show her that she has a strong adult in her life, one that is affected by adversity but one that can face life with hope and self-belief. Your confidence will grow by accepting you are in the situation you are in, getting all the help and support that you need to face it and by staying true to your plan of action.

The decision has been made and now you need to voice this to your husband and then together you plan the best way of telling your daughter and managing your future parenting relationship. There are many steps on this road and taking one at a time will be feasible for you.