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How to Support Your Daughter in a Difficult Marriage

What advice or help can you give your daughter if she’s struggling with her husband? Here are a few tips for supporting your daughter during a difficult time in her marriage.

how to help daughter difficult marriageBoundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Cloud and Townsend is an excellent book to read. You need to figure out how to be supportive, yet you can’t take on your daughter’s marriage problems or save her from her relationship. You need to stay healthy, and stay in tune with your own responsibilities.

Here’s what a mother said about her daughter’s marriage: “My daughter’s husband has not been interested in her physically since she got pregnant. Even now, after three months after the baby was born, he says he is physically not attracted to her anymore. I want to give her the best advice, however my instinct is to say just pack your bags and leave. I think he is having an affair. He does have a job that seems to have him out of the house a lot. I asked her if he would be willing to do counseling. She does not believe he feels there is a problem. Any suggestions on the type of advice and support I should be giving her?”

It sounds like this mother-daughter team is very close! When your daughter confides in you about the sexual aspects of her marriage, she trusts you a great deal. This is both good and bad. Good, because it shows she respects your opinion and support. But it’s also bad, because you may feel helpless and powerless to “fix” her problems.

How to Support Your Daughter in a Bad Marriage

Giving your daughter freedom to make mistakes and be unhappy is hard…but it may be the best way to support her.

Be available when she’s ready to reach out

You can’t convince her to leave her partner or change her life, but you can be there for her when she needs you. Tell her that you’re willing to help her in whatever way she needs, but don’t push her to leave her husband. Tell her you love her and want the best for her, and you want to help her when she’s ready.

And, listen to her. Let her talk – don’t give her advice or counseling. When was the last time someone listened to you for 15 minutes without interjecting? It feels great to just talk without having to defend yourself, answer questions, or listen to others’ opinions. It helps us figure out what we really think and want – and it is amazing to just be heard.

I think one of the best ways to support your daughter during a rough time in her marriage is to just listen to her. Don’t think about what advice to give her, what to say, or what she should do. Just let her talk. Be there for her. Cry when she cries. Laugh when she laughs. Just be a mom or dad who loves her unconditionally. Don’t give her advice or be her marriage counsellor.

Remember what you don’t know

You may think you know what your daughter should do about her relationship and life, but perhaps you don’t know as much as you think. You may have beliefs and worries about her marriage, but do you really know what she should do? Are you sure you know what’s best for your grandchildren, son-in-law, or the future of their relationships?

Maybe you don’t know as much as you think. Maybe the reason you’re searching for ways to support your daughter in a bad marriage is because you honestly have no idea what she should do. You don’t know if she should leave him, where she should go, or how her kids will react now or in the future.

And that’s okay! It’s not your job as a mother to have all the answers. It’s your job to learn how to hold on to your faith when love hurts. It’s your job to love and support her no matter what happens in her life. Don’t push or nag her, and don’t assume you know what’s best for her.

Let your daughter be a grown up

Your beloved child chose to marry this man. She may not be happy – and she may even be abused in her relationship. She may give you her perspective on her marriage. But, you have to remember that you don’t know the honest truth about their relationship because you’re only getting her side of things. Even if you were a marriage counsellor, speaking to both of them and hearing both perspectives, you won’t know the actual truth. Marriage is very complicated, and partners bring their own flawed perspectives to the table. They don’t bring the truth – they bring what they believe.

how to support daughter difficult marriageIf your daughter asks for your advice, give her two or three options. Don’t say, “Leave him! I think you should end your marriage right now.” Instead, give her a few things to think about. Encourage her to make a decision that makes sense to her. “Well, honey, you could try marriage counselling or a trial separation. What makes the most sense to you?” You can give her advice, but it’s important that she makes her own decision about her marriage.

You might send her articles such as 6 Signs Your Marriage is Over if she asks for advice.

Protect your relationship with your daughter

This should probably be my first tip for mothers who want to help their daughters cope with cheating husbands or difficult marriages! I think you should let your daughter work out her marriage problems without your advice. Why? Because in the long run, you’ll save your mother-daughter relationship. If you push her to leave her husband or share your opinion about her marriage, your words may haunt you in the future. What if she works things out with her husband? She’ll never forget your encouragements to leave him. This will taint your relationship with both your daughter and your son-in-law.

Be Switzerland. You love your daughter and want the best for her; I think the most supportive way to show your love is to give her room to talk and share her feelings. Don’t tell her what to do. Encourage her to find her own way in her marriage.

Here’s another article I wrote for a reader who had a similar question: How to Help a Friend in an Abusive Relationship.

I welcome your thoughts on how to support your daughter in a difficult marriage below, but I can’t offer advice or counseling. You may find it helpful to share your experience, because writing helps us process our thoughts and emotions. Writing can bring clarity and insight, and help us see our situation in a different light.

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6 thoughts on “How to Support Your Daughter in a Difficult Marriage”

  1. My daughter went off to college drinking and drugging frequently. This had been coming on for while . Alcoholism in the family. She got kicked out of college..decided to do what it takes w mom and our church camp for wk that summer getting bck into school. She immediately hooked up w a very strict christen guy and he, before we knew it, knew everything about her ect. She took out everything on me and he permuted her alienation from me and and her very close brother. Onward with him… she graduated, him right next to her and his family, and married her 2 weeks later. Months later he cheated on her, was caught, she called her brother.Her husdand went to his church pastor and the words sex addict came up..They live a $ oriented life, him in $$..Seattle, Her friends are nill, she never wants to see me or her brother(HER CLOSTED LOVED ONES) yet they fly all over the place for parties, ect ect.nEVER A PIC TAKEN WITHOUT HIM HOLDING HER. We were so very close and she is chosing to be in this relationship.Hes in finance, salesman, controls all her money, everything has to be together. I CAN NEVER SPEND ANYTIME ALONE W HER.I live 1.5 hrs away, Ive seen them 2 tms this yr. We got a bad feeling about him..we keep our mouths shut and love her from a distance. Its painful!She just turned 28 and everything they do is in perfect order,She gave up her beautiful piano playing..Really nothing I can do..this is safe for her as it keeps her drinking and never really facing herself, on her own. Lots of family in Montanta cabins,I just got bck, they didn’t show up..I go to alanon and yet it hurts and the feeling I get when I with them is very dark. I love her thru it..anything else I can do??

  2. Dear Barbara,

    I’m sorry for what you’re going through, and that your daughter is in this difficult and unhealthy marriage. It must be very hard for you to see her and your grandchildren in this situation. I can see that you love your daughter very much, and you want what’s best for her.

    I encourage you to talk to a professional counselor about how to respond to your daughter’s marriage. It sounds like it’s a complicated situation, and I don’t know enough to give you advice. A counselor can help you see what you can and can’t do, and guide you through a decision-making process that will benefit both you and your daughter.

    It’s also important to remember that your daughter is a grown woman, and she is making choices about her life. She needs to do what she thinks is best for her and her children. You can’t change her or make her “see the light” about an unhealthy husband or difficult marriage. The best way to support her may be to accept her exactly the way she is – and where she is in her life – without trying to change her. The more you try to change her, the farther you’ll push her away. But this is something you can discuss in more depth with a counselor who can support and guide you.

    I wish you all the best in your relationship with your daughter, and will keep your family in my prayers.


  3. How do we get our daughter to wake up from an Italian Family Cult? Our daughter married into a situation were her husband is controlling and verbally abusive. She gave back the ring twice and moved into a condo where he stalked her. The only reason she went back to him was her younger sister was getting married. She went back and moved her wedding up 7 weeks ahead of the younger sister.

    His parents live two doors away from them. They are in the process of reducing her work schedule to a day or two weekly (nurse practitioner). They have her busy with another business. The in laws have no friends and only family. They occupy her time with business and family weekend events. She believes my husband and I have something wrong with us. Two years ago we were best friends and now she doesn’t want us watching our granddaughters. One day our three year old told us “her mommy n daddy aren’t nice.” She was very sincere with her comment.

    The sister of our daughter’s husband has left the cult and married a woman three years younger than her Italian mother. She told us how her brother, my daughter’s husband, at the command of Italian mother dragged her up the stairs by the hair and throw her into her room, lock the door. She went to a neighbors house after getting out of ropes to escape to a Battered women’s Shelter. The neighbor has confirmed this. The neighbor is scared of these people.

    We are concerned for our daughter and granddaughters. How do we get her to wake up? He tells her lies about us and she seems to be taking up his personality. She has bought into everything along with having money.

    I recently blew it at a soccer event for our granddaughter. After calling our daughter checking event time we were told she was sick and going to soccer. Decided to take flowers over to her we found them not home. Texted n called our daughter with no reply. Went to were soccer was and found his entire family there. After an argument we come to find that my daughter’s husband made the comment at the game “what the heck us your mother calling for.” Our own daughter did not support us. He has gotten rid of close friends, bragged he got her off Facebook and now she has trouble with neighbor. She is someone different when he or the in laws are around. She is upset with me and tells me I am crazy. I fell into a trap. Help, how does my husband and I approach her now,

    Thank you,

    Sent from my iPad

  4. My daughter has been married for 10 months. Her husband had a non-sexual emotional connection to someone he works with. He admitted to having a crush on her. She seems unable to forgive him and work past this and seems hyper critical of everything he does now. I’ve spoken to her but seem unable to get through. I think I need to pull back but I just feel so helpless. I see the problems. Tell me how to react. My stomach is in knots all the time

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Ellie,

    Thank you for being here, and sharing your story. I can tell that you love your daughter very much, and you want to help her as much as you can — but you also don’t want to sink into her unhappiness, drama, and pain. It’s a fine balance.

    Have you read any of the Boundaries books? I changed the book at the top of this article to Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, because I believe that the best way to support your daughter in a difficult marriage is to know where you begin and end.

    The Boundaries books are all about drawing lines in the sand to keep our relationships healthy and strong. A boundary will make your relationship with your daughter healthy, and will help you stop her from complaining constantly about her marriage.

    It also might help you to keep reminding yourself not to get involved in their marriage. Your daughter is an adult, and she needs to figure out how to solve her marriage problems. The more involved you get in her marriage, the harder it will be to be a mom to her and a grandma to your grandkids.

    Read the Boundaries book. It will teach you what you’re responsible for in your relationships, and how to draw boundaries that are healthy, firm, and loving. It won’t be easy — creating a healthy, strong relationship never is!! — but it will be worth it. Expect conflict. Don’t be afraid of difficult conversations. Keep listening to your wise self! :-)

    I wish you all the best. I wish I had a mom as caring, compassionate, and concerned as you are. My prayer is that you find peace and joy in your relationship with your daughter and grandkids, and that you are able to put the Boundaries teachings into practice.


  6. Thank you for this guidance. May I tell you my story? I will be brief…my daughter lives on the east coast and I am on the west coast (until August). She’s married, with two little boys, one age 3 and the other age 1. After much discussion, we decided that I would move to the east coast so I can be part of our larger extended family and also help her with the boys. At first I was very much looking forward to this, and just a few days ago she told me the truth about her marriage — she is miserable because her husband is emotionally unavailable, deceitful, watches porn online, and they have not been intimate for many months. Also, they fight a lot. In January, I sold all my possessions (before knowing these facts about her marriage, though I could sense that they are having problems), moved out of my apartment and into a room nearby so I could slash expenses and save money for the move. I am scheduled to leave August 3. To be very honest, I don’t want to go anymore because I am heading into a storm and the happy times seem out of reach. My wise self says I will DEFINITELY be helpful especially now, so go ahead and go…I am going to go, there is really no turning back as I have transferred my job there as well.

    My biggest question is this: HOW do I support her? She complains CONSTANTLY about her spouse and she seems extremely unhappy. What is my role? Can you help? What should I do?