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My wife and I are in a kind of quasi-separation that is likely to lead to divorce. She has been and is emotionally abusive (the silent treatment, projection and gaslighting being what she does most), as I've detailed of other posts. She and the children live in a different city from me and I visit for two days of every week. For the last year I've been staying in a small separate place nearby when coming to their city, and the children have been coming to me. We were supposed to be working on the marriage but for the last four months my wife has gone back to full blown abusive behaviour and we're most likely going to end in a divorce.

My wife always used to use "my" to refer to everything that was ours (my children, my house, my money, etc.) but in the last few months has shifted ot using "our" - but excluding me. "Our" here refers to only herself and the kids. The kids have picked up on this language, so now her house is "our house", her parents (who live nearby) and relatives are "our family", her possessions are "ours" etc. The aim here seems to have been a passive aggressive method to get the kids to see my place as not theirs, and in that she has partly succeeded.

But it's also had the knock on effect of increasing leaving me out of any sense of family. How should I respond to this? A few times I've gently corrected my daughter when she referred to "our family" by saying, I'm also your family, you know, and she's then corrected by talking about "mom's family." But I don't want to keep correcting her. What else can I do?

NB: We have two kids, a daughter who is nine and a son who is about to turn five.

NB(squared): Just for clarity, I'm not asking for suggestions on how to handle my wife, but suggestions on what to tell my children.

  • Please do not answer in comments, and please respect that the OP has asked about how to deal with his children's language, not if he should get divorced. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Oct 19 '18 at 13:22
  • Thanks for posting. This is the right place to do it. – anongoodnurse Oct 19 '18 at 13:24
  • How often do you see your children, and for how long. (E.g. 1 week here, 1 week there; alternating weekends with constant residence during the week, etc.) – sharur Oct 19 '18 at 21:04
  • @sharur - I'm there every Friday / Saturday. I miss about one weekend a month and try to make it up on other days. – SGo Oct 19 '18 at 23:06
  • Now that I have been digging through your older posts and even older ones you linked to: Here’s an instruction how to merge accounts. – Stephie Oct 20 '18 at 9:54
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I’m sorry you’re in this situation! Since you’ve asked for something very specific, I will answer very specifically.

To try to reclaim your kids’ sense of belonging with you, without trashing their mother, I would 1) explain that the word “family,” like many people-oriented concepts and definitions, can be fluid; and 2) start giving them a sense of “ownership” of your apartment (or wherever you are staying when you visit).

First: “Family” is definitely a fluid concept. Point out that sometimes we use that word for those people we live with; sometimes we mean those people we live with plus those relatives we see all the time; sometimes we mean everyone now living who is related to us by blood; sometimes we mean our ancestors; etc. In other words, tell them that it is okay for your wife to use the word family this way because she doesn’t think of you as family "because of the fights" and because you don't live with her. Tell them your idea of family is usually {whatever you want to say} because {the reason you want to say}; but other times, when people ask you who your family is, you tell them {something different} because {of this reason}. Tell them that they are always part of your idea of family, no matter where you are, because of how much you love them.

(You can do this with other problematic words, BTW. E.g., what does it mean to be a good girl? Her teacher would say, Someone who pays attention in class and is kind to the other kids; her mom would say {what you think she would say}; a policeman would say, Someone who doesn’t break the law; and you would say, Someone who likes to have fun and who tries to {be honest | be kind to her brother | be a supportive friend | get her chores/homework done} even if she doesn’t always succeed.)

Then, I would try to use the words “our family” in conversation once or twice each visit. Use it in different ways, and explain who you mean each time. And do keep correcting your daughter by saying, “I’m part of your family, too.” Hopefully they’ll begin to feel that it’s okay for your wife to say “our family,” excluding you, but it won’t feel right for them to do the same.

Next: Can you do anything with the space you stay in when you visit their city? Can you paint it? If so, tell them, “I was thinking of painting this room. What do you think of that? What color should we choose?” and let them decide – even if they choose a crazy color.

Talk about “our apartment.” Ask, “Do you want to have pizza when we get back to our apartment?” Ask, “Do you think our apartment has enough light? No? What do you think we should do about it?” See if you can get them to suggest buying a lamp. Then go shopping for a lamp together, and buy the one they like. Or let them choose a new rug. Did they pick out their own bedding? If not, ask them if they want to choose new things.

Can you build things? Ask your daughter is she wants a shelf for her things. Go online with her to get some ideas, then work together to make something pretty. Let her do as much of the work as possible. Ask your son if he wants to build a toy box with you.

Hopefully, if you reclaim the things you want to reclaim, in a firm but non-threatening, inclusive way, they will feel comfortable enough to accept it.

  • I think this is great thank you. My wife's training has reached the point where they explicitly reject me referring to my place as home even in casual conversation, but that lets me have an open conversation about it. Your point about defining family is very valid and I'll try that out. Thank you so much! – SGo Oct 27 '18 at 2:01
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This answer is geared towards a very specific situation. Answers that focus just on the question above (perhaps more practical advice) are explicitly encouraged as per the OP’s request.

————-

I am going to break one of the basic Stack Exchange rules - “answer the question” - in this specific case.

I went back through your past posts and tried to read between the lines. I also respect that you are explicitly not asking about whether you should get divorced or how to interact with your wife.

You describe your wife as passive-aggressive, combining the silent treatment with expressions of disgust and lashing out. You also mentioned that you have been through two rounds of counseling already with little to no effect. On the other hand, you worry what growing up in such an atmosphere will do to your children, and it sounds justified.

From previous posts:

My daughter, while continuing to play and talk with me, has started suddenly inserting comments into conversations that seem clearly intended to hurt me. 1

Or:

My daughter has periodically lost her sense of confidence. 2

And describe her mother’s behavior in the same post:

  • Harshly rebuke our daughter in front of others for small mistakes like dropping something or being absent minded
  • Internally compare our daughter to some friends of hers in a way that implies the others are superior because they are confident and "strong"...

Then there is:

My daughter has become reluctant to come to my place [...] partly encouraged by my wife 3

And from another post describing the same topic:

My wife reverted to her old pattern of behaviour [...] told the kids she misses them and is sad when they come to my place, etc. 4

And from your very first post almost four years ago, when the long-distance circumstances started:

My daughter and I are very close and I have made plans to keep things going between us, or at least as well as possible in these circumstances.5

Now, I am not a psychologist and I have no clue about Indian family law, but please bear with me. I can only give the following advice and I know that they are not what you originally asked. These are my main thoughts:

  1. From what you have been writing for a good two years, your marriage is over. Whether you or your wife will change the legal status or continue to work on agreements in any form is not our business, but as far as the personal relationship is concerned, it’s probably over. If you consider counseling, it should not be marriage counseling to make your marriage work (you already tried it), but how to accept that, maybe work out how to fully split or whatever agreement you need to move on and get over it, for you and your benefit.

  2. Your daughter needs help. It seems she’s not only influenced by her mother’s manipulation (low self-esteem, refusing contact with you, probably to placate her mother), but adopting the same behavior patterns or at least exploring it in a play context. The latter is for me a red flag. Please consider finding a therapist that helps her - as a parent, your intentions are good, but you are a part of the whole situation, no matter how objective you are trying to be. A therapist can also discuss how you as her father can help, maybe in ways you are not seeing yet. You may have to consider that she “lost” you four years ago when the separation started due to work issues.

  3. You could continue asking this community for advice on specific instances or observations. And we will certainly chime in with our thoughts and suggestions. But this is a bit like putting a few bandaids on a wound that needs proper cleaning, maybe a little surgery and stitches. We can provide bandaids, but for a long-term solution in your case, I can only encourage you to find professional help at your location. I am not trying to send you away, but actually help. If you want to talk, remember that all Stack Exchange sites have a chat, ours is The Playground. Take good care of yourself, your kids need you, even if they are pushing you away.

  • 1
    Ok, I've deleted my earlier question in the comments since that's been discussed in chat. In summary: I agree that professional help is useful, and I've drawn on it along with other ways of deepening my understanding, but have also found this community very insightful. And I really appreciate the enormous effort @Stephie has put into going through all the earlier posts - it's frankly incredible. – SGo Oct 20 '18 at 23:19
  • I wish i could up vote her several times. That said, I'm not going to mark this as accepted because, as she said, it's not an answer to the specific question but to my situation in general. If there are specific answers that'd also be very useful and I'd be grateful. – SGo Oct 20 '18 at 23:30
  • Incidentally if you're facing emotional abuse in a coparent I strongly recommend trusting your own judgment as well as that of professionals - here is a bad, but depressingly common escenario. – SGo Oct 20 '18 at 23:30
  • @SGo - Therapy to help your wife will be impossible if your wife, for whatever reason, doesn't think she needs help. However, therapy for you, having no reason to withhold from your counselor about how to deal with this situation, and for your daughter (who is also in an abusive relationship) might be very beneficial, with the right therapists. Great therapists are hard to find, but they are out there. – anongoodnurse Oct 23 '18 at 14:00
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I'm sorry you're going through this right now. I would say that the best advice for you, under these circumstances is to consult with a child psychologist who deals specifically with children of divorcees and children of separated parents. The issues are too complex to deal with here. You said your wife is abusive and having a deleterious effect on your relationship with your children. If you already were divorced, you could organize a court order to prevent this abuse. But this is the abuse of your wife on your children against you. It should be stopped, and a court order with a lawyer could affect this, such as requiring custody of the children to be with you, until a divorce happens. If alternatively your wife gets the emotional and psychological help she needs, and you can make amends, then the children need to be protected. It might fall under child-protective services. As I said, this is a really unfortunate situation and a complex one. You need to seek professional advice here.

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