Daughter in abusive relationship

Help My Child

“How Do I Help My Child?”

Knowing or even suspecting that your child is in an unhealthy relationship can be both frustrating and frightening. But as a parent, you’re critical in helping your child develop healthy relationships and can provide life-saving support if they are in an abusive relationship. Remember, dating violence occurs in both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and any gender can be abusive.

What Do I Need to Know?

You can look for some early warning signs of abuse that can help you identify if your child is in an abusive relationship before it’s too late. Some of these signs include:

  • Your child’s partner is extremely jealous or possessive.
  • You notice unexplained marks or bruises.
  • Your child’s partner emails or texts excessively.
  • You notice that your child is depressed or anxious.
  • Your child stops participating in extracurricular activities or other interests.
  • Your child stops spending time with other friends and family.
  • Your child’s partner abuses other people or animals.
  • Your child begins to dress differently.

What Can I Do?

As a parent, your instinct is to help your child in whatever way you can. This need to help can drive you to quickly react, but sometimes what feels like the right plan of action could stop the conversation before it begins. Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to help a child who is experiencing dating abuse:

Listen and give support

When talking to your teen, be supportive and non-accusatory. Let your child know that it’s not their fault and no one “deserves” to be abused. If they do open up, it’s important to be a good listener. Your child may feel ashamed of what’s happening in their relationship. Many teens fear that their parents may overreact, blame them or be disappointed. Others worry that parents won’t believe them or understand. If they do come to you to talk, let it be on their terms, and meet them with understanding, not judgment.

Accept what your child is telling you

Believe that they are being truthful. Your child may be reluctant to share their experiences in fear of no one believing what they say. Showing skepticism could make your teen hesitant to tell you when things are wrong and drive them closer to their abuser. Offer your unconditional support and make sure that they know you believe they are giving an accurate account of what is happening.

Show concern

Let your teen know that you are concerned for their safety by saying things like: “You don’t deserve to be treated like this;” “You deserve to be in a relationship where you are treated with respect” and “This is not your fault.” Point out that what’s happening isn’t “normal.” Everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship

Talk about the behaviors, not the person

When talking about the abuse, speak about the behaviors you don’t like, not the person. For example, instead of saying, “She is controlling” you could say, “I don’t like that she texts you to see where you are.” Remember that there still may be love in the relationship — respect your child’s feelings. Also, talking badly about your son or daughter’s partner could discourage your teen from asking for your help in the future.

Avoid ultimatums

Resist the urge to give an ultimatum (for example, “If you don’t break up with them right away, you’re grounded/you won’t be allowed to date anyone in the future.”) You want your child to truly be ready to walk away from the relationship. If you force the decision, they may be tempted to return to their abusive partner because of unresolved feelings. Also, leaving is the most dangerous time for victims. Trust that your child knows their situation better than you do and will leave when they’re ready.

Be prepared

Educate yourself on dating abuse. Help your child identify the unhealthy behaviors and patterns in their relationship. Discuss what makes a relationship healthy. With your teen, identify relationships around you (within your family, friend group or community) that are healthy and discuss what makes those relationships good for both partners.

Decide on next steps together

When you’re talking to your teen about a plan of action, know that the decision has to come from them. Ask what ‘next steps’ they would like to take. If they’re uncomfortable discussing this with you, help them find additional support. Suggest that they reach out to a peer advocate through loveisrespect’s phone line, online chat and text messaging service where teens can talk with peer advocates 24/7. To call, dial 1-866-331-9474, chat via our website or text “loveis” to 22522.

But My Child Isn’t in an Unhealthy Relationship

It’s never too early to talk to your child about healthy relationships and dating violence. Starting conversations — even if you don’t think your child is dating — is one of the most important steps you can take to help prevent dating violence. Here are some sample questions to start the conversation:

  • Are any of your friends dating? What are their relationships like? What would you want in a partner?
  • Have you witnessed unhealthy relationships or dating abuse at school? How does it make you feel? Were you scared?
  • Do you know what you would do if you witnessed or experienced abuse?
  • Has anyone you know posted anything bad about a friend online? What happened afterwards?
  • Would it be weird if someone you were dating texted you all day to ask you what you’re doing?

Need more tips to get started? Here are some other ways you can prepare to talk to your child about healthy and unhealthy relationships:

  • Do your own research on dating abuse to get the facts before talking to your teen or 20-something. Start with the information and resources on www.loveisrespect.org.
  • Provide your child with examples of healthy relationships, pointing out unhealthy behavior. Use examples from your own life, television, movies or music.
  • Ask questions and encourage open discussion. Make sure you listen to your son or daughter, giving them a chance to speak. Avoid analyzing, interrupting, lecturing or accusing.
  • Keep it low key. Don’t push it if your child is not ready to talk. Try again another time.
  • Be supportive and nonjudgmental so they know they can come to you for help if their relationship becomes unhealthy in the future.
  • Admit to not knowing the answer to a particular question. This response builds trust.
  • Reinforce that dating should be fun! Stress that violence is never acceptable.
  • Discuss the options your child has if they witness dating abuse or experience it themselves.
  • Remind your son or daughter they have the right to say no to anything they’re not comfortable with or ready for. They also must respect the rights of others.
  • If your child is in a relationship that feels uncomfortable, awkward or frightening, assure them they can come to you. And remember — any decisions they make about the relationship should be their own.
  • Find ways to discuss gender equality at A Call to Men.
  • Contact Break the Cycle to find out if there are dating violence prevention programs in your community. If not, work with Break the Cycle to bring abuse prevention to your local school or community group.

When Your Adult Child is in a Bad Relationship

As you know, being a parent does not stop when your child leaves the nest. Whether your child is fifteen, thirty, or forty-five, it is upsetting to watch him or her make unhealthy decisions. When your ‘adult’ child is in a bad relationship, for example, it can cause you extreme stress and worry. Of course you want to help. But how?

The first question to ask yourself is whether your child is actually in a bad relationship. If your child is mostly happy and stable, and is learning and growing, it is likely that your own preferences and judgments are clouding your viewpoint. Try to let go of what you want for your child, and support his or her choices.

If you have separated out your own judgments, and still believe that your child is in a relationship that is unhealthy, codependent, or abusive, you may desperately want to do something to change or control your child’s choices. The problem is that you do not have control over another person’s relationship choices.

You do, however, have power in the choices that you make in your own relationships, including your relationship with your child. Doing your part in creating a healthy parent/child relationship is the best and most you can do to help. This relationship can be an incredible source of strength, stability and perspective for your child. It also shows, through example, a model of a healthy relationship.

So, help your ‘adult’ child make better romantic relationship choices through building and improving on these basics of a healthy parent/child relationship:

  • Compassion. If it is taking time for your child to learn or make changes in whom he chooses as partners, or how she behaves in her romantic relationships, it is for a good reason. Relationships are complex, confusing, and powerful. ‘Bad’ relationship choices are rarely simply an indication that a person has low self-esteem, is stupid, is crazy, or is stubborn. They reflect a person’s deepest fears and challenges; in order to move forward, those issues will need to be addressed and worked through.
  • Respect. Your child has his or her own path in life, and it is not your job or place to decide what that path looks like, or with whom he or she shares that path.
  • Honesty. Tell it like you see it. Ignoring an issue and pretending it does not exist will take a serious toll on your relationship with your child. The relationship loses its foundation of truth and ‘reality.’ Be clear about how you perceive your child’s partner relationship, while also ‘owning’ the fact that these are your subjective perceptions. Once you express your thoughts and feelings, trust that your child will ask if he or she needs to hear it again.
  • Support. Support can be giving your child a place to stay temporarily, paying for counseling, directing him or her to mental health resources, or talking about all the different and conflicting feelings and thoughts he or she has about the situation. Support may be welcoming your child and his or her partner into your home for holidays or including them in other family events. Support can also be a willingness to just spend time with your child, and talk about things other than the ‘relationship problems.’
  • Boundaries. Giving support in a healthy way means that you also must take responsibility for paying attention to when you feel resentful, overwhelmed, depleted, or ‘in over your head.’ For example, if you feel like you can’t cope with talking about the relationship any more, tell your child that you are at your limit. If it is too much for you emotionally to have your child and his or her partner attend family events at your house, do not invite them. If you don’t feel comfortable allowing your child to sleep on your couch after a fall-out with his or her partner, say no. If you fear for the safety of your child, your grandchildren, or other children involved, you will have to call the police or Child Protective Services. Just try to set these boundaries based on your limits, rather than in an attempt to change or control your child’s relationship choices.
  • Letting go. It is incredibly difficult to let go when your child is suffering or even in danger. Letting go of trying to control his or her choices can feel wrong and irresponsible. You must remind yourself, however, that the option to control your child’s choices is not available. So, you’ve got to choose the option that is available — to help by using your power to build the strength of your parent/child relationship.

If you find yourself struggling with these relationship basics, and even needing support to develop your own relationship skills, do not be surprised. None of this is easy. Furthermore, as a parent, your stress and worry will probably continue forever. As you invest your energy into your healthy connection with your child, however, be assured that you are doing everything you can to help.

Photo by Nick Horne, available under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial license.

Danielle B. (Klotzkin) Grossman, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provides psychotherapy for California clients who are looking for a way to move forward through relationship issues, problems with alcohol, drugs, or managing money, eating and body issues, trauma, grief and loss, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. She consults by phone for mental health professionals nationally. Contact her at (530) 470-2233 or truckeecounseling.com.

When Your Adult Child is in a Bad Relationship

If the abuse is physical, she advises, “Never ignore that first push, that first shove.”

There are many myths about domestic violence, that it’s due to alcohol or stress, that in some way the abused person caused it or deserved it, that it only happens to certain types of people. But they are just that: myths. No one does anything to deserve to be hit or controlled. Lots of people get drunk and are stressed and don’t hit their partners. The decision to be abusive is the perpetrator’s alone and the perpetrator alone must take responsibility for it.

Much has been made recently of the fact that Nigella Lawson’s mother was “abusive”, as if this somehow predisposed her daughter to accepting violence. I now realise that in thinking that I could have any influence over whether my girls might get into a DV relationship, I have played into perhaps the greatest myth of domestic abuse: that it is somehow our fault. It isn’t. It never was. But we can all learn more about it so that if it does happen, we know what to look for and what to do. Domestic abuse is everybody’s business.

Domestic violence: The warning signs

• Is he – or she – possessive and jealous?

• Does he or she try to isolate you from friends and family?

• Does he or she they criticise you, either privately or in front of others?

• Does he or she try to control you?

• Does he or she pressurise you into having sex?

• Are you afraid of your partner?

• Do you modify your behaviour to appease him or her?

• Do you feel as if you are treading on egg shells?

• Does your partner change moods suddenly? Charming one minute, terrifying the next?

• Does your partner create a bad atmosphere at home so family and friends don’t visit you?

More warning signs at: http://refuge.org.uk/about-us/campaigns/early-warning-signs/

How to tell if someone you love is being abused and what you can do to help

• They may change their behaviour, act one way in front of you, another in front of their partner.

• They may stop seeing you, break contact with you and appear frightened (like someone’s ‘looking over their shoulder’) when they do see you.

• They may be overwhelmed by fear, and think they are to blame.

Give them time to open up. Say something like “I’m worried about you, concerned for your safety.”

• Don’t judge them (this is really important), they will be feeling bad about themselves already.

• Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault and it’s against the law.

• Don’t run their partner down, this may embarrass the person who is being abused. They will be feeling embarrassed and guilty enough.

• Don’t tell them to “just leave”. If it was that easy they would have left already. Tell them you support them and put them in touch with agencies that can help. Research shows that men can be the most violent at the point of separation.

Where to find help

• 24-hour National Domestic Violence freephone helpline: 0808 2000 247

• refuge.org.uk

• womensaid.org.uk

• nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk

• familieswithoutfear.org.uk

• mensadviceline.org.uk

Find My Daughter

If the time is right to reunite with the daughter you have lost all contact with – then this is place to start looking for her!

When starting out on your journey, please bear in mind that finding a female person can be a real challenge as women have more options and opportunities to change their name , reinvent their identity and protect their whereabouts – but if you are determined and prepared to do the legwork before considering employing the services of a professional, then the chance of finding her yourself is high in your favour!

To maximise the search facilities available to you, it’s essential to put together as much information about your daughter as you can particularly if you have not seen or heard from her for several years or more.



  • When you last had contact with your daughter was she still a single woman if so what is her full name including any middle names or initials or is there a pet name she is known by?


  • If your daughter is or was married ,divorced or separated do you know her previous or present married name or the full name of any former or current partner that she may have lived with or is living with now?
  • Does your daughter have any children of her own and if so do you know their name and approximate age?

If you are unsure about any of these facts and other members of your family are unable to help you simply click onto FAMILYLINK.COM or ANCESTRY.COM where you will be able to check the USA records for birth’s, marriages and divorce.


  • Do you have a note of your daughters last known address or any previous address where she may have resided with her husband or partner since you were last in touch with her. If you do not have a full address – do you know the town, city or state where she was living at any time?
  • Is it possible that she might have taken short term or rented accommodation with a relative or close friend or perhaps with one of her children?
  • Have you checked with other family members or her friends if they have any information of her more recent whereabouts –even an email address would be very useful?


  • Do you remember your daughter’s last known home, work or cellphone number or do you have a contact number for her husband or partner?

If not, click onto the on line TELEPHONE DIRECTORY services link and check for any listings.

  • Do you recall the names of any of her college or university friends that she may have kept in touch with or do you have an address book that she may have left behind?

Classmates.com and Reunion.com hold graduate records and both are free sites, so you may be able to contact an ex school friend who can help you with your search

  • Alternatively, if you are a Skype customer you can download their directory free of charge. Millions of people now have a Skype account so it’s well worth a try!!


Regardless of age or status, millions of people communicate on social networking sites enabling them to connect with family and friends so the chance of contacting your daughter via this medium is a possibility.

  • Check out Facebook, Twitter ,Linkedin ,My Space and Google to start as these are currently the most popular and they are free and easy to access daily.


  • Do you know your daughters occupation and where she is working or any place of employment where she may have worked in the past – if so do you know the name of any work colleague she might still be in touch with?


  • Do you know where her husband or partner is employed?If so – give them a call.

If not – click onto Linkedin which is a site used by professionals for business networking. It would also be useful to have a note of her social security number as this may be relevant later on in your search.


  • Does your daughter have any particular interests or hobbies and may belong to a social club or charity organisation? If so why not call the local branch and check if she is still a member or if anyone there still has any contact with her.


If you have exhausted the services and search facilities already suggested but have not been successful in finding your daughter – don’t despair or be tempted to give up! The time and effort you have put into preparing your check list and the information you have gathered has not been wasted –but you now need to consider engaging the service of a professional skip tracing agent who will be able to take the search to the next level.

Which brings us to the subject at hand: your feelings about your daughter’s houseguests. Here it will help to figure out what, exactly, bothers you about the people she brings over. Is it that you’re uncomfortable having any of her guests in your home (such as platonic friends) because it feels like Grand Central Station, or does it only feel that way with her romantic partners? Given that most adults have sex, would you like her to take her romantic life to the men’s homes instead? Or is your annoyance less about location and more about the kind of sex life she chooses to have? Meaning, if she were in a monogamous relationship with a committed boyfriend who stayed overnight, would you still be “angry and upset” and require her to ask permission and inform you in advance of his visits?

The feelings underlying your request likely informed its delivery, so I wonder whether your daughter is angry not just because she objects to your request, but because on top of that, she also feels judged. If you want her to understand where you’re coming from, you’ll also need to understand where she’s coming from, and she may feel humiliated and wounded by what might have been implied about her character in the way you presented the new rules. At the same time, from a developmental perspective, the silent treatment is a very “young” way of communicating feelings such as anger or shame, and her inability to consider that she’s a guest in your house suggests some immaturity as well. It’s worth noting, too, that the silent treatment is actually not silent at all, but emotionally loud. It’s one thing to like your peace and quiet, but an enraged family member who’s not talking to you is very different from the quiet sanctuary you seem to enjoy.

Your way of dealing with her immaturity is to try to cater to her anger (how can I get her not to be mad at me for having this rule?) rather than to treat her like an adult, which might sound like this: I understand that you’re unhappy with my discomfort with the men you’re bringing into my home. We should have talked about our expectations earlier on, but I’m glad we’re having this conversation now. Here are my rules, and here’s why. Then lay out clear, specific expectations in terms of household responsibilities, considerate behavior (such as communicating with words rather than sullen silence), and privacy, after which you might add: You don’t have to agree with my perspective, but because you’re living in my house, you do have to abide by it. If you want more privacy, you can find a more private living situation.

When adults are treated as less capable than they are, they actually become less capable—of making good choices, of holding themselves accountable, of seeing themselves clearly in relation to others. You don’t have to convince your daughter that your request is “rational”; your job right now is to remember that she’s an adult and to treat her like one. That means having a respectful conversation that lays out what you’re willing to offer at this time in her life, and letting her choose the living situation—whether that’s following your rules or finding her own place—that suits her best.

Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to [email protected]

Lori Gottlieb is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a psychotherapist based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. Connect Facebook Twitter

‘My daughter has been chiding me for frivolously spending her inheritance. Now she won’t speak to me’

Dear Moneyist,

My husband and I have five children: two are mine from a previous marriage and three are his. We raised all the children together and they refer to each other as siblings. I consider them all my children. They are all now in their 50s.

My husband passed away three years ago. I am relatively healthy for my age, financially secure, and have full mental capacity. Lately, one of my daughters (let’s call her Jill) has been chiding me for frivolously spending her inheritance and her siblings’ inheritance. I think none of this is any of her business and, sadly, told her so to her face. Now she won’t speak to me.

Our most heated discussion to date stemmed from her asking me how her sister, Brenda, could afford to send her children to science camp this summer. I explained I was paying for camp because I thought it was a good opportunity for my grandchildren and will be a nice break for my daughter and son-in-law. Brenda is a full-time mom, working part time from home. They both made decisions based on their personalities and lifestyles.

Also see: I discovered through Ancestry.com that my biological father is someone else — can I claim an inheritance as his heir?

Our previous confrontation regarded our physically disabled son who is no longer able to work at his chosen career. He works less hours now and at a lower pay. Jill wants me to stop enabling him to work from home. She thinks he should be looking for a better paying job.

I do not have many expenses other than my occasional travel with friends. I have Medicare, supplemented through Tricare for Life, and paid up long-term care insurance. My financial adviser assures me that if I live within my current budget (which includes these “frivolous” items) I’ll still have over $1 million in savings at age 100.

What can I do to build bridges with my daughter, Jill, and also make her understand that I take care of my own financial affairs?


Dear Marjorie,

Brava! You appear to have done a pretty good job already.

Usually, tense moments such as the one you described with your daughter don’t occur in a vacuum. If your daughter was not upset about how you choose to spend your money, she would likely be concerned about something else. In other words, her belief that she may be left behind in some way or overlooked is probably rooted in deeper resentments that even she may not even be aware of.

Also see: ‘We’re in a happier place now!’ My husband wrote a secret will when our marriage was rocky — should I now write one too?

Invite her to lunch. Tell her that you know she is coming from a good place and her intentions were good, even if you feel like some of those intentions were based on her own self-interest. Sometimes, it’s nice to write a card, put a stamp on it, go to the post office, and mail it in person, because it shows that you care enough to put time and thought into such a gesture. Keep it short.

You could also call a family meeting to inform your children of your plans for your retirement and say how you appreciate everyone wants to make sure you are both solvent and have long-term care plans in place. You are under no obligation to tell your children how much they might inherit upon your passing. Of course, you can’t spend someone’s inheritance. It’s your money, no one else’s.

During my 40-odd years on this planet, I have discovered that I don’t always need to point out when I feel others have done me wrong, as tempting as that can be. And it is! I try to say what I need to do for me and how a comment or behavior might make me feel, and acknowledge there is not ill-intent. “I know you’re trying to help, but these are decisions I prefer to make. I appreciate you care.”

Recommended: ‘What did he do with all the money?’ My dying husband cashed his $700K life insurance and emptied his bank accounts

None of us chooses our words wisely all the time, but we can acknowledge when we might have done a better job. Your daughter’s behavior is hers to own, and you can only show her where your boundaries are if/when she attempts to cross that line again. Pull out a tried and tested stock phrase from your financial boundary tool box, change the subject, and leave it at that.

Please let me know how you get on. Have a great year ahead.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -3.64% group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

Quentin Fottrell

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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