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My Husband Overprotects his Adult Child

QUESTION: My husband's ex-wife is now deceased. His daughter from this marriage is not very responsible. My husband co-signed a loan for her to buy a used truck. She was supposed to pay the loan back ,but so far has not made any payments. My husband seems unable to tell her that she needs to be responsible and he gets aggravated when I bring it up. What should I do?

ANSWER: Your husband may be failing to teach his daughter responsibility due to feelings of guilt about the loss of her mother. Well meaning parents sometimes inadvertently develop patterns of overprotection during the grieving period because they want to protect their children from any further pain. Naturally, this overcompensation only leads to decreased coping skills, lowered self-esteem and fractured relationships .

It is not too late for your spouse to change his direction. Your husband is mortgaging his daughter's future to avoid his own discomfort with dealing with her breech of contract. More importantly, he is stressing his marriage by not addressing his responsibilities to you.

You are an equal partner in the marriage. It is your job to set your own limits, but stop short of taking on a hounding role in your relationship. Let your husband know that you do not find it acceptable to pay for a car you did not agree to purchase. Ask that he address this situation with his daughter. If necessary, suggest that the vehicle be sold or returned if he fails to obtain payments from her.

Finally, be clear with your husband that you want to participate in any agreements that involve joint money. If your stepdaughter does not come through on her commitments, be clear that the natural consequence is for you not to agree to any additional loans in the future.

This is not a matter of aggravation. It is a matter of trust. Your husband is breaking his agreement to you by not setting things straight. This breech of trust damages the flow of affection in your marriage. Your husband's inaction sends the loud and clear message that his agreements with you do not matter. Focus your energy on expressing your own feelings about how this affects your marital relationship, rather than telling him "what to do" about his daughter. Invite your husband to become a part of the recovery of trust in your relationship. Your anger will likely abate as you express your requirements in the partnership with your husband.

There is no need to nag. Instead, require an equal voice in all future decisions that affect you. And be willing to simply say "no," or bear the consequences .


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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