My 40 year old, married (3rd time) with children (3 by 2 different husband's) step-daughter refuses to communicate regularly with my husband/her father. When she does communicate with him she refuses to call or visit. All communication must be by email or through Facebook. My husband has not asked for my opinion or my help, but he has told me this upsets him and he's thinking of "writing her off". Do you have any suggestions?
Three things strike me about your question. The first is that your husband and his daughter have had a 40 year relationship. We have to give history its due; experiences happen, patterns form. The second is that it sounds, at its core, as though your husband would like to have a better relationship with his daughter, but doesn't know how it get it. The third, of course, is that you are neither he nor she, but would like to offer support and alternatives to your husband --though who has not asked for any.
Let's begin with the second observation: it sems like your husband would like a better relationship with his daughter. Indeed, he is feeling so at a loss about how to obtain reciprocity that he is talking about writing her off. How would one typically seek to better a relationship? Before you begin, I would like you to consider whether your step-daughter has 'outright refused' or shown her 'refusal' through behavior.
Following are some ideas to begin identifying a goal or a problem in a relationship and steps toward making it better:
* Have a conversation letting the other person know that you would like to have a better relationship;
* Ask what the other person would like out of the relationship;
* Ask how you can be there for the other person or for their children, in this case;
* Consider asking, "What can I do, in your opinion, to make the relationship better?"
* Let the other person *gently* know what your needs are (this should be kept quite brief and without emotional attachment, such as to be in touch including a visit or a conversation);
* Ask the other person what would work for them; this is really an opportunity to find out about the other person's life. Remember, just because you put out what you want doesn't mean you will get all of it or even much of it;
* Be prepared to meet the other person half-way or more. If the daughter's preferred mode of communication is e-mail or Facebook, then consider making a point of communicating more with her on those venues. You could also, in a part of the discussion, ask her to respond (if she doesn't) in a conversation or more prompt manner.
* Consider experimenting, sending light messages, uplifting messages, or videos;
* If visits or calls are not preferable, ask what would be a good way of getting some time with her. For instance, your step-daughter sounds like she is probably very busy. Time together might mean time at a child's game, helping to pay a babysitter for a night out, planning a fun family outing that you know the kids will enjoy. If you are feeling flush, you can treat her with tickets to join you or tickets for all to minor league ball game.
You or your husband may feel like you have had this or some conversation similar to it. A very important piece is to be able to converse without anger, blame, or criticism. It is difficult, but essential to keeping the conversation constructive and forward-moving.
Be prepared to bump against The 40 Year History. It is quite likely that old patterns of communicating will get in the way of effective communication at least a little bit. For instance, a Dad who has had an authoritarian parenting may be challenged to consider the adult child's point of view in a respectful light. He would need some assistance in role playing possible scnarios. A Dad who has held things in and not communicated his hurt or angry feelings may be challenged in finding ways to express himself.
Finally, let's address how you can support your husband. Consider reflecting on what sounds like the core issue. "It seems like you really want to make your relationship better with your daughter. How can I help?" When/if he says, "I don't know," it may be the perfect time for bringing up relevant points such as, "If we had a problem or if you had a problem with someone at work, how would you begin making it better." Or you might consider "Let's think about this like it was a business relationhip." (That often helps diffuse emotions and helps people think with a solution-oriented focus.) If you think you can do a good job role-playing, consider that.
Goal-oriented therapy can be a very useful resource for enhancing relationships. Please feel free to be in touch for a free 1/2 hour phone consultation and let me know if there is any other way I can assist you.
About Author / Additional Info:
Lauren Trecosta is a Licensed Professional Counselor passionate in her work to help clients develop and assert their voice, face life fearlessly, and live with integrity. Lauren's private practice, Counseling Breakthrough, is located in Burke, Virginia.