What would you tell Alice if she was your friend?

I have a FOFriend [I’ll call her Alice] who has been married for decades to an emotionally abusive man with a hair trigger temper. Whatever joy Alice felt decades ago has trickled away. Her husband has taken care of her financially; they’ve raised three children and their sex life is pretty good. Besides having an explosive temper, her husband doesn’t care about Alice’s thoughts, opinions, advice or passions. He is king of the manor and that’s all there is to it.

Alice is a petite and pretty woman, with a compassionate and giving nature. She is one of the most psychologically astute people I know, and understands herself better than most people.

Alice never looked at another man or entertained separating from her husband, that is, until about four months ago, when she began an affair with a [unhappily] married man. She and her “lover” talk incessantly “about everything” and he makes Alice feel smart, something her husband never does. She says she’s in love.

The other evening Alice left her cell phone on the table and her 19-year-old daughter read a text message that revealed her affair. “My daughter became hysterical and told me, ‘I’m going to tell daddy if you don’t. He deserves to know,’” Alice told me. Since then, Alice’s daughter has threatened her a few times. She’s written lengthy text messages telling Alice how she’s hurting her and her siblings. She’s also told her siblings what happened.

Alice is obviously in a pretty tough predicament. Putting aside the morality of the situation (I, for one, completely understand her actions and do not condemn them one bit), what do you think Alice should say to her daughter and what should she do?

 

25 Responses to “What would you tell Alice if she was your friend?”

  1. Reese says:

    Alice’s daughter is 19 yrs old and old enough to understand the relationship between her parents. She should, presumably, also be aware of her father’s abusive side and the very real danger to her mother. The daughter’s outburst seems to be coming from a purely selfish and adolescent perspective. It’s not about how it might affect her father but how it affects her. And absolutely no consideration for how any of this affects her mother nor the ramifications for her mother should the daughter choose to reveal her mother’s affair.

    Obviously, Alice’s actions were ill-conceived. But, at this point, she must be living every moment in fear of a beating from her spouse. At this point, Alice needs to make plans for a rapid departure, should the need arise. Once she has done that, she needs to sit down with her selfish 19 year old adult daughter somewhere away from their home and explain to her as compassionately but firmly as possible that she understands how the discovery of the affair is a terrible shock to daughter. Explain to her that she never intended to hurt daughter nor did she plan to have an affair. Discuss with her daughter the relationship between Alice and husband/dad and how painful – both emotionally and physically – it has been. Talk to daughter about the fears she lived with that Hubby might someday turn his temper on the children and hurt them, too. Explain how everything she has done, all of her daughter’s life, has been to shield and protect the children – from ensuring they had a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, to being the punching bag for Dad’s fury.

    Then tell daughter that, when she met Lover, she found something she never had with Dad … respect. She should carefully explain to daughter that, while she neither intended nor expected to develop any strong feelings for Lover, this is a man with whom she feels safe and loved and respected – all the things she never felt with Dad. (Later, she may well find she was nothing more than a “soft target” for Lover Boy but that is another matter.)

    Finally, she should let Daughter know that, now, with the threat of discovery looming over her at Daughter’s threat to reveal the indiscretion to Dad, Alice now finds herself in a delicate situation. If she stays in the household, and Dad does learn of the affair, there is a very real possibility that Dad could kill her – not figuratively but in reality. Her alternative, then, is to leave. Move out of the house, escape the emotional and physical abuse and the threat of greater harm and just leave. Alice needs to let her daughter know that she is not asking her to choose sides. Daughter needs to know that, while Alice no longer feels safe living in Dad’s house, she understands that Daughter has a different reality where Dad is concerned, and that’s okay. But Daughter needs to understand that Alice’s reality is also different. It is no longer safe for her to live under the threat of discovery and future abuse.

    Alice needs to assure her daughter that she loves her as dearly as the day she was born and nothing will ever change that. And Alice also needs to exact from her daughter the assurance that Daughter understands and accepts her mother’s choices, regardless whether she condones them or not. Alice needs to make sure her daughter truly knows that the threat of Alice leaving is not idle chatter and, to do that, Alice needs to make the commitment for herself. That means that her preparation for a hasty departure needs to be complete. Before joining Daughter for the lunchtime “chat” about their “situation” Alice needs to pack her bags and have them loaded into the trunk of her car (or shipped off to a safe house). She further needs to make arrangements for a place she can stay until she can make more permanent living arrangements. (Note: this does not include family or close friends whom Hubby would know and expect Alice to go to for help.) Instead, she should make arrangements with a friend Hubby does not know, or arrange to go to a battered women’s shelter – places Hubby may not think to look for her. Then, when she does confront Daughter, her threat of imminent departure is not an idle one but fait accompli. So, when she tells Daughter, there will be no sense of dissemblance in her words or her eyes.

    What she is doing is giving Daughter a very gentle, kid glove ultimatum. Either support her mother or not. This is not something to be treated lightly, by either of them. But the bottom line is: If Alice goes home, knowing the potential for her daughter to reveal her indiscretion to Dad, she truly risks losing her life her physical life, since she has already lost so much of her emotional and spiritual life.

    So her choice at this point is, not wanting to be melodramatic, a choice between life and death.
    The real question, however, seems to be, why hasn’t Alice called the police to report the abuse before now? And why is she still living with a man who abuses her? Perhaps she is more insecure than anyone imagines? And perhaps it is time for a ‘good’ friend to step in and tell her so.

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  2. Kelly says:

    Is her daughter oblivious to the way her father treats her mother. Would a daughter that was really truly aware, threaten to tell her father who verbally abuses her mother. It’s unfortunate she discovered her mothers infidelity but she can’t really be that naïve. She should have an adult conversation with her and tell in so many words that she will handle this on her terms with her husband, and she will not get involved. If the other siblings are feeling the same way, she needs to let them know, also. She is abused verbally, is taken care of financially, and believe me, has sex with him because he was there and she didn’t look elsewhere…now she has….there is no reason to stay.

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  3. Morgana says:

    Alice needs to take control of the situation. It sounds like her daughter has learned some bad habits pertaining to control and manipulation of others. She needs to stay out of her parents relationship, quit gossiping to her siblings and NOT take sides against her mother. Her interference can only make the situation go badly for her mother. Especially if the relationship ends with Alice and her husband. Her daughter could make the divorce more contentious. It kinda sounds like Alice allows her children and husband treat her like a dorrmat.

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  4. Pat says:

    Alice is trading one chaotic relationship for another. She needs to (like Chris said), get into therapy. Domestic abuse is a hard relationship/cycle to break. It sounds like her children are somewhat grown so they have learned that chaos is normal.

    Alice AND her children need to seek help. If nothing else, Alice should tell her daughter that she knows she has made bad decisions (no need to go into detail). She should arrange family counseling – without the husband. Shelters often offer free counseling and are non-judgmental. She needs to learn (and teach her children) how to solve problem directly – and not look to anyone else (ie: lover) for help and assistance. The children will most likely be angry and it will be hard to contain the “secret”. Alice has to be aware that this WILL come out.

    My fear is that Alice’s husband WILL get more violent. If he thinks he’s “losing control”, he WILL take it out on her. Her husband eventually WILL find out so she needs to make some decisions. What Alice has and will continue to teach her children is that “this” is acceptable behavior. (“This” being abuse, fear, uncertainty, confusion, low self-esteem, self-hatred, ..) Change for Alice WILL take time. Her children will eventually learn to live with any changes Alice makes.

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    • Chris says:

      I agree, Pat, that his temper and his mindset would pose a threat to her physical safety if he finds out about the lover. I suspect she has not even been honest with her friends about what has been going on at his hands in her marriage. This is a volatile situation and she and her kids need to be mindful and prepared before it is all made known to her husband.

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  5. Barbara says:

    Alice needs to tell her adult daughter that it is none of her business.

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    • Reese says:

      Barbara, here is the scenario for that rash course of action.

      Daughter: Mind my own business? This IS my business! This is my family, my life! What do you mean mind my own business?

      Alice: Look, this is none of your affair. It’s got…

      Daughter: Oh! I know that. This is all YOUR affair! How COULD you?

      Alice: Listen. This is something between your Dad and me.

      Daughter: DA-a-a-ad!

      Two days later, Alice is admitted to the hospital with a blood clot in her brain, the result of “an accident”.

      Sometimes, discretion, a little submissive aggression is the best choice.

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  6. Chris says:

    If the kids are grown and out of the house, this is obvious. She needs to separate from her husband and get a divorce now. If there are still children in the home, she needs to coordinate her exit in a way that the children are not left with the husband. He is abusive, has an “explosive temper” and I am concerned she would have exposed her kids to him in the first place. They learn what they live and are often (very often) doomed to repeat it, whether it is expecting nothing less for themselves than his complete disrespect for their mother or actually witnessing and being victimized by verbal or physical violence. Clinical data supports the harm to children from being in a home with verbal or physical violence.
    I also am really troubled by the suggestion that they have a “pretty good” sex life. It is hard to understand how she would enjoy sex with someone who doesn’t even like her apparently. I also don’t know in which ways she is psychologically astute. That she is willing to trade a good parental and spousal life for financially security and what she inexplicably deems to be “pretty good” sex? She really needs to get into a therapeutic relationship with a professional who understands the dynamic of domestic violence before she locks into any other relationship. If her lover can help her find the motivation and strength to get out of her marriage, that’s great. But she should not under any circumstances go into another “committed” relationship until she is in the hands of a really skilled therapist. And she will need to learn how to understand what her kids have been through and how to help them avoid modeling it.

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    • Stephanie says:

      I couldn’t have said it any better! Kudos Chris!

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    • Kate Line Snider says:

      I agree with Chris.

      Alice, go immediately to a good lawyer. Also tell your daughter to mind her own business. (Daughter should have been trained not to get into Mom’s stuff, anyway.) Line up some therapy for yourself and your kids.

      Why are you still having sex with this asshole? And if it’s all that great, why do you need to have sex with someone else, too? Why not just talk?

      (While I’m at it, why do women have affairs? Just leave the jerk, after getting some support from him, and then have an affair.)

      I have to admit, I’m just not pro-adultery, but there are some practical considerations as well. Alice should be aware that life with the new guy may not be any better, and he may depart once Alice is truly available. After all, he’s running around, too. He’s probably done it before- lots of times. What good is that?

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  7. Lorraine says:

    Go Felicia! Right on, I agree with you/her. And Alice , your daughter is now an adult. Treat her like one & tell her to stay out of your business. (She has NO idea what type of father she has; Better yet, you could start that conversation with her adult-to-adult now)!

    I’m more saddened that women still endure this type of treatment/abuse in 2013.

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  8. vicki says:

    I think that what is done is done so no use arguing over who did what to whom, including looking at the phone. I know that as a daughter, we all put our father on a pedestal and we think that Mom is the one that “has” to love him. It’s just the way it should be right??? I also know that if Mom’s want to criticize their husbands, the children do not want to hear it. So I think that the daughter is in her right mind to be upset. Yes she may not understand the situation as Alice may see it, but she has her version of life at home is great and is not willing to accept the fact that Mom is not happy in this relationship. Mom and daughter may need to have a heart to heart and I really do believe that Alice should not be engaged in an extramarital affair unless the marital affair she is in is resolved. Alice if you are truly in love with someone else then its time to make a decision and move on. Hopefully after a short while your daughter will come around and all will be well. It will never be the same, but being honest is far better to overcome than being deceitful. Wishing her all the success and happiness that everyone deserves.

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  9. Louise says:

    I think the real question is why Alice chose to stay in an abusive marriage. Her husband has treated her as property; the fact that the sex was good was the only benefit. It appears that her daughter is her father’s daughter through and through. She is terrorizing Alice just like dear old dad.
    Choosing to have an extramarital affair instead of choosing freedom speaks to Alice’s lack of self-esteem.
    My advice: get a divorce and get help to restore her sense of worth. And she must work on her relationship with her children. Their view now is of a weak mother and strong father despite his behavior which, of course, they are used to.

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  10. Lisa says:

    It’s so easy to judge others! We don’t know both sides of the story and yes, it is wrong to have an affair. It is also wrong to stay in an abusive relationship, snoop through someone’s phone and on and on. Instead of judging can’t we just offer advice and a supportive ear? Alice will need to make some decisions and hopefully this situation will lead her to take some action that she obviously has been avoiding. I would say to Alice to cut ties with the other man until she gets her house in order. Good Luck!!

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  11. xxx says:

    Adultery is wrong plain and simple. Get a divorce.

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  12. Maggie says:

    Two wrongs don’t make a right. Never have, never will. If “Alice” is in an emotionally abusive marriage, she needs to insist on joint counseling or, if her husband refuses, get it herself. If she is only staying in the marriage because “he takes care of her financially” and “their sex life is pretty good”, those are the wrong reasons. But what her husband has or hasn’t done for Alice does not justify infidelity. Why fly off the handle at the daughter for “snooping” when it’s a far less egregious matter than adultery? One thing at a time! Alice should consider legal separation to address the problems in her marriage and NOT enter into another relationship until the first one is over. Let’s have a little compassion for the teenage daughter who loves her parents yet hates what she sees them doing to each other.

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    • Cat says:

      Agreed!

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  13. Nomi says:

    I agree with the advice-givers above. I’m curious though, if he’s so domineering & emotionally abusive, how can their sex life be “pretty good”?

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    • Hope says:

      My thoughts exactly. Who has a good sex life with an emotional abuser? Ugh.

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  14. Mermaid says:

    The daughter has seen the relationship between her parents her whole life, so the affair is a shock, but the dysfunction isn’t.
    The wife has stayed and has been complicit in this dysfunction. There are no saints or sinners here.
    The daughter will do what she wants. Her behavior is not the issue.
    The phone was left out in the open for a reason, I think. To be found out?
    I think that the wife should not run from one man to another, this dependency she has on others should be discussed in therapy.

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  15. Liz says:

    Wow Felicia, I could not have said it better.. daughter looking at her phone??? Sounds like she may have gotten some of this from her “KING” father.. personally, it must be nice for her to have someone to LISTEN for a change.. been there and done that.. so speaking from experience, I am with the “other” guy now. We have been together for years and I have never been happier…

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  16. Felicia says:

    First of all, I would want to know why my daughter, thought she had any right to pick up my phone and read my text messages? Then I would ask her, no, not ask, I would take her phone and check her messages! Totally, out of bounds. Alice is not only dealing with a husband who abuses her and disregards her emotional needs, she’s dealing with a snoop for a daughter.!
    Alice needs to find a way to leave her abusive husband and ‘give’ to herself, rather than everyone else. When she finally finds herself, she should evaluate where this other relationship is going, if anywhere. They’re both using each other as sounding boards right now, telling each other what they want to hear. Might be different once she’s single, and doesn’t want to spend her time sitting around, waiting for a married man to pay a visit.
    Alice needs to to take control and not allow her ‘grown’ children to terrorize her further. They sound as abusive as their father. It probably wouldn’t hurt the King to be thrown off his pedestal for a while. Alice can become Queen of her own castle, and stop this cycle of abuse from her husband and children.

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    • Geri says:

      My Goodness, Felicia, your answer is brilliant! I agree with every word.

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    • Terry says:

      Felicia, you said it! Life is too short!

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    • Cecile says:

      Hurray Felicia!!! 200% behind your response!!!

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