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How Do I Help My Distressed Adult Daughter?

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From Australia: My daughter is in her early 30s. She is married and lives overseas.

We were a family of three children and two parents until when she was 9 years old. She is the middle child. Owing to domestic violence I had to take the children and move out and begin life anew. The four of us had a very challenging family life post separation, cos of deep seated attachment issues of my youngest son who was adopted. When he turned 16 he moved into a half way home. He is 25 and settled now, but refuses to acknowledge me.

I remarried. My daughter moved overseas prior to me to take up a job.  My husband’s children didn’t accept me. My husband refused my daughter’s request to walk her down the aisle. No reason was given. My daughter resettled in another country. She and her husband then invited us for a fully-funded holiday by her husband and her.

My daughter’s mother-in-law made my husband feel welcome, but would speak ill of him to my daughter and keep her anger unto him burning. She would also belittle my daughter with her side of the family. I directly questioned the mother-in-law about this behaviour one night. She took offense and threatened suicide.

Next day we were visiting a landmark. My daughter’s husband seemed seething with quite anger as he drove us all. When we reached the landmark he barged at me asking me why I spoke to his mum the way I did. My daughter also sided with her husband. My husband came in between. My daughter asked him to keep off . Involuntarily he slapped her. My brother had also joined us from overseas. I asked him to take charge of my daughter and family, and I sat with my husband. Before we all left London my husband apologised to my daughter and her husband.

This happened about four years ago. My daughter is in deep anguish and questions me why I chose to remain with my husband despite  him hitting her and all the challenges I have faced from his children. She is very angry in her communication with me and I find it very traumatising. She lives with her mother-in-law and husband. She has personally sought therapy and has had two sessions.

Request for help:
How can I help my daughter so that we don’t argue, despite trying to set boundaries it never seems to work. We talk sanely for 1 minute and then it is an argument for 20-30 minutes every few days. The past is dragged in. She says the apology is of no use, she is broken. I have a feeling that the therapy is cathartic and aggravating the situation.

She needs my support since her husband has embraced a new religion over the past five years, and excludes his mother and wife from his religious pursuits. He also pressures them to remove all symbols of their religion from the house. Her mother-in-law feels very distressed and even encourages my daughter to think about leading life without her son.

I am not sure whether I should visit her, but she needs my help. I am worried about triggering arguments and ill-feeling.

Thank you

How Do I Help My Distressed Adult Daughter?

Answered by on -


What a complicated situation. You are in the middle of a family where people escalate arguments very easily and hold grudges.

I can offer you a few suggestions:

Remember that it takes 2 to have an argument. There is no point in staying on the phone for a 30 minutes argument. When speaking with your daughter, emphasize the positive. If she picks a fight, simply say that you aren’t interested in fighting and that you love her very much. Then say a friendly goodbye while letting her know you will be happy to talk to her again.

Don’t get caught up in drama: Stay out of your daughter’s relationship with her mother-in-law. Gently tell your daughter that your relationship with your husband’s children is not something you can discuss with her. Stay out of your daughter’s problems with her husband except to validate her concerns about her marriage and to applaud her choice to get into therapy.

Your present husband has a role in the problems. He rejected your daughter’s attempt to acknowledge him when he refused to take part in her wedding. He lost his temper and hit her. His apology is a good start but only a start. I think you and your husband need more help than I can offer in a short response. A therapist will provide you and your husband with on-going support and practical help as you navigate so many complicated relationships. You’ve tried your best to manage all this on your own without success. You both deserve the ongoing support a therapist can provide.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

How Do I Help My Distressed Adult Daughter?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). How Do I Help My Distressed Adult Daughter?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Jan 2019 (Originally: 17 Jan 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Jan 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.