Divorcing verbally abusive spouse. How do I talk about this with my child without saying Dad is a bad person?

PA post imageQ – I am divorcing because my husband is verbally abusive and on occasion has become physical. I want to know the PERFECT way to tell my daughter WHY we are getting divorced without saying he is a bad person. I want to make sure she knows that the way he treats us is not acceptable. I want to let her know its okay to say to “no” to that type of behavior and set an example for her by not letting him do this to us anymore. What should I say? 

A – Removing yourself and your daughter from an abusive situation is definitely a step in the right direction. I also commend you for realizing that countering Dad’s behavior by labeling him a bad person isn’t going to help your daughter either.  Usually when parents tell me they are looking for a “perfect” or “best” way to tell their kids about divorce, they are asking me “how do I protect my child from the hurt?”  Quite honestly, there’s no way  you can shield your daughter from feeling disappointed or wounded by her father’s actions.  The hurt will be there. However, how you help your daughter sort through her feelings about the divorce and Dad’s abusive behavior can make a significant difference.

I would recommend letting your daughter know that her safety is more important than anything.  She needs to understand that Dad’s behavior is unacceptable.  When talking with her about Dad’s behavior be sure to focus on the problem, not the person. It’s okay to tell her that not all adults make good choices about how they handle their anger and the way Dad is choosing to handle his upset is both hurtful and unsafe.  Further, let her know an important part of any relationship is respect.  No matter how much you may love someone, no one has the right to treat you in an abusive manner.  While you had hoped things would change or get better they haven’t.  For that reason, you have decided that you and Dad need to get a divorce. Again keep the the focus on his behavior and avoid attacking the person.   

Additionally, reassure your daughter she is not responsible for Dad’s anger problem or the divorce.  If you feel that your daughter would benefit from additional support you may want to consider short-term counseling or seeking out additional resources.