Q: I'm divorced, with joint custody of my daughter. When she came to my place last weekend, she told me that my ex-wife has been making some very critical and unkind statements about me. What's the wisest way to handle this situation?
Jim: First, you should try to ascertain whether your ex-wife really said those things. Kids are capable of exaggerating or even making up stories, especially if they have some kind of vested interest in pitting Mom and Dad against one another. So don't jump to conclusions yet. Your knowledge of your child's and your ex-wife's personalities is a good place to begin your assessment.
If you're convinced that inappropriate comments ARE being made, let your daughter know that you plan to discuss it directly with your former wife. This will give you a chance to communicate your motives for taking action and the way you plan to deal the problem. For example, you might say to your daughter: "You mentioned some negative things that your mother has said about me. I think it's important to our entire family that we put a stop to this kind of talk, so I'm going to speak to your mom and try to agree about what we will and will not say about each other. If we have issues with each other, I want to resolve them without bringing you into it."
Finally, contact your ex-wife and ask if she's willing to support such a plan. Whatever the response, you can still make up your mind not to retaliate by launching verbal counterattacks. This is not to say that you should "candy coat" your ex's flaws for the sake of your child. When you have legitimate concerns, you should voice them, but you should also do your best to maintain an attitude of respect. Hopefully your child will see that your actions speak louder than your ex-spouse's words.
Q: We just learned my husband has cancer, and we're devastated. We have the best possible medical care, so there's hope —but what can we do to keep the disease from harming our marriage?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: My heart goes out to you. Medical crises easily become emotional and spiritual crises that can present a serious challenge to any marriage.
First, while you already know it intellectually, you need to remind yourselves constantly that everything IS going to be different now. So let go of your expectations. Your response as a couple will depend upon your willingness to set aside your earlier hopes and dreams and roll with the punches of your present circumstances. In other words, you both need to become — and remain — adaptable.
As you navigate these difficult waters, don't forget to count your blessings. Ask yourselves, "In the midst of all that's happened, what can we be truly grateful for?" If you look hard enough, you'll discover that there's always something. So make it your aim to find new ways of enjoying life and serving others together. You might be surprised how satisfying and therapeutic this can be to both of you.
Meanwhile, don't be afraid to reach out to others for help. Sometimes your need will be as simple as a meal or a listening ear. At other times you may need advice regarding medical or legal decisions. Ask a friend (or several) to help you network at church and in your community to locate useful resources.
If you think it might be helpful to speak with a licensed therapist, don't hesitate to give our counselors a call 855-771-HELP (4357). They can also provide you with a list of professionals practicing in your area. Again, I wish you the best.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.