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Tough Love Means Tough Boundaries

Dr. David Hawkins
The Relationship Doctor

CBN.comThere are often long-term consequences to our actions.

This point was driven home to me recently when working with a man who had been convicted of domestic violence with his wife. Not only did this Christian man have to live with a felony on his record, but suffered from the divorce of his wife, whom he loved deeply.

In counseling with this man, he lived with deep regrets. Yet, he realized that he had caused much of his own pain, and now had to learn to live beyond his mistakes. Some of them, such as the loss of his marriage and wife, as well as his criminal record, would follow him forever.

This point is further illustrated in a recent posting to our Community Forum. This woman, molested by her father for years, now wonders if she should listen to her father’s pleadings, forgive and forget what happened to her, and allow her daughter to visit her father. Consider her story.

Hi Dr. Hawkins! I am a 47-year-old woman, married, with a 6-year-old daughter. I am trying to live pleasingly to God, and have a question about "honor thy mother/father". My father sexually abused me for years when I was growing up. I sought counseling 12 years ago. I went to numerous counselors with a question: "Would he do this to a granddaughter" and was always told "yes". So I do not let him see my daughter, and have clearly stated this boundary to him. Yet he continues to push. Whenever I open up to more contact with him, he asks to see my daughter. I feel it is my responsibility to protect her. Two days ago I had lunch with him & mom, and he again asked to see her. At this point, do I discontinue a relationship with him (but what about 'honor'?), or restate my boundaries? How many times must I restate them? The continual revisiting of the topic makes me depressed. I want to do God's will but I am unclear. Thank you for guidance.

There are several things to consider in this post.

First, it is understandable that you might wrestle with what to do in your situation since the Scriptures are clear about honoring our fathers and mothers. (Deut. 5: 16) We are to hold our parents in high regard, and show deference to them. You seem very respectful of them.

Second, you offer profound mitigating circumstances however—his despicable actions of child molestation, which Scripture is also clearly against. You’ve sought the counsel of several professionals concerning the possibility of your father perpetrating sexual abuse again—and I concur with their counsel that the possibility exists for a recurrence of his behavior. You offer no indication that he has received treatment, or that he is repentant of his behavior. Assuming this to be true, there is reason for significant concern.

Third, while you wrestle with the issue of honoring your father, you are right to note that you also have a responsibility to protect your daughter. In fact, you have Scriptural responsibility to love and protect your daughter. Honoring your father doesn’t mean ignoring obvious dangers. You’ve been given wisdom, which you are to use, and it certainly seems wise to hold your father accountable for his actions, and to protect your daughter.

Fourth, it is interesting to note that you have repeatedly set a boundary with your father, and he continues to push you. Again, this does not suggest a man who takes responsibility for his actions. Were he to take responsibility for the gravity of his actions, and their impact on you, he’d respect your boundaries. His pushing of your boundaries raises further suspicions of his motives and capabilities.

Finally, you ask how many times you must restate your boundaries. Once—and mean it! He will keep asking and pushing until he is clear that you mean business. In my book, When Pleasing Others is Hurting You I clarify the importance of setting firm boundaries with others, thereby commanding respect. Tell him once more, firmly, and make it clear that you insist he respect your decision. Should he continue to pressure you, (which leads you to feeling depressed,) I suggest a time apart from him so he might reconsider his actions.          
Dr. David HawkinsAbout the author: He is known as The Relationship Doctor. With more than 30 years of counseling experience, David Hawkins, Ph.D., has a special interest in helping individuals and couples strengthen their relationships. Dr. Hawkins’ books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You and When Trying to Change Him Is Hurting You, have more than 300,000 copies in print.

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