The relationship a daughter has with her father has a profound impact on her life. When parents’ divorce, it often changes the dynamic of the father-daughter relationship – due to less contact – and it can be a challenge to stay connected.
For the most part, a good relationship with an intimate partner is strongly tied to your relationship with your dad. Your father’s presence (or lack of presence) in your life will affect how you will relate to all men who come after him and can impact your view of yourself and your psychological well-being.
My research for my book Daughters of Divorce spanned over three years and was comprised of over 300 interviews of women who reflected on their parents’ divorce. The most common theme that emerged was a wound in the father-daughter relationship. The following are steps to facilitate healing:
1. Be patient and adopt realistic expectations of your father. Give up the dream of a perfect relationship with him. After all, it may take time to reconnect after being distant for some time. Accept that tension may exist between you and can be worked through in most cases. Listen to your father’s side of the story and try to keep an open mind.
2. Let go of the “blame game” and don’t make accusations. Be honest with yourself about any wounds that might exist and take responsibility for your feelings. Keep in mind that any healthy relationship evolves and is a journey of self-discovery and mutual understanding.
3. Explore your intentions and desires. What do you think a relationship with your father should look like? Is it realistic for him to make up for what you lacked in the past? Accepting your dad for who he is will help both of you to reestablish a new bond, based on who you are today rather than on your idealized image of your father from the past.
4. Express your needs clearly and calmly. If you are requesting a change in your relationship, try to make one request at a time so your dad doesn’t feel overwhelmed. It may take several requests before you can come to an agreement. Writing in a journal may help you with this process.
5. Create healthy boundaries. It’s not necessary to dredge up past hurt every time you see your father. Since you can’t change the past, you may be better off focusing on the present and future. On the other hand, you may need to ask questions (to clear things up) in order to continue to relate in a loving way with your dad.
6. Practice forgiveness. Even if it’s too late to connect with your father, you can do your best to forgive him. This does not mean that you condone his hurtful actions. You are just not giving them the same power over you. Try to be understanding and accept that we all have flaws.
7. Write a release or letter. One creative way to let go and formalize your act of forgiveness is to write a statement that fits your situation. For example, “Dad, I release you from not being active in my life after your divorce. I don’t know why you weren’t there. I’m okay with not knowing.” This statement can be sent in a letter or kept private. It can be especially beneficial if you’ve had a painful relationship with your father and you didn’t have a chance to heal before he died.
8. Accept the fact that even if your relationship with your father doesn’t meet your expectations – or he is absent in your life – you can still let go of the past and write a new story for your life by developing other healthy relationships. It can be therapeutic to talk to a trusted friend or therapist about your disappointment.
It’s possible to repair your wound with your father so that your past hurt doesn’t have an impact on your present relationships. In many cases, I’ve discovered that with work and patience, relationships between fathers and daughters can and do improve. Examining your parents’ divorce from an adult perspective and practicing forgiveness will allow you to create a new story for your life.
In Our Fathers, Ourselves, Dr. Peggy Drexler writes, “Likewise, even the most troubled, overwrought, baggage-laden relationship is not without hope – if not of reconciliation, then at least of the daughter finding a new way of seeing her father that might help her to make sense of the forces that shaped him and his actions.” In most cases, it’s not too late to connect with your father, even if you haven’t done so in some time.
Terry interviews Tanya about her tips for healing her wound in her relationship with her father here: Daughters of Divorce Interview Series Podcast: Episode 1 The Father-Daughter Relationship: How to Heal the Wounds Created by Divorce.