How do I help my husband understand the difference between affection and abuse?


Dear Stop It Now!,

I'm very concerned because my husband accused my father of being a pedophile because my father is affectionate with my kids. My kids have never felt uncomfortable, neither have I. My father never abused me and he was affectionate with me.

My concern is that my husband was irrational and confrontational with my father. My father is very upset as well as myself and my husband does not understand the damage and impact he is having with my children separating them from my father with no valid argument.

I understand that maybe he does not like the way my father behaves with my children being affectionate, but accusing him harmed me and my kid's relationship with my family. I told him that if he didn't like that kind of behavior he should've talked to my father calmly without being confrontational. His irrational mind tells me that he is protecting the family but I feel so hurt because of the way he managed the situation.

I'm desperate because I can't forgive my husband unless he acknowledges the way he handled the situation was harmful for everybody involved, including him.

Please share your feedback

Dear Concerned Parent,

I'm sorry to hear that there is so much coming up for your family right now. It sounds like your husband is really concerned, and he reacted. This is not ideal, and though it isn’t okay that he was disrespectful to your father, please know that when an adult is worried about the children in their life their concerns can come out in so many ways; irrationality, anger, and confrontation being some of them. And, this shows me how truly worried your husband is for your children when they are around your father. 

Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate what is appropriate affection, what is a cultural norm, what is a warning sign, and what is abuse. Each family’s values and practices around showing affection may be very different. This could be the case for your husband and your father. What is appropriate to those on your side of the family may feel totally inappropriate for your husband and what he grew up with. 

Identifying Warning Signs
I’m wondering if you’ve been able to find out what your husband has noticed in your father’s behaviors that feels inappropriate or concerning? As sometimes it can be difficult to put observed behaviors into words, perhaps it would be helpful to show him these Behaviors To Watch Out For When Adults Are With Children and these Signs an Adult is At-Risk to Harm a Child. This may help your husband identify exactly what he’s seeing in your father’s behaviors when he is with your children. From there, you can reflect what you think is appropriate and, if this is how you’re feeling, why you’re not concerned by your father’s actions. 

During this conversation, you and your husband may also want to take a look at the tip sheets below. The information on these sheets can contribute to a successful conversation about your different perspectives.

  • Understanding What Makes Kids Vulnerable: can help you both identify any ‘risk factors’ either of you notice in the lives of your children
  • Four Rs of Prevention: can assist in creating a roadmap for strengthening safety for your family, and emphasizes responsible adult behaviors as a key factor in prevention

Prevention involves speaking up when you’re noticing something that makes you uneasy – so I’m wondering, would you and your husband be willing to re-visit a talk with your father? Often having a calm conversation with a caregiving adult may be a good way to discuss what’s making him uncomfortable, and can also be a great way to reset expectations around boundaries for both men. 

This talk doesn’t have to be accusatory or judgmental like the last one, but instead can focus on the behaviors that your husband has witnessed that have made him uneasy. Then you, your father, and your husband can all brainstorm together what is okay for an adult to do when they want to show affection. For example, kissing a child on the cheek is okay but only after asking the child for their permission. The three of you may also want to take a look at this guidebook, Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. This gives a broad overview of the topic, which can be helpful whenever any adult is worried about the safety of kids in their lives. Your family may find the section about creating a “Safety Action Plan” (pg. 13-16) particularly helpful.  

Safety Planning
Then, you may want to make sure everyone in your family knows what the family safety rules are. This is a part of Safety Planning, which articulates the rules about body boundaries, privacy, respect, and consent to your children. Safety planning also asks all caregivers and other involved adults to model and respect these healthy boundaries, too. This helps children know what’s okay and helps them better recognize when something is not okay no matter where they are or who they are with. 

Some families have rules like: Adults and children always play with our clothes on, with doors open, and we keep our hands to ourselves. The places we cover with a bathing suit are private. Adults always ask children before giving them a hug or a kiss, and always respect their answer. Unless you need help in the bathroom from your parents, or if you are at the doctor’s office getting a physical exam, no one should touch or see your genitals but you. If anyone is ever asking about your private parts, talking to you about theirs, or if anyone ever makes you feel uncomfortable or scared, it is important to speak up to a trusted adult. Surprises are okay because it’s a happy thing we tell someone about later, but we don’t keep secrets. And whatever else you and your husband may want to include to accommodate your entire family’s needs. 

Support for Yourself
Finally, I do hope that you are able to work with a trusted friend, relative, or even your own therapist around the impact of your husband’s approach on your whole family. You deserve to have a place to be heard, where you can work out what is bothering you in a neutral space. This will ultimately aide in forgiveness, and ideally increase positive communication between you and your husband. Your husband may also consider working with a therapist of his own, especially as this concern has caused him so much turmoil. Feel free to take a look at, and pass on, our Finding and Choosing Professional Treatment and Support resource guide. Though the referral sources are specific to providers in US and Canada the other links about how to find a therapist, and the different styles of therapy available, will all still be pertinent for where you are in Mexico.  

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: October 1st, 2018