Don’t Let Your Teen Destroy Your Marriage

By Suzanne Phillips, Psy. D,

Whereas most people are warned that the blessed event of a new baby may challenge the romance in their marriage – not enough warning is given to parents of teens. Lulled by the relative calm of the school age years, they find themselves suddenly embroiled in the challenging journey of adolescence which extends anywhere from age 12 to 18 years.

Notwithstanding the love parents have for their kids and for each other, most parents will agree that the teen years can stress even the strongest of marriages. Why?

A close look suggests that the very developmental tasks that teens need to negotiate under the broad heading of “ Identity vs. Role Confusion” call into question the stability, predictability, authority, intelligence, sleep and even sexual patterns of parents.

A Saturday night spent nervously waiting up for your teen, while blaming each other for being too lax or too rigid rarely sets the mood for romance!

That said, it is important to consider that raising a teen does not have to equate to ruining a marriage. In fact, it is the last thing you want and the very last thing they need!

 Three Guiding Principles:

There are three Guiding Principles that may help you and your teen on this journey: Balance, Communication and Connection.

What makes them effective is that they not only help adolescents deal with the developmental tasks that transition them to adulthood; they are the same principles that help partners strengthen their own relationships.


Teens Struggle with Balance

Basic to the challenges and chaos of adolescence—most teens have trouble with balancing everything from emotions, to friends, to school assignments.

  • Issues are presented in life or death terms.
  • People are loved or hated within a short span of time.
  • Actions are rarely considered in terms of consequences
  • Independence is professed while dependency demanded.
  • The world revolves around their lives.
  • Ever changing versions of how they look, what they believe, what they eat, and what they need leave little room for negotiation.

Parents Can Strike a Balance

  • Given history, gender, and personality, it is not unusual for parents to become seduced by their teens or polarized into extreme positions.

Why can’t I drive with my friends to Florida—Dad trusts my driving!

  • It may actually be an advantage that you see things differently if you can use different perspectives as points of information to help strike a balance.
  • Rather than going along with something you think is dangerous, or putting your partner down to align with the teen, try being authentic and respectful of each other’s opinion. Clarify the situation from both of your perspectives and from your teen’s point of view rather than fight over the solutions. It sets the stage for collaborative problem solving and often finding a middle ground.

“ You are right Dad thinks you are a good driver.  Let’s talk more about Spring Break and what you were thinking.”

Mutual Feedback Prevents Over-Parenting

  • An important but difficult balance for parents is the ability, as psychologist Brooke Feeney suggests, to restrain the need to help until the teen needs it–to support rather than substitute for a teen’s efforts.

Why can’t you let your daughter find her own job?”

  • When parents trust each other to give and take feedback, they can often avoid “ helicopter parenting” which hurts rather than helps. Working together to be more effective not only enhances your view of each other; it enhances the competence of your teen.

“ Mom and I are both eager to help, but we really want to know what you have in mind.”

Their Life vs. Your Life

  • Some parents are so enthralled with their teen and his/her activities, friends, and achievements, they abandon a personal interest in self and their relationship to become the 24/7-support team and audience to their child.
  • Some parents are so worried by the problems their teen seems to have–be it academic, social, emotional—that they abdicate their role as partner to be the vigilant parent.
  • When love, support or even concern for a teen bankrupt a marriage, everyone loses. The parents lose their bond and its potential for support and refueling and the teen loses the model of a vital adult relationship.
  • Given that the challenges of adolescence often are underscored by a teen’s narcissistic notion that the world revolves around them, it is to their advantage to realize that you have a life, needs and a relationship apart from them.


The Language of Teens

  • Anyone who has parented teens knows that communication can get challenging.
  • If you have raised girls you know that most issues are wrapped up and vocalized as high drama. Asking someone to get off the phone to help with dinner can invite hysteria much less avoidance of the request.
  • If you have raised boys then you are more accustomed to feeling like you are living with CIA agents. If you ask too much or they reveal too much—they may have to kill you.
  • Add the communication of social media in cell phones, emails, texting, etc. and gender differences are eclipsed. The only thing that matters is constant communication—with peers.

The Language of Parents

  • In face of this, some parents never stop talking to their teen and others shut down. Reflecting their stress, the parents’ communication with each other often becomes colored by criticism of each other.

“ No wonder he doesn’t listen – you never stop yelling at him.”

“ So she lied again and you still saying nothing to her?”

  • Parents can benefit from recognizing that criticizing each other can disqualify both in the eyes of a teen.
  • As strange as it may seen, it is better for a teen to hear parents say that they need his/her help to really speak about the issue. It brings the parents into the same place, even if they have different styles and opinions, and sends the teen the message that they all need to communicate.
  • Parent and teen collaboration on how to balance social mediais invaluable. Despite resistance, if parents hang in, model and create a family plan like shutting phones off during a shared meal; charging all phones during the middle of the night; telling teens that they can blame the parents when friends ask why they didn’t respond at 3Am-they will find that many teens are actually relieved.
  • Another important communication dynamic for parents with teens and with each other is positive communication. There are some teens and partners who never stop hearing what they are doing wrong. There is no motivation to listen if listening equates to a negative view of self.
  • It is valuable to communicate as “ people” not just as worried parents to each other and to your teen. Teens should hear about your lives and even be asked for their advice or opinion. They should observe their parents enjoying a conversation together about something other than them!!!

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