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Ask Shari: Moving In & Connecting With Teenagers

Relationships
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Ask Shari: Moving In & Connecting With Teenagers

Q1.) How soon is too soon to move in with someone? I have been dating this girl for about a month now and everything is going really well. We are definitely connecting and I like her a lot. It feels like something is definitely there.

So it has only been a few short weeks, but we have found ourselves in a situation where both of our apartment lease terms are up in another few weeks and we have casually talked about moving in together. Neither of us has said anything definitive one way or the other, but I think I would like to give it a try. Do you think this is too soon or risky? Should I play it safe here? Thanks!

A1.) Hi Playing it Safe, this is a great problem to have, congrats on your new positive relationship!

I think it’s important for me to say that there is no “playing it safe” when it comes to love, it’s always a risk but hopefully one worth taking. I think choosing to move in together is a matter that is truly personal and hard to give advice on without a much larger context. When advising on a topic like this, it would be important to consider your age and background, your history with women, maybe even your trauma history if there is one. But… I will do my best to give advice without that information ☺

When it comes to cohabitating, there are statistics that indicate moving in together lowers your chance of staying together. I like statistics and all, but for so many clients in my practice cohabitating is a standard in a relationship. In my experience there are three major factors that really influence if this situation will work out:

1. Expectations are important, sharing expectations are even more important. I find that a very common issue is that partners have different expectations when it comes to moving in together, or unrealistic expectations. For instance, if one partner expects to keep a certain amount of autonomy, and the other does not understand the expectation, the need for space can be taken the wrong way! This scenario could occur with anything from who makes dinner, pays utilities, cleans, snores, gargles too loudly, etc. What are the expectations going into the situation? Make sure to establish some of your needs and boundaries and ask that your partner does the same. If you are in touch with and SHARING a general version of your expectations you guys will be ahead of the game.

2. The truth is, moving in together works better when each person has support from their family and/or friends and a sense of independence. Having support allows you to be vulnerable and still feel safe through such a huge transition. This is where culture can come into focus; some of us come from religious families or families against cohabitating for other reasons. If this is true for one or both of you, it can be an added stress. Similarly, finances can be a big motivator in the decision to cohabitate, this isn’t usually the best way to get into this circumstance because it diminishes the couples ability to be living together by choice. Essentially, if you can’t afford another living situation, you are trapped together! If you have burned bridges with your family and friends and don’t have them to return to, you can feel trapped! This never helps to reduce stress, and decreases your ability to have a successful relationship. The reasons to cohabitate are really important to consider and discuss in detail, it can really strengthen the relationship to be able to have these kinds of difficult conversations together.

It is wise to be clear about expectations and needs from the start. I work with many couples who have arguments over meals, cleaning, habits, laundry and all the basic things that two people become mutually responsible for when they move in together. Think of all the roommate situations you have ever had or heard about (there is huge assortment of these movies in most comedy sections). The difference between moving in with someone you have strong feelings for and moving in with a friend, is that if you have roommate issues you also have romantic issues. There is no natural delineation between the roommate part of the relationship (responsibilities and costs) and the romantic relationship (love and fear). I would suggest that this is discussed at length before moving in together.

3. In truth, if you are working well now then there is no indication that moving in together would change that for the worse. If you and your partner are willing to add stressors to the relationship as well as make a commitment to work them out together, I don’t see why moving in together is the wrong thing to do. If you are in a great place with your relationship and don’t want things to change I wouldn’t recommend making this huge move. Unfortunately there are no guarantees in love; communication and trust is a really good staple! Good luck!

 

Q2.) Hi Shari, I am having a hard time connecting with my teenage daughter. She seems to be quite rebellious these days and uninterested in anything about me. We were never so close that I feel like I am losing a “best friend” as they say, but it is still concerning. I have tried all approaches – keep my distance and let her come to me – and smother with love – and neither seems to work. Have you had to deal with this? Any advice for these seemingly difficult years? Thanks so much!
– A distressed mom

A2.) Hi distressed Mom, I am sorry to hear about your frustration and difficulties! I can tell you that so many, in fact, all of the parents of teenage daughters that I know personally and professionally experience this on one level or another. Chances are you are a perfectly normal mom, and she is a perfectly normal kid.

The possibilities of what is making your daughter seem distant are endless, too vast and varied for me to even guess at. I applaud you for taking the time to try some tactics to help get close to her. At this point I would really recommend that you try to show your daughter how you feel rather than tell her. It is hard to talk to someone who isn’t listening to you. It takes the use of Radical Acceptance skills to work within this situation. This is work that is best done with a therapist that specializes in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

By accepting your daughter in this phase of her life, without any hope of changing her at this time you are modeling respect and love. It can be as simple as saying things like “Hey, are up for a conversation?” or “When would it be a good time to talk, what works for you?” Making a point to discuss light topics just to have conversations, and make sure it doesn’t always go back to needs and demands. Sometimes, modeling the respect that you want from your child is the best way to turn things around. As always, if you are putting forth a huge effort, please don’t forget to communicate this to your daughter. Let her know you are trying to reach out to her, and ask her if it is working.

Clinically, the best practices when dealing with oppositional or defiant behavior is to not oppose the person. This can be a huge challenge as a parent because it is in fact your job to raise this person into a decent human being. At the point in which your child is a teenager, the game begins to change a bit. Unfortunately the happier parents are the ones that realize that you cannot control a teenager. The best you can do is parent a teenager to the best of your abilities, but trying to control them is a mistake.

Being an assertive parent is a change in paradigm from the parenting of smaller children. For parents of teens I recommend taking an assertive approach, providing choices and outcomes that are consistent with the lessons your child has been taught their whole lives. They should be given boundaries and structure such as curfews, and rules. Make the consequences of breaking rules reasonable and natural if at all possible. Practice taking an assertive attitude with your teen, which is different from an aggressive attitude in the following ways.

 

When a parent is assertive, they are:

    • setting limits and expectations
    • creating boundaries
    • not judging right and wrong
    • encouraging others to make good choices
    • not highly emotional
    • being consistent, following up
    • allowing for the other person to make a choice, based on limits and expectations
    • taking an “I’m ok, you’re ok” attitude

When a parent is aggressive, they are:

    • trying to validate their feelings
    • expressing anger
    • holding another person responsible for their feelings
    • wanting to restore a feeling of power and control
    • usually feeling fearful
    • having an “I’m ok, you’re not ok” attitude

I would recommend trying to be as assertive as possible and get some support for yourself. The hardest part about this stage of parenting is that you don’t get an answer to the question “Am I crazy?” unless you surround yourself with the support you need.

Your child is not in a place in her development where she will validate that she is hard to deal with, moody, unrealistic, irritable or simply rude. Her perspective is truly her own and she will struggle to see the needs of others. Unfortunately, varying degrees of this behavior is considered within normal limits. I suggest trying to be assertive, model respectful interactions and stay calm.

Be patient, it may in fact be the hardest of all the parenting years. I believe that if you can get through these years you can and will get your daughter back. Try to remember that you are always doing the best you can, AND so is your daughter. Take it easy, good luck.

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