Question

I have a 22-year-old daughter that at the age of 14 years old tried to commit suicide after being in a toxic relationship. She chased after that guy for four years until she met her next boyfriend, who she dated for another four years. This was also another toxic relationship. She broke up with this guy and jumped into dating another guy and is now in a relationship with him. I have tried talking to her about how she is repeating toxic tendencies because they control each other’s Instagram, they track each other’s locations, and they tell each other about every single detail of their lives. I am tired of helping her get through all of this. It puts me on edge because it takes me back to the beginning when she tried committing suicide. How do I handle a daughter like her and the emotional rollercoaster she puts me through? Please help.

Answer

It’s so difficult to let your daughter manage her own life when you almost lost her eight years ago. That’s a terrifying experience to overcome, especially when her current behaviors look the same. You probably sense that it’s important for her to be independent, but you’re also understandably lacking confidence that she knows what’s best for her. Let’s talk about how you can support her without letting your mental health suffer.

Your exhaustion from her emotional roller coaster is important feedback you don’t want to ignore. What is it telling you? Does this mean you need to hear fewer details of her life? Does it mean you need a time out from talking to her? See if you can understand what your exhaustion is telling you. Thankfully, our bodies have feedback mechanisms that will protect us if we let them. Most of us ignore these signals and press forward thinking that we need to love more, give more, or sacrifice more. This is most often driven by guilt and fear.

Instead, give yourself permission to slow down, ponder, pray, and consider what is helping and what is not helping. Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • Is your daughter asking you directly for support, or are you inserting yourself into her life?
  • Do you have a need to know all of these details about her life so you can protect her?
  • What role do you want to play in her life?
  • Do you see her as someone capable of directing her life?
  • What do you fear would happen if you didn’t insert yourself into the details of her life?
  • Are you worried about her safety?
  • Is she doing anything to improve her own mental and relational health?

If your daughter is not in danger of harming herself or others, then constantly intervening to protect her will only make you both more miserable. If she’s in danger of being abused or suicidal, then there’s no question that you must intervene and get her to safety. However, she might choose a life of dysfunctional relationships that, while difficult to watch, aren’t your responsibility to manage.

Your daughter doesn’t have great boundaries with you and appears to overshare, which gives you a play-by-play of her unstable life. It’s okay for you to stop asking questions about her relationships and it’s also okay to ask her not to share everything. You can still have a relationship with her without knowing all the details.

You’ll never find peace pulling up a front-row seat to her immature relationship drama. If she won’t use discretion, then you can always ask for less information. This might be difficult because you’ll believe that knowing more will help you protect her. She’s now an adult and needs to be in charge of managing her own safety and stability. You can offer support and resources, but she has to care about it as much or more than you.

One of the most important things you can do to support her is build a good relationship with her. Call her, text her, and connect with her in meaningful ways. Let her know how important she is to you. Remind her of her worth and value. You want to build a bridge she can cross when she’s feeling lonely, rejected, or overwhelmed. In loving relationships, we need to make it easy for our loved ones to connect to us. You might have some strong opinions about her choice in men, but those opinions won’t help her feel closer to you. If she is seeking counsel and support, talk about patterns and give her a vision of what healthy relationships look like. I think Elder Jeffrey R. Holland delivered one of the best relationship discourses in February 2000, entitled, “How Do I. Love Thee”, which has helped countless people assess the health of their relationships.[i] 

Spend time with her building a relationship and get to know her so she can get to know herself. She may not need you now, but if this pattern continues, she’ll need to know there is someone there who can help her out of these dysfunctional patterns. It’s tough to watch someone make terrible relationship choices, but you’ll feel less anxious, resentful, and overwhelmed when you allow her to ask for help when she’s ready.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]  

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.geoffsteurer.com 
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT
Instagram: @geoffsteurer
Twitter: @geoffsteurer


[i] https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland/how-do-i-love-thee/