Dear Dr. G.,
My 18-year-old daughter is going through a very difficult time right now, as her boyfriend of three-and-a-half years broke off the relationship. She is devastated and has no interest in anything. She is having a difficult time accepting it. She also told me that her friends won't speak to her anymore because she told them not to speak badly about him. How can I help her get through this difficult time and how can she make amends with her friends? It breaks my heart to see my daughter in so much pain and feel abandoned by her friends.
A Distressed Mother
I feel for you and your daughter. We would all absorb our kids' pain if we could, wouldn't we? And, we would fix all of their problems if that was at all possible, wouldn't we? Unfortunately, we can guide and support our beloved children but it is impossible to fix all of their problems. We can, however, provide support.
First, I would like to address your daughter's problems with her friends. She certainly needs her friends for support through difficult times and because friends are so invaluable in our lives through good times and bad. My guess is that your daughter's friends have good intentions. They are probably trying to help your daughter get over her boyfriend by making him seem less desirable. Please explain that to your daughter. My guess is that your daughter is spending much of her time with her friends focusing on the ex-boyfriend and this puts her friends in an awkward position. Try to encourage your daughter to spend more time with her friends while making a very conscious effort not to talk about her boyfriend while she is around them. The friendships will likely be repaired when the friends focus on each other and not on the boyfriend.
Now on to how to help your daughter get over the boyfriend. This is surely one of the most difficult tasks of life. I always think of the breakup of a long-term relationship as being the equivalent of going through a withdrawal process with all sorts of accompanying withdrawal symptoms. I am sure that your daughter is having "cravings" to talk to the ex-boyfriend and is quite distressed that this is no longer available to her.
So how does one help a child get over a breakup? I will give you 10 of my best possible suggestions. Certainly, some of these will work better than others. Consider this a mix and match menu. I suggest that you make these suggestions to your daughter in a gentle manner. If a significant amount of time passes and she is still devastated and becomes depressed then, of course, you should help her find a good therapist who specializes in the sorts of issues that your daughter is grappling with.
Now here are my suggestions for you to make to your daughter who is dealing with relationship withdrawal:
1. Cut off all social media contact with the ex. This includes texting, Facebook contacts and any other forms of virtual contact with the ex. It is impossible to get over someone if you are constantly checking their status and hence making their daily lives a very significant part of your daily life. This is not an easy task but over and over again I have seen this be highly effective. Trust me on this one.
2. Encourage your daughter to get cross-addicted to other activities so that she is not thinking about the ex as frequently and as emotionally. Here, I am thinking about positive and healthy activities such as exercise, yoga classes or becoming involved in anything that might be of interest to your daughter. The key is for her to become engaged in alternative activities that get her mind off her boyfriend and show her that life has a lot to offer.
3. I also suggest that you limit how much time you talk to your daughter about the ex. Talking about him endlessly will only fuel an unhealthy obsession with him. We all know that obsessive thinking leads to anxiety, depression and getting stuck in life. Your daughter may not be able to clearly understand why the breakup occurred but in life we have to deal with ambiguity and outcomes that we are not always happy with. This helps us develop grit and resiliency.
4. Do not suggest that your daughter begin to date again in a fast and furious fashion. Most people need time to regroup before getting re-involved. The risk of rebound relationships that don't work out is too high and might send your daughter into a tailspin.
5. Remind your daughter that she is still quite young and that she has many more chapters in her life. Make sure, though, to validate how important her past relationship was to her so that she doesn't feel dismissed or invalidated.
6. Encourage your daughter to refrain from asking mutual friends about the ex-boyfriend and his current relationships. This is self-destructive behavior and serves no purpose other than to inflict self-torture.
7. Similarly, if your daughter's friends or acquaintances begin to tell her stories about her ex's current life post-relationship she should kindly tell them that this information is not really good for her to hear (even though she is secretly craving this knowledge). Eventually, others will get the message that your daughter does not want ex-boyfriend updates and information about him will no longer serve as social currency or as a way to make conversation with your daughter.
8. Encourage your daughter to find and identify at least one moment during each day that she is grateful for. Gratitude is an amazing thing and makes us all feel better about life no matter what is transpiring in our complicated lives.
9. Rather than encouraging your daughter to date, encourage her instead to make lots of male and female friends so that she can identify which characteristics of people are most important to her.
10. Make sure your daughter immerses herself in music and books that will be soothing and uplifting. We all need these life pleasures to help us emerge from difficult life circumstances.
Good luck and please get back to me.
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