Relationship Connection: How can I support my son without agreeing with his choices?

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Question

We have a 34 year-old son who struggles with multiple addictions and is living a life that goes against what we taught him. He’s not necessarily asking for our help, but we’re both concerned about how it’s ruining his life. He is a positive, loving person who brings much to our family and we are trying to keep connected and strong as a family unit.

I have been concerned that perhaps I try too hard. I have a good relationship with my son, and we can talk about most things. Sometimes I feel the imbalance between what he will share with me and what he shares with my husband. I am a good listener and my husband is, too, but there has been friction at times between them over my son’s choices. Sometimes I feel that I am overprotective and too accepting and loving. How do I balance my approach to this situation so my husband and I are equal in our caring for our son?

Answer

I agree that it’s important for you and your husband to work on building a unified approach toward your son. Even though each of you is ultimately responsible for your own personal relationship with your son, it’s wise to seek marital harmony over divisive issues. Continue to be patient with yourself, your husband and your son as you each work through these emotional and relational struggles.

If you believe you’re overcompensating for your husband’s responses to your son, then I would start by identifying how you want to respond to your son. If your husband has difficulty connecting to your son, then this might create more anxiety for you and affect the way you respond to him. Instead, consider how you want to relate to him as his mother. It sounds like you want him to know of your unconditional love and desire to stay close to him.

I don’t think it’s possible to be too loving and accepting of others. Everyone needs to know they’re loved deeply and accepted where they are. This isn’t the same as agreeing with the choices he’s making.

Just because you’re listening to your son doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to agree with him. Listening to someone else is the most basic form of love we can offer. Your presence, interest and connection to your son can’t be conditional on his personal choices. Of course, if he’s aggressive or disrespectful to you or your husband, then that will make it difficult to stay in a close relationship.

Your son already knows how you and your husband feel about his life. And, both you and your husband have heard and understood where he stands as well. He’s not asking for your help and feels like his life is going well. While you can certainly continue sharing and deepening your understanding of each other’s viewpoints, it’s not going to help for you to dig in your heels and take an authoritative position with your son about what he should be doing with his life.

He gets to be in charge of his own accountability to himself and others, which leaves you and your husband free to love him as your son. If you feel comfortable with your way of responding to your son, then the additional tension you’re feeling might be from the tension between your husband and son. There may be areas where you need to become unified as a couple in responding to your son, especially as he has addictions and money issues. He may be asking you for financial or other types of assistance that might border on enabling further unhealthy behavior. You can still show love and compassion to your son in his struggles while maintaining boundaries with your resources.

You can also offer your husband the same acceptance and compassion you want to offer your son. If your husband knows that you understand his own personal struggles with your son’s life, this may help him respond better to your son. You can hold space for both of these good men as they work to find connection with each other.

Your son may never feel as comfortable sharing the details of his life with your husband as he does with you. If this ever changes, it will be completely up to your son and your husband to figure out a better way. However, I think it’s great that your son feels emotionally safe enough with you to open up about his life and struggles. You’ve earned his trust and confidence, which is a beautiful thing. Just because you have this trust with your son doesn’t mean that you can’t be unified with your husband in how you respond to any requests that might enable ongoing unhealthy patterns. If your son makes his connection to you conditional on giving into his requests, then it’s important for you to understand the nature of addiction and how to best respond as a family member. You can attend support meetings for family members of those battling addiction, which can help you learn how to set appropriate limits with love.

You don’t have to feel badly for the connection you’ve built with your son. If your husband is struggling to work through his feelings about his relationship with your son, you can give him your love and support. He needs to know you understand and support him in his process. You don’t have to be the mediator between the two. You can relate to each of them with the same patience, love and support they both deserve.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Chris March 21, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    If “He is a positive, loving person who brings much to our family” and “He’s not necessarily asking for our help”, it appears that the problem is all in your head, not his. I’m curious what you consider to be his “multiple addictions.” Sounds to me like you and your husband are overly judgmental and should mind your own business.

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