My 18-year-old daughter has been seeing a man who has gotten her hooked on drugs and is very violent, to her and to us. We are worried about her safety and the safety of those around her. She claims she loves this man, but then he leaves her and she threatens to hurt herself and then they get back together. He has been arrested multiple times and we are concerned that she is ruining her life. We don’t recognize our daughter anymore and we don’t know what to do. She says she hates us and doesn’t want us getting involved, but then she calls us every time something happens. What do we do to help her?
I can only imagine how painful it is to watch your daughter choose this unhealthy and destructive relationship. While it’s obviously impossible for you to control your daughter, you don’t have to be a neutral bystander while she nose-dives her future.
First, I’d like to know why you didn’t call the police when her boyfriend was physically violent to you. If he was violent to you, your daughter or even your property, you have the responsibility to call the police to have them investigate the situation. If he belongs in jail, then he’ll have a more difficult time influencing your daughter. Again, this isn’t about controlling your daughter but keeping yourself and others safe from harm.
If he manages to avoid arrest and incarceration, recognize that you can’t keep him from being with your daughter. However, if she is living in your home there is nothing wrong with setting some limits to protect yourselves from the chaos that she’s inviting by staying in a relationship with him.
For example, you could require her to be drug-free if she’s going to live in your home. I cannot envision many landlords putting up with violence and drug use on their property. You make the rules because it’s your house. There is nothing that says you can’t require her to submit to random urine analyses or searches of her room for drug paraphernalia without her consent.
At first, this may sound heavy-handed but you are simply working to maintain a stable home environment. Although you would most likely hate to see her leave and move into a more unhealthy situation, allowing her to continue self-destructing under your own roof may not be in her best interest.
While the moments to influence her are probably only linked to crises with her boyfriend, you can still use those moments to invite her to get counseling, set boundaries with him, or to consider other healthy alternatives to her current trajectory. You don’t need to automatically cut off communication with her, as you’ll want to provide a place for her to turn when she comes to herself and realizes that she’s stuck and needs help.
Situations like this require tremendous clarity of mind so you don’t get caught up in the distorted reality of violence and addiction. It’s common for family members of drug users to feel like they’re the crazy ones, even though they are the sober ones.
Reach out to others who have earned the right to know your family story and ask for their perspective on the situation at hand; you will have blind spots that need to be exposed.
To review, report any crimes, hold your boundaries for your home, keep your lines of communication open with your daughter, and reach out for support for yourselves. These steps will help keep you healthy as you work to influence your daughter in this critical time of life.
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 solely his and not those of St. George News.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.