Nearly everyone remembers their first love. The overwhelming feelings of infatuation and the chemistry between you is not something that is easily forgotten. And while it is pretty normal to spend a lot of time with a new love interest, there is a line between normal teenage desire and unhealthy obsession.
So how do you know if your teen has crossed that line or if they are in a healthy and normal teen relationship?
We often refer to the unhealthy and obsessive type of relationship as codependent. Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore. Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person.
While a healthy relationship is interdependent, depending on one another for support and encouragement, an unhealthy or codependent relationship is one where you literally rely on the other person to make you feel loved and complete.
If your believe this is happening to your teenager, it is very difficult to watch. It’s as if your teen does not believe they are lovable or worthy, and need external validation in order to feel happy. If left on their own, they are unable to function or feel good because they are relying on someone else to fill that void in themselves. And until they fill that void with a healthy love of self, they will just choose one unhealthy relationship after another after another.
So what can a parent do? The single most important thing any parent can do is keep the lines of communication open. Have an honest and ongoing conversation with your teen about what you see happening, why it concerns you, and what the potential problems could be with this.
Here are a few keys that your child may be obsessed with someone:
- Are they talking to or spending so much time with this person that they are failing to honor all of their other obligations? For example, are they still getting all of their chores and schoolwork done and also getting enough sleep? Neglecting responsibilities is a sure red flag of an unhealthy situation.
- Have their friends or family complained that they never spend any time with them anymore? Neglecting friendships and isolating themselves from your family is often a sign that they’re overly obsessed with a relationship.
- Some questions to ask your teen: Do you think about this person constantly? Like every minute of the day? Are you having trouble concentrating and even sleeping because you can’t stop the thoughts of being together? Are you texting during class or skipping class to be together? Is there any time when this person is not on your mind and you feel calm and relaxed? Fleeting thoughts that make you smile are one thing, but obsessive thoughts that get in the way of you thinking about anything else can be harmful.
- Questions to ask if you feel someone is obsessed with your teen: Are you feeding off of the neediness or possessiveness of another person? Are you possibly confusing their attention with love? If your partner needs to be with you or talking to you every minute of every day, how can you maintain a sense of self? It is always crucial to maintain a strong sense of self, even when in relationships with others. Anyone who tries to strip that away from you is actually controlling and manipulative. This is dangerous for you.
- Does your teen fear that the relationship might end and they are doing everything in their power to prevent that from happening? Will they completely fall apart if the relationship doesn’t work out? If the fear of abandonment is strong and overpowering, they are no longer able to see things clearly for what they really are. Their emotional well-being is at stake.
There is no doubt that everyone wants and deserves to be loved. But first, everyone must learn to love and respect themselves. Ask your teen how anyone else could love or respect them if they don’t even love and respect themselves?
If they don’t find the self-love, they will likely end up in relationships where they think it is love, but really it will be about dependence and controlling. These relationships rarely end well. A healthy relationship is one of mutual respect and adoration. One where your self is nurtured, respected and even encouraged. It is one where your friendships, family and outside interests are included.
Your teen needs to hear that they are lovable just the way they are. Build up their self-esteem and focus on their strengths. Make sure they know that they deserve a healthy and happy relationship. They don’t need to change a single thing about themselves in order to be loved, nor should they ever have to beg someone to love them.
Teach them not to ever let anyone control them, try to change them, isolate them, or take up all of their time and energy. Make sure they understand the differences between obsessiveness and love. And, most importantly, let your teen know that you will always be there for them, no matter what decisions they make and no matter what happens with their relationships.
They need to know that they can depend on you, even if maybe you were right and they were wrong. Teens are learning about life and love, and will likely make a lot of mistakes. Be supportive and encouraging, and hopefully your teen will grow from each mistake and make better decisions the next time.