Dear Carolyn: My daughter is in a relationship with her high school boyfriend. They are now living together in a different state with no relatives nearby. My daughter, 25, is a people person with a bubbly personality and makes friends easily. Her boyfriend does not. He prefers to stay home, work every now and then, and stay up all night playing video games online with other gamers.
She is a hard worker with a very well-paying job and owns her own home. However, she comes home to this situation.
In fact, when they are home together, there is no communication because he is doing his "own" thing while she just sits and becomes depressed. He tells her to go out with friends but she feels guilty and refuses.
This is the only boy she has ever dated and he is smothering her. I am going for a visit soon and want to talk to her about everything. Please advise me how to start the conversation without her thinking I want to control her life.
— Frustrated Mom
Frustrated Mom: He is smothering her with suggestions that she go out with friends?
Unless there’s a whole backstory here of manipulation and control by the boyfriend that you’ve skipped over, no one’s suffocating anyone.
Your daughter has agency. She’s merely squandering it alone in a chair feeling sorry for herself while the man she incompatibly clings to plays video games.
That’s a problem, certainly — it’s just a very different one from the one you’re itching to rescue your daughter from.
It’s also a rescue that only she can perform. There’s a good chance she’ll do that in her own time, when it finally occurs to her there are better lives to be lived than the one she’s stuck herself with.
There’s also a good chance, though, this “aha” moment will strike her only after she’s even more deeply invested than she is now — through marriage, a jointly owned home, a child.
So there can be a role for someone like you, who has enough distance and experience to see the risk more clearly than she does. You just need to play this role with great care not to pin everything on the terrible boyfriend chosen by your pristinely blameless and wonderful child.
To remain grounded, repeat to yourself as needed: She’s half of this. She chose this. She has a need this pairing fulfills.
Then respond to any unhappiness you perceive in her only as it relates to her. Not, “What did he do to you” or “Why do you put up with him,” but instead “You don’t seem happy about [factual statement].” Or, “Is something bothering you?” Or, “You say you feel guilty — why?” And always: “I see. Any ideas for dealing with that?” No lectures, no advice unless asked — except perhaps, “Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right.”
She’s your daughter and you’re used to guiding her, but she’s an adult who clearly is equipped to take care of herself — even if she isn’t doing the best job of it emotionally right now. (And who nails all of it, really — I sure don’t. Do you?) Accordingly, the best way to “start the conversation” is with your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open. Let her tell you what she needs.