The question: My 22-year-old son is dating a girl who is highly dependent on him. He struggles on and off with a marijuana addiction and is trying to get back on his feet. She is seeking therapy for a variety of reasons herself. How do I persuade them that it's healthier to take some time apart so that they can first sort their own lives out individually?
The answer: Find me a land where a parent can convince a 22-year-old of anything – particularly when it comes to their dating life – and then I'll talk to you about a bridge I've got to sell …
In all seriousness, you need to first and foremost revise the intended outcome you are wishing for when it comes to talking to your son. You cannot, and will not be able to convince him to do something he doesn't want to do. If you approach him with a particular agenda front and centre in your mind, you – and most likely he – will both get frustrated, and you may push him further away.
As a parent of a young adult, your role is quite simple: to provide love and support, to guide as best as you can, and to be there for him when he falls.
I can certainly understand your desire for him to take some time away from his girlfriend who sounds troubled herself so that he can focus on getting himself better. As an objective party, you probably see the relationship as an added stressor to his life. But, you need to bite your tongue on this one.
What you need to focus on is providing support and guidance around ways that he can work to get back on his feet. Does he recognize his addiction issues? Has he sought treatment – not only for his use of marijuana, but for the likely depression or anxiety issues that may be accompanying his reliance on the substance? It is clear from the addiction literature that more often than not, addiction issues are masking other more significant underlying emotional issues. Try to speak to him about those issues (if he's willing to share with you), or guide him toward existing resources in the community. Educating yourself is also important.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has national and local offices across the country, and can offer you referrals and resources that may assist. Here to Help is a fantastic website that offers a range of information, including materials for family members who are struggling with knowing how to support a loved one who is dealing with a substance use or mental health issue.
If you work on educating yourself and support him in his own recovery, he will probably gain clarity as he gets better and start to make better personal and life decisions for himself.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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