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3 Principles for Raising Teens Without Ruining Your Marriage

Apr. 17, 2023 Psychology Today

Whereas most people are warned that the blessed event of a new baby may challenge the romance in their marriage, not enough warning is given to parents of teens. Lulled by the relative calm of the school-age years, they find themselves suddenly embroiled in the challenging journey of adolescence, which extends anywhere from age 12 to 18.

Notwithstanding the love they feel for their kids or each other, most parents will agree that the teen years can challenge marital bonds. Why?

A close look suggests that the very developmental tasks that Eric Erikson maintained teens need to negotiate under the broad heading of “Identity vs. Role Confusion call into question the stability, predictability, authority, intelligence, sleep, and even sexual patterns of parents.

A Saturday night spent nervously waiting up for your teen, while blaming each other for being too lax or too rigid, rarely sets the mood for romance.

That said, it is important to consider that raising a teen need not equate to ruining a marriage. In fact, it is the last thing you want and the very last thing they need.

Three Guiding Principles

There are three guiding principles that may help you and your teen on this journey: balance, communication, and connection

They not only help adolescents deal with the transition to adulthood, but they are the same principles that help parents strengthen their own relationship.


Teens Struggle With Balance

Basic to the challenges of adolescence, most teens have trouble with balancing everything from emotions, sexuality, friends, social media, and sleep to school assignments.

Use Your Differences to Strike a Balance

Given history, gender, and personality, it is not unusual for parents to become persuaded by their teens and polarized into extreme positions.

“Why can’t I drive with my friends to Florida? Dad trusts my driving!”

  • It may actually be an advantage that you see things differently if you can use different perspectives as points of information. 
  • Clarifying the situation from both of your perspectives and from your teen’s point of view sets the stage for collaborative problem-solving.

“You’re right, Dad thinks you are a good driver and he would know. Let’s talk more about spring break and what you were thinking of planning.”

Use Mutual Feedback to Prevent Over-Parenting

An important but difficult balance for parents is helping each other support, rather than substitute, a teen’s own efforts. 

Why can’t you let your daughter find her own job?”

  • When parents trust each other to give and take feedback, they can avoid “helicopter parenting” while providing mutual support.
  • Working together not only enhances your view of each other, but it enhances the perspective and competence of your teen. 

“Mom and I are both eager to help, but we really want to know what you have in mind for a summer job.”

Distinguish Between Your Life and Your Teen’s Life 

Some parents are so enthralled with their teen and his/her activities, friends, and achievements, they abandon a personal interest in self and their relationship. They become the 24/7 support team and audience to their child.

Some parents are so worried about their teen they abdicate their role as partner to become a vigilant caretaker. 

When love, support, or even concern for a teen bankrupts a marriage, everyone loses. 


Understanding the Language of Teens

  • Anyone who has parented teens knows that communication can get challenging.
  • If you have raised girls, you may find that most issues are vocalized as high drama. Asking someone to get off the phone to help with dinner can invite hysteria, much less avoidance of the request.
  • If you have raised boys, you may be accustomed to feeling like you are with a CIA agent. If you ask too many questions or they reveal too much, there will be problems.
  • In terms of social media—cellphones, emails, texting, etc.—there seems little difference. The only thing that matters to most teens is constant communication with peers.
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