Young love can be charming and passionate, occasionally bringing out entirely new sides to people. Even parents close to their children can be caught off-guard by these sudden changes. The line between love and obsession is thin – as their parent, where do you draw that?
When should you accept that your son is obsessed with his girlfriend? Once you do, where should you even begin trying to solve it?
Establish boundaries to curb their obsession, but grant them a few privileges for their cooperation. Keep an eye out for any extreme behavioral changes. Encourage your son to share their relationship expectations. Don’t overwhelm them with criticism, though. Remind your son that he needs to seek out his own success rather than tying it to his girlfriend.
Teen obsessions can be worrying for parents, but the last thing you want to do is get your son’s guard up. They’d simply be less open about their problem, making dealing with it even harder.
Establish Firm but Fair Boundaries
Your first order of business is setting up some ground rules. Too much freedom could have been what enabled their obsession to begin with.
Limit unsupervised contact between your son and their girlfriend. As much as possible, you want to be there to chaperone at least a portion of the time they spend together. Stick somewhere close but not invasively so – this allows you to observe and contextualize your son’s behavior.
Invite them to spend time in your home while you or your spouse are present. Alternatively, you could allow them to spend time at your son’s girlfriend’s home – so long as their parent is present too! They’ll probably catch on to your intentions here though, which could risk their cooperation.
A less intrusive way to do this is by driving them to their dates. It’s an innocuous way to spend some time with them, allowing you to watch their interactions for anything worth worrying about.
For other boundaries, we’d recommend following a similar pattern: set a rule, but grant a concession bundled to it. Make them feel that you support them – at the very least, make it feel like you’re open to the idea.
Let’s say your son wanted to bring his girlfriend on a fancy dinner date. You could set a term by insisting on coming with, but also give a concession by offering to pay for their meal. It’s something of a give-and-take dynamic here.
Your son needs to respect the boundaries you set. Neither force nor authority will get them to do that. Act respectable and you’ll earn it. Be supportive and they’ll be more open to listening. Play by the rules you set to ensure your son is inclined to do the same.
Watch For (And Point Out) Extreme Behavior Changes
While some new quirks are fine in light of their love life, certain behavioral changes could be a sign of deeper underlying problems. Below are a few general things to watch for.
Is your son acting out of character in any significant way?
The most blatant sign comes from the degree of rampant change. They might be altering their personality to meet what their girlfriend would prefer – which is a rather poor idea in a relationship that should be founded on mutual acceptance.
Is your son showing co-dependent traits?
Excessive calls and check-ins could be a sign of this problem. This is fortunately easy to recognize when it gets out of hand. Just be mindful of how you bring this observation up to them. Make sure you don’t come across as too overbearing with the warning.
Your son may be skeptical of your observation, thinking their behavior is acceptable. They might believe you to be biased and disregard your opinion.
Try to get other members of the family to share their findings. Enough witnesses corroborating the same pattern would add foundation towards a more credible conclusion.
Is your son disregarding their own responsibilities and/or needs?
For this, you could note down their chores, academics, and extracurricular activities. If your son’s performance suffers in any significant way during his relationship, note it for future reference.
That said, you’re only looking for adverse consequences to highlight the issue. Don’t always assume a slightly poorer output means it was caused by your son’s obsession with his girlfriend.
It’s important to remain objective here. Confirmation bias is easy to buy into – especially when you’re worried about your son’s emotional health. Remember that you aren’t doing this to sabotage their relationship: you’re trying to showcase an urgent problem.
Try to hold off on pointing out observations until you notice a few patterns emerging. One or two behavior changes brought to your son’s attention aren’t likely to be taken seriously.
You’re trying to convince your son here, not chastise him. Focus on building up a case that highlights specific problems he needs to give importance to. Be objective and focus on using irrefutable facts to support your arguments rather than warnings or personal judgments.
Avoid Being Too Critical
The rule for tangible boundaries also extends to your own opinions: avoid coming across as too negatively biased. Otherwise, your son won’t take your input seriously.
Open dislike would make your son feel that trying to win your support would be a wasted effort, leaving you locked out of the loop. Even if your son’s obsessive behavior is problematic, there have to be some positive changes the relationship brought on.
Show support for remarkable behavior worth supporting – for instance, your son calling to check up on their girlfriend’s wellbeing. So long as your son doesn’t do that to an unhealthy extent, the action itself is worth praising.
Remember to acknowledge the positive changes their relationship brought to give your inputs more credibility in their eyes. You want your son to value your input – too much negativity will sour it, making your words come across as unwanted and prejudiced.
Talk With Your Son About Their Relationship Expectations
The best way to understand what drives your son’s obsession might just come by asking them.
What reference points do they have for pacing in a relationship? Most of this probably comes from your own marriage. Your son only saw you and your spouse settled into this mundane dynamic. He missed all the courting and buildup that led to that.
Ask your son about their frame of reference. Where did they learn how to handle their relationship?
NOTE: It’s a huge red flag if your son shares that their girlfriend provides the majority of direction in their relationship. These cases may warrant the attention of family and friends to handle.
Let them go on with their full story once you ask. Establish rapport with your son and share your own experiences with romance. Avoid advising your son unless he specifically asks for it.
Instead, point out your relationship dynamics – or other healthy romantic relationships both of you know about. Bring them to your son’s attention, then invite him to compare and contrast that relationship with their own obsessive one.
Just introduce the concept to your son, then gently nudge him to consider the possibility that he can stand to make a few improvements with some thought.
You may feel that your son is rushing things, but avoid bluntly telling them. Your critique could have them acting defensively. Do what you did earlier – give examples of relationships with failings you wanted to point out, then allow them to evaluate their relationship at their own pace.
Doing this will be far more effective than pushing them to comply with a specific narrative.
Remind Them That They Need to Live For Themselves Too
Relationships are about two people sharing their own lives with one another. It’s two sets of futures being shared, not one future between two people. Personal ambitions should never be disregarded.
Your son’s obsession with his girlfriend might make him feel that his life revolves around her. Remind him that he needs to have his own success to have something worth sharing.
It’s okay if your son wants to include his girlfriend in plans for his future. Just don’t allow him to think she IS his future. It’s very easy for people to lose focus on their goals – even for people in stable relationships! He just needs a little push to get back on track here.
Your son’s relationship might be an obsession, but they won’t see it that way if you bring it up head-on. Do your best to mitigate behavior that could enable this problem, point out bad precedents you notice, and remind them to value their own future to ensure they have one worth sharing!