Have you ever thought how hard a crisis with a difficult teenager can be on your marriage? Really hard! It can even lead to divorce.
So, I'd like to discuss some proactive steps that parents can take to fight against this tendency, since it needs to be something they are aware of even as they are dealing with a struggling teen. After all, the failure of a marriage in the midst of the turmoil with a teen's misbehavior can lead to even more dire consequences for the teenager, and of course, for the whole family.
Steps for Preventing Marital Jeopardy for Parents of Troubled Teens
• Identify how your teenager's out of control behavior could be specifically hurting your marriage relationship, and express your feelings openly to your spouse. Protect your spouse's feelings and don't share them with others.
• Don't expect your spouse to fill the void left by your teen's wrong choices or absence.
• Make decisions together as much as possible in regard to your teen, but don't undermine your spouse's decisions even if they are not discussed in advance. Recognize that there are things your spouse will do differently, and let it become a strength. Try to support their style of parenting, even if it's not always what you would do, or how you would do it.
• Don't blame each other for the trouble you are experiencing with your teen. Blame will help no one at this point and in fact will feed your teen's problems.
• See the experience as something you must manage together. Attend couples counseling (even as your teen is getting individual counseling). Get outside help specifically for managing your stress. If one of you tends to choose isolation from the problem, or expresses anger inappropriately, address it with a professional. If you've never had reason or motivation to improve your relationship, keep in mind that saving your teen is a really good reason.
• Begin to share your feelings about what's happening in your family. Hiding your feelings from your spouse, or not talking about your fears, anxieties, or worries only isolates you from the problem.
• Present a united front to your teen, and one that insists your child treat both of you respectfully. This is a time when parenting comes from a love that is tough and remains strong, like that of a warrior ready to fight to keep a child from self-destruction. Treating each other respectfully is a first step.
• Don't expect your spouse to change. Instead, focus on changes you may need to make yourself.
• Don't vent your frustrations on anyone else in the family, especially your spouse. Find other ways to vent that don't include relationship-bashing.
• Find other parents who are experiencing similar issues with their teen, and spend time with them. Relate your struggles and give them the chance to do the same. It may be difficult to find others who are willing to engage in such a private discussion, so you be willing to start the discussion, if needed. Attend conferences, like our Families in Crisis or Turbulence Ahead conferences, to help you gain insight and understand that you are not alone in this struggle.
• Respond, instead of reacting to what comes your way. Take time to think it through before you make a decision, and make certain the decision is one you both support. Ask God's help in finding the right answers, and strength to do what's necessary.
• Don't avoid the pain — if you avoid dealing with the pain, you avoid finding a solution. Examine the feelings of loss, betrayal, sorrow, or anger, and ask God to come alongside to bear your burdens.
• Keep looking to the other side of the struggle. Be patient. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is God. Find hope in your relationship with God, and move in the direction He leads, knowing the struggle with your child will eventually end and the teen who gives you the hardest time is often the one you'll end up relating to best down the road.
Above all, know this: teens in crisis are experts at pitting one parent against another, creating a wedge in order to deflect attention away from their own bad behavior. At a time like this, be aware that you will be challenged with more stress and the natural result can be more marital problems. So, keep in mind where those stressors are coming from and also take to heart the steps I have outlined above. It could save your marriage while you are also fighting to save your teen.