Many studies show that teenagers in the family cause a negative influence on the marriage relationship. The many physical, emotional, and social changes taking place as the teen moves from being a child to a young adult are sometimes difficult to integrate and accept. The parents often receive a lot of static, not only because the teen is upset with them, but also because the teen is experiencing too much pressure from too many directions all at once. The teen's erratic stumbling along toward maturity may put a strain on the marriage.
What A Teen Needs To Grow Up
1. The teen needs to learn how to be intimate. He or she must learn how to give love and receive love. Frequently the model he is seeing in his parents' love life is that of a business relationship, rather than an intimate caring for each other. The teen innately rejects the parents' sterile way of relating to each other and looks for a different kind of intimacy.
Sometimes that search for intimacy, without much experience or understanding of what love means, may lead the teen into sexual promiscuity. Parents are shocked by this distortion, but they frequently fail to realize that the distortion could have been minimized if a truly loving model of intimacy and mutuality had been present in the parents' marriage for the teen to observe.
2. The teen needs to be working on identity or self-understanding. He or she needs to ask many questions: "Who am I? What are the gifts God has given to me? How do I use these gifts in the world? What are my values? What is my personal relationship to God? How do I respond to people in need or to those who are different from me? What is it that makes me a unique person?" Free-wheeling casual discussions with parents and peers speed up this important self understanding.
3. The teenager also needs to be developing independence / interdependence. These qualities suggest that a teen should increasingly be able to be responsible for himself or herself, to make independent decisions, and to be accountable to a boss and to other significant persons. This transition from being a dependent child to being an independent young adult is like walking through a mine field in the dark. Some days the teen will act dependent and want parental assistance. The next day, over the very same issue, the teen will view the parent's suggestions or assistance as an outlandish intrusion into his or her personal life.
Interdependence means that the teen is not only able to care for himself or herself, but is also able to begin taking adult care for others. Serving in the church, school or community is a fast way to learn interdependance. Listening to and learning about people very different will also encourage interdependance.
All three of these important developmental aspects of the teen's life interface with each other. The push for independence/interdependence affects the understanding of identity and the expressions of intimacy. Intimacy and self-identity also affect independence.
At the same time that the teenager is experiencing rapid developmental change, the husband and wife are experiencing their own pressures. The sad reality is that the teenager, the husband, and the wife may all feel exploited and misunderstood.
The development of each of these three "I's" can make the teen's, and the parents', lives more hectic--or they can cause stability. For example, as the teen feels more comfortable with his or her own identity, he or she tends to be less arrogant in the push for independence or less radical in the expression of intimacy. The key is to begin moving the child toward growth in these three areas during early childhood, before the onslaught of the rapid development of the teen years.
Parents react to the developmental processes of teenagers in very different ways. Some parents understand what is going on and encourage this growth, while other parents reject the teenager and the growth process--or try to suppress change. Obviously, rejection or suppression will be counterproductive.
Two Changing Generations
At the same time that the teenager is experiencing rapid developmental change, the husband and wife are experiencing their own pressures. The husband probably is deeply committed to his career and may be viewing these years as his last years to really make it big in his job. He may feel that all of this teenage tension is putting an unnecessary strain on him when he wants to focus his energies on his career. Or, he may be going through his own intense struggles due to his own midlife transition.
At the same time, massive changes may be taking place in the mom. She may feel unneeded by the teen--and the husband. Her intensive mothering career is coming to an end and her husband seems preoccupied with his achievements. She may have a strong urge to go back to school, pursue her own career, or fulfill her own dreams.
In addition, midlife is reported to be the least satisfying time in marriage. This is another of those high-risk times for divorce--and the divorce danger extends for a long time--approximately from age 35-55.
The sad reality is that the teenager, the husband, and the wife may all feel exploited and misunderstood. They each may be wishing that the others would act differently so that their personal life would be easier. They each are using up their internal energy to resolve their own problems and have little energy to share in understanding each other.
It will only be a few more years before your nest is totally empty. Then it will be just the two of you. Prepare now. Reestablish intimacy. Rekindle the fires so the two of you have the emotional strength to help your teenagers become all that they need to be.
Coupled with the tensions, as each of the players in this family drama continue their rapid changes, are the demands for the largest house, the most cars, and the greatest child-raising expense of any other time in life. Teens do affect a marriage negatively, but it is not the teenagers' fault. It is just the reality that the teen, as well as the husband and wife, are all going through massive changes.
Changing The Focus From Negative To Positive
The teenager's effect on your marriage can be positive if you focus on three major concepts.
1. Help your teens wrestle with their personal development. Don't stifle the process--be their coachand cheerleader. Help them to think through all of the "why" questions of life. Encourage them to be reflective and to ask, "Why don't I drink, use drugs, cheat, lie, or sleep around?" If their answer is, "My parents told me not to," then they, and you, are in big trouble. The reasons must come from inside of them, not from your commands.
They must develop an independence that fits with their identity. Give your teens increasing responsibilities and privileges which fit with their gifts and abilities. Affirm them frequently. The energy you spend on helping your teens to become whole people will also have a direct bearing on a more peaceful home environment.
2. Remember, stress in your midlife marriage is not basically the fault of your teenagers' development. The marital trouble is more related to the breakdown of intimacy between the two of you--husband and wife. The solution is not to project blame onto your teenagers, but to focus on your mate and your marriage relationship.
Teens can help you through your own midlife crisis! Our daughters were concerned for our spiritual and emotional health--and they frequently encouraged us to go on dates.
Spend the necessary time to know your mate. They are not the same person you married years ago.
Your mate has changed and has different needs, values, and goals in life. Get to know this new person. Then do your very best to help your mate achieve what he or she wants out of life. Help your mate be the person God has created him or her to be.
It will only be a few more years before your nest is totally empty. Then it will be just the two of you. Prepare now. Reestablish intimacy. Rekindle the fires so the two of you have the emotional strength to help your teenagers become all that they need to be. Rebuilding intimacy now will also give you marital satisfaction and pleasure for years to come.
3. Teens can help you through your own midlife crisis. Our daughters became true peers with us during their teen years. They were concerned for our spiritual and emotional health--and they frequently encouraged us to go on dates. During both of our midlife crises, our daughters gave us encouragement and perspective.
The earlier years of friendship, sharing, and casual discussions with our three daughters were now paying off. They each had a fairly strong grip on their own personal and spiritual development and were able to help strengthen us, even as they continue their own progression toward adulthood.
Conway / Farrel Articles ~ Reprint by permission only, ©2011
Midlife Dimensions ~ www.Midlife.com
The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.
Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.