We thought it was hard to help our kids navigate the social minefields of childhood, explaining why the other kid doesn’t share, or cries all the time or why your own angel shouldn’t say mean things. In the end, it’s really just the pregame show for adolescence.
All of the issues are magnified 10x times when compounded with hormones, more freedom, bigger and stronger bodies and a peer-centric fixation. But it increases another ten fold when they start developing intimate relationships. While peer disputes can be difficult, most kids have other friends who can help buffer them through these times. But when their intimate relationships run into trouble, it can seem like their lives and worlds no longer have the same meaning. How do we protect them and nurture resiliency, so that they can bounce back?
My proposal seems a little odd, but is worth considering. As always, it is better to start before the problem emerges. When a young adult in your life begins or is involved in a relationship, ask, “How would it be to break up with X?” It is not to put a damper on the relationship and predict its demise, (although statistically speaking more relationships end, than endure –just saying) but rather to imagine how the other person would react. Not just boys, but girls too. Will they be sad but respectful? Are they going to be angry and threaten? Will they resort to a harassing behaviour? Does this person react to other setbacks in a healthy and respectful way?
Ironically, the message is: If this isn’t a person you can break up with, then it is not worth being in a relationship with them. It is only going to get harder and more complicated the longer it lasts, and it is better to cut your losses and move on.
By giving them this strategy as a teenager, they will have a powerful tool as they move through all of their relationships when the stakes are arguably even higher and there might even be children involved. This helps to take some of the emphasis off of the “feeling” of being in love which is heady and powerful, and so completely irrational. It moves the discussion to “Is this a good person who has my best interests at heart?” which will serve them through adolescence and beyond.