What do you do when someone you love is in a relationship with a horrible person?
It’s Rebecca here today (my mom is super busy gearing up for something big this week!). We’ve talked about what to do when someone’s in an inappropriate relationship, like with a married man or when your teenage daughter/son is dating someone you don’t approve of. But what about someone who’s an adult and is choosing to be with someone simply terrible for them?
Every week we answer a reader question on the blog, and the other day we got this reader question from a grandmother concerned about her grandson:
My 23 year old grandson was 6 weeks from completing Transformations recovery (from ice and pot) and discipleship program. He was born again,delivered and on fire for Jesus… then a young lass caught his eye. She bought a ring for him 2 weeks into their relationship. When he finished the program he stopped all fellowship with the guys he’d called brothers for 16 months, and only goes to church on Sunday mornings. His pastor, his mum, and I all warned him about this girl. Still he spent every moment with her, except when he was working, (she does not work). When he was home they were always on the phone or texting. It was not possible to have a meal or conversation without interruption from his girlfriend. Just over a week ago she stopped answering his texts. I’d hear him begging her to see him. (It was heartbreaking to hear him beg) she called it off. He has cried buckets of tears and just when we thought he was moving forward he went out for dinner with her. It’s like an addiction. I’ve asked God for wisdom & discernment. Do you have any advice how I can help. I will continue in prayer.
My first thoughts: Wow. That’s hard.
So what can you do when your adult child/grandchild is on a path you know will only lead to heartache? I thought I’d tackle this one today since I’m about the age of the son from the reader question, and have seen friends go through horrible relationships and come out the other side. Here are my suggestions:
1. Remember that he is an adult.
It can be tempting when we see people making bad choices to try and control their actions. We get in yelling matches, try to enforce rules, all in a desperate attempt to make them understand.
The problem? A lot of times that makes them just run further away. People deserve to be treated with respect, and taking away someone’s autonomy, their freedom to make their own decisions, is not respectful–even when done with the best of intentions.
Look at the story of the prodigal son. The father (signifying God) gave that son his birthright, because that was his choice. He knew he would squander it. He knew he would make terrible decisions. But he gave it to him anyway. Now, I imagine they likely had a conversation about his concerns, but there wasn’t any ultimatum. He respected his son. And in the end, his son came back.
2. Remember that people don’t make bad mistakes for no good reason.
I’m sure it’s easy for the grandmother to see all the terrible things that this girl is doing to her grandson. But her grandson also came from a lot of brokenness–he was addicted to drugs and had been through a 16-month recovery program, only 6 weeks from completion when he met her. He’s been through a lot–he’s been damaged by his past. He still needs time to heal.
It can be tempting to think that everyone should see the world the way we see it. But take some time, step into the other person’s perspective, and practice empathy. Maybe he feels worthless, or like he’s screwed up big-time, and he likes that he can provide for her. Maybe she’s the first person who’s loved him since he got his life back on track. Maybe he’s worried he’ll never find love again after everything he’s been through. Perhaps he doesn’t feel he’s worth love from someone better.
People who have gone through hell don’t come out unscathed. It’s important to try and understand where they may be coming from instead of just assuming they’re acting without thinking. Whenever you disagree, it’s a good idea to expect the best of the other person. It makes you more approachable and easier to confide in, and gets the other person off of the defensive.
So put yourself in his shoes, and expect that he’s not trying to make a terrible mistake. He’s just fallen into one and needs help getting out.
3. Be his safe-haven.
Make communication and fun time together a priority. In this case, the grandson is an adult and so obviously this needs to be done within reasonable boundaries, but just spending time together not lecturing him about his life choices can be a powerful healing agent. If he knows his family loves and likes him as a person, it can help give him that boost he needs to start taking his life back into his own hands. Having somewhere to belong gives you an anchor that you start to compare the rest of your life to–if you give him a warm, accepting, and relaxed family environment, it may be easier for him to see the contrast between your family and the way his girlfriend is treating him.
4. Speak your mind in love with grace.
When the time comes to give your advice, speak your mind. This is simply part of treating him like an adult. But be gracious and speak in love–remember that you are talking about someone that your child deeply cares about.
Instead of saying, “I think she’s a horrible person and deserves to rot in jail,” try to focus on you and your concerns about him by saying something like, “When I saw how distraught you were when she ignored you for those weeks it broke my heart. I hate seeing you treated like that.” The second statement shows concern for him rather than judgment for her, and is less offensive.
It is important, though, to speak when it is time to speak. Passive aggressive snips when his girlfriend is around or when she comes up in conversation will simply strengthen that “us against them” mentality that happens in these unhealthy relationships. So hold your comments back, and when it’s time to speak, speak your mind. Just like you would with a trusted friend.
5. Get other people involved if absolutely necessary
In this case, there seems to be some sort of sick emotional abuse going on (based on the rest of the email that wasn’t included in the post). If the relationship is seriously damaging to your child and you think it could help, getting a close friend involved or someone he/she looks up to and trusts can be beneficial. If there is any domestic violence going on, calling the authorities is also an option to make sure that your child remains physically safe.
In all of this, though, please remember: treat your child like an adult. If you’re going to call the police, tell your child when you’ve called. If you are going to get a friend involved, try to involve your child in that process as much as possible. The more your child feels like he was a part of the process, the more invested he’ll be in getting help. Ambushing usually isn’t helpful–so whenever possible, keep your child involved every step of the way.
Watching adults you care about make bad decisions is difficult, especially since there is often not much you can do. But simply giving that person a safe place to belong while treating him with the respect he deserves can at least show him a model of what healthy love looks like–and hopefully reflect Christ’s love to him, too.