Dear Life Matters,
We recently put our teenage daughter in a drug rehab center for 30 days.
I must tell you that she was a very difficult baby; she’s been a problem child ever since she came along! Don’t get me wrong, we love her dearly but she’s always been difficult.
We are paying a lot of money to have this rehab center fix her. Now, suddenly, they are telling us that we need family therapy.
Our first sessions without her focused on our marital relationship and needless to say, my husband was beside himself. He feels as I do, that our relationship as a married couple is none of their business!
We want to do what’s best for our daughter but we do not see the point of this but because of your particular credentials, perhaps you can lend some light and give us some recommendations or tools to deal with this situation.
It seems completely bizarre to us, we just want our daughter to be OK.
Thanks for any advice or suggestions,
I can understand your sudden surprise and discomfort.
Unfortunately, what I’m going to tell you is not going to please you.
In the field of addictions, it’s long been recognized that it is a family disease.
This is not to say you caused it but the whole family, as a system, working kind of subconsciously together supports the unhealthy behaviors.
This happens in almost all families, if not all, where there’s a problem with alcoholism or addiction.
Family members both react and adjust to each other, without even knowing it.
Family members take on various roles and often the addicted one is called the “identified patient,” but while he or she does requires the primary treatment, he or she did not get there alone. If he or she returned to the same untreated or unchanged family system, odds are there will be relapse and a whole new cycle.
It is actually called co-dependency, and by now, almost everyone has heard of it. Unfortunately, there are numerous definitions thrown around and many don’t have a clue what it really means.
The best definition from my point of view and certainly in this context is “a cooperative dependence on one another’s unhealthy behaviors in order to maintain a relationship.”
You might really need to think about this but once you get it you will understand the need for family therapy. The way that you all operate together has got to change so that it does not support the problem.
Most people do their best but unfortunately many do a lot of the wrong things albeit for the right reasons.
So, try to trust the process and have a little faith in the professionals who are only trying to help. It may be uncomfortable but it is uncomfortable for everyone, including your daughter and it is for a good reason.
Now, as for your marital relationship, it does have to do with everything in terms of this system of co-dependency and addiction.
Especially when it comes to children or teenagers. If your marital relationship is not everything it could and should be, it will have an impact on the children. The young children will know but they just will not know what they know. But teenagers, they know much more than you think and they are watching and they are feeling you!
You are the parents and you are very, very important to them. If you are unhappy or fighting, or there is tension between you over something unresolved, it will be felt and it is not unusual for that teenager to feel and react to it.
The better adjusted you are, the happier you are as a couple, mom and pop, the safer your teenagers will feel.
And believe me, teenagers need structure and safe boundaries more than ever, as they navigate their way through bodily changes, changes in their cognitive abilities and the struggle to form an identity.
You may not need to get into every corner of your private relationship, but the bigger issues that are unresolved and cause you to fight and bring tension into the family absolutely need to be worked on and hopefully, resolved.
Just think, you will be better off for it and happier, I assure you and your family will be more relaxed and ready to welcome changes and hopefully, your daughter will use these changes as a grounding board to stay clean and sober when she comes home.
It is good for everyone and it is not just your daughter who needs “fixing” to use your word, not mine. She needs wellness and needs the environment that will support it.
I wish you the best of luck.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage & family therapist with offices in Brentwood. She is also APA Certified in the Treatment of Substance Abuse. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or e-mail your anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something one your mind? Let me help you with your life matters because it does!