Relationship Connection: Our newlywed daughter can’t let go of us

Question

Our beautiful daughter was recently married to a remarkable young man. She is extremely happy and so in love, but she has had a difficult time leaving our home and being away from us.

We are a very close tightknit family and we anticipated that this may be challenging for her, but we had no idea it would come with severe panic attacks, inability to sleep and lots of visits home.

Her sweet husband has been amazing and patient with her. He is very understanding and is doing a great job helping her through these new panic attacks she’s experiencing. He is also helping her feel safe and secure in their new home.

We as her parents want to help her transition from her attachment to us so she can attach to her husband in a healthy way. How can we best help her navigate this new season of her life?

Answer

You’re right that it’s critical for your daughter to leave home and begin her new life with her husband. I’m glad you’re supportive of her bonding to her husband, even though this development has surprised everyone in your family. Let’s explore some ways you can help create the best possible outcome for everyone involved.

Your actions toward her will speak more directly than any of the reasons, explanations or encouragement you can give her. Even though she may know it’s the right thing for her to leave completely so she can bond, none of that will actually take hold until she actually has to do it. Please know that your insistence that she leave your home doesn’t diminish your love for her.

Your family has a deep bond that has created a safe and loving place for her. This took years to form and only happened because you and your husband fiercely protected the boundaries around your family time and relationships with your children. Now it’s time for you to offer that same fierce protection to her new marriage. This new family has never existed, so it needs all of the protection and strength your more established family can offer.

Even though you’ve encouraged her to turn toward her husband, it’s important to start setting clear limits with your daughter so your words match your actions. Your confidence in their ability to build a strong attachment is the greatest gift you can give them.

They need each other more than ever, even though your daughter can’t see that right now. The best way you can protect her new marriage is to trust that your daughter and her husband are strong enough to handle her anxiety, sadness and fears.

Well-meaning parents often undermine their children’s growth in their attempts to help them progress. It’s important to take a close look at how everyone is either helping or hindering her forward movement. Here are some ways you might unintentionally sabotage her efforts to bond to her husband:

  • When she calls or texts in distress, you may stay in the conversation longer than needful and end up colluding with her fear, leaving her to believe that her fears are based in reality.
  • You allow yourself to stay in the role of the confidant instead of redirecting her to share these fears and worries with her husband.
  • You keep an open door at your home so she doesn’t have to be without a familiar comfort.
  • You check on her regularly out of genuine concern for her well-being, which may send the message that she’s weak and can’t handle this.
  • You have difficulty managing your own anxiety for her or your own feelings of loss, so it sends her a signal that something’s truly wrong.
  • You try and offer solutions and problem-solve her situation instead of letting things feel uncertain or unresolved, trusting that they’ll figure it out.

As you can see, you have to dig deep and commit to helping her separate and form her new union. Use the same focus, love, and protection you’ve always offered her. It’s just going to look different as you encourage separateness instead of more closeness.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with being close to your family, but it absolutely cannot come at the expense of her husband or marriage. If she’s not willing to make the break, you have to make it for her. You’ve been a parent long enough to know that sometimes good parenting is painful for both the child and the parents. If you don’t actively get out of the way of their marriage, their marriage will never be what it could be, and that’s a serious tragedy.

Your willingness to hold these boundaries with her will require her to make some important decisions that will change the course of her marriage. If you continue to provide her with limitless access to you, then she will never do the hard work her husband and marriage deserve.

I’m confident your loving boundaries will help her create a healthy separation so she can bond with her husband. Here are a few ideas that will help you set loving limits with her:

  • Ask her to host your family at her new place on a weekly basis for dinner. This will help her establish her home as a place to welcome your family.
  • Don’t respond immediately to every text or phone call. This will continue to reinforce that every fear and worry she has is an emergency. Let her turn to her husband first so he can become her primary source of comfort.
  • Limit how much you talk to her or visit her. She is not in danger, so she doesn’t need constant welfare checks. Her anxiety may convince you that she’s not okay. If she’s truly not okay, then she and her husband can figure out the best course of treatment for her.
  • Let her know that you’re going to make yourself less available because you don’t want to compete with her husband. And then actually make yourself less available.
  • Offer to help pay for a portion of their marriage counseling or a marriage workshop to help strengthen their marriage.
  • Set up an occasional double-date so you’re spending time with both of them instead of just her. You need to relate to her in the context of the couple relationship, not just a worried daughter.

It will be emotionally difficult to watch her potentially escalate as you set these boundaries. Turn to your own marriage for strength and support and allow her the same privilege. It’s critical that she get a clear and consistent message from her parents that her marriage can be a source of comfort and strength.

Your bond with her is secure, and it will require you trusting that bond to help her do the hard work of separating from the comfort of her family to build a new bond with her husband.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer  

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.