Emotional Dependence

Relationships   ›   Emotional Dependence

For teenagers, friendships and romantic relationships play an especially important role in their lives. But sometimes they go a bit too far and become obsessive or emotionally dependent. How do you recognize this and help someone in this situation?

Adolescence is a time of profound change, where young people are discovering a whole new world outside of the family unit. Their friends become a new point of reference, and romantic relationships and sexuality become increasingly important. First loves can be particularly important for some young people. For teens, a romantic partner often feels like their soulmate. Sometimes, teen relationships can become obsessive. It’s normal and healthy to be obsessed, but what can parents do when their child's obsession turns into emotional dependency?


What Does Emotional Dependency Look Like?

Emotional dependency starts when a romantic relationship begins to cause distress. With emotional dependency, even the slightest rejection or feeling of rejection is unbearable. Your teenager may deal with feelings of abandonment by trying to contact the other person all the time or wanting to see them every day. Problems arise when your teenager's dependence drives them to become controlling, to scrutinize their partner’s every move, and to become suspicious of their friends. For others, problems come from arguments with the partner or if the partner is not available. Many teenagers can admit to themselves that they are emotionally dependent. Others may hide their emotions (of unfairness, anger, betrayal, hurt, etc.) to avoid creating conflict or a separation from the other person. However, these emotions are usually quite evident, despite any supposed indifference!


How can I Help my Teenager Deal with Emotional Dependency?

Listen to your Child and Guide them without Judgement

Parents might be tempted to blame the significant other for their child's suffering, but the child also has their share of responsibility. If they tell you about their problems, take the time to listen carefully without judgement. For example, you can ask them to explain their feelings and what they want from the relationship. In emotionally dependent relationships, both partners tend to forget their own needs to please the other. By listening and letting them determine their needs, you are giving them the right to a self-determined existence, independent of their partner.


Learning to Moderate a Young Person's Feelings

Dating, like all relationships, has its share of conflicts and misunderstandings. Arguments can happen, and they can be resolved. Parents can teach their children to be sensitive to their partner's reactions. For example, there can be a number of reasons for the silence of the other person. They may just be trying to take their mind off things, may be away from their cell phone, need to calm down on their own, they may be unsure of how to respond right away, they may want to let the dust settle, etc. Your teen can also take their time before responding. Shutting down the phone and computer for the evening can give them the break they may need to reflect.


Be Open to the Other’s Interests

In dependent relationships, the partner can be a source of suffering, but also someone your child turns to for comfort. In order to break this vicious cycle, encourage your child to find activities that build self-confidence and self-awareness. They can enjoy these activities alone, or with other people besides their partner. You might suggest different ideas, but it’s best if your child chooses the activity they want to do on their own.


Remember that one’s first love is always an exciting time of life, and your child may just be a little bit lost in the upheaval of it. If the emotional dependence is becoming too much, it might help to consult a school counsellor, a psychologist, or a sex therapist. Professional counsellors can help your teenager build self-esteem or deal with conflict.