Relationship manuals and how they ruin your relationship with your son or daughter when they are using substances

Relationship manuals are detailed mental books of rules and expectations about what is normal and acceptable behavior for our children. 

The difference between a manual and everyday parental rules and expectations is the emotional attachment to the outcome. 

When you are emotionally attached to the outcome it is a manual. 

The attachment to the outcome causes you suffering. 

When I say suffering, I am talking about anger, pain, sadness, despair…all the generally unwanted emotions. 

The driving force behind the emotional attachment to the outcome is how you think you will feel when your teen complies with your expectation. 

You want them to follow your manual because you think you will feel better when they do.

This creates distance in your relationship rather than closeness and connection though. 

Think about instances where you follow someone else’s manual to avoid tension or to get them in a better mood and the feelings it creates in you. 

Having manuals puts everyone else in control of how we feel because they have to act a certain way for us to feel OK.

In the case of your teen, someone whose prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed and is using substances in an attempt to regulate how they feel, is now in control of how you feel. 

The first step to changing this is to become of aware of your manuals. 

Some examples of manuals that I had for my daughter:

  • She should be living the life I dreamed she would
  • Her life should be better than mine was
  • She shouldn’t use substances
  • She should listen to all of my advice and follow it
  • She should want to finish high school

Once you are aware of your manuals, try to remove emotional attachment to the outcome. 

You can do this by setting clear rules and boundaries. 

Follow them up with either natural consequences or predetermined consequences.

This puts all the behavior ownership on your teen and makes it about them and not you. 

The final piece to letting go of your manuals is acceptance that you have a teen that is abusing substances. 

You cannot force solutions. 

Living with your teen’s substance use is a marathon not a sprint. 

Acceptance is not approval. 

It is just the realization that this is where you are and resistance and fighting against it only make it worse. 

The substance use is happening. 

Now how do you deal with it in a way that doesn’t destroy you, your family, or your teen in the process?

Dropping your manual for your teen is one way to help relieve the tension in your home and create peace where you can. 

Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote about boundaries and how I started using them.