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Your daughter’s boyfriend

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Remember this? Pull off the first petal and say: “He loves me.” And the next: “He loves me not.” Repeat until you get to the last petal to find out whether your boyfriend loves you or not. Sound crazy? Have you talked to your daughter about love? Or left it up to Google?

The other day, riding the bus, I overheard one woman tell another about her daughter’s great boyfriend. I almost turned and said, “You are one lucky duck.” Instead I eavesdropped as she went through her criteria—he comes from a good family (his dad’s a doctor), owns his own car, buys her daughter bling, and so on. Nothing about his traits (was he thoughtful, honest, kind?) or his character (did he respect her?). How, I wondered, could she know if he was actually a great guy?

Often the standards we use to assess what makes for a great guy don’t include what makes for a healthy relationship. Ask Tiger Woods’s mother-in-law. Since we can’t choose or criticize our daughters’ boyfriends, it’s our daughters who need to be able to determine who’s a great guy. Other than her feelings, what criteria does she use?

Beliefs influence actions. Our daughters believe lots of things about what makes for a great relationship—like, you have to accept a guy as he is, warts and all. Poppycock! To truly know if her guy is great, she must really know him, and like his traits, and be able to accept how he gets his needs met from her.

One healthy relationship criterion—met needs—can help a girl determine if she’s with a great guy. Is your daughter really familiar with her boyfriend? Say you asked her to describe him—would she list the same traits his ex-girlfriend would (aggressive, funny, dependable, jealous, for example)? To meet her need to be familiar with him, she must know what his best and worst personality traits are. If she really likes him, she may have to come to terms with some traits she may not like. But she can’t accept a guy’s annoying traits if they undermine her self-respect.  

Some girls set their bar too low. A girl might accept the way a guy treats her because she loves him, wants a boyfriend at any price, or doesn’t understand how a guy should show her respect. Some girls think jealousy is a “slam-dunk” sign that a guy loves her. It’s not. Jealousy can be a precursor to stalking.

Share this heart-saving shortcut with your daughter: “A guy who’s always jealous, controlling, never trusting, feels he’s not worth your trust. His lack of self-worth makes him afraid of anything that might take you away from him—friends, family, a job, other guys. He doesn’t respect himself, so how could he respect you? If you let him control you, you’re confirming what he believes: that you don’t respect yourself enough to stand up to him and leave.”

Your daughter can tell if her guy respects her by how he gets his needs met from her. Does he use character—saying what he means, doing what he says, knowing right from wrong—to get what he wants? Tiger’s wife can attest to how important a guy’s character is. An important part of getting to know a guy is finding out whether she can trust what he says. If he lies to her about where he was/what he did, he doesn’t respect her (or himself) enough to tell the truth.

How does her guy act when it’s difficult for her to meet his needs (for example, when he wants something she doesn’t want to give him)? “The Teen Relationships Project” is studying bullying, harassment, and dating violence in relationships of Canadian children and youth. Half of surveyed students are victims of verbal aggression (spreading rumors, getting even, hurtful teasing). One in four is a victim of minor physical aggression (pushing, grabbing, smashing an object). One in five is a victim of major physical aggression.

Share another heart-saving shortcut with your daughter: “You deserve to be treated with respect. These unhealthy behaviors shouldn’t clear any woman’s bar. A guy doesn’t respect you if, when he can’t get his way, he punishes you, or calls you names like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut,’ or gets even by spreading rumors, or threatens to post embarrassing pictures of you on Facebook. If a guy is physically rough in any way, tell me, and we’ll find a way for you to respect yourself—and EXIT!”

Teens are easily confused between what’s healthy and what’s not. So are more than a few adults. Does your daughter understand that Tiger’s behavior reflects his lack of understanding of a healthy relationship? And that Elin’s leaving him reflects her self-respect. Stand by your man? Not when he’s a Frog!

In a healthy relationship, your daughter’s most important needs are met, there are heart-to-heart conversations, and the respect—self-respect, respect for others, and the expectation to be treated respectfully—is mutual.  Taking care of herself—meeting her own needs—is an act of self-respect, and a big step toward coming to know what she needs and expects in an adult relationship.

Talk to your daughter about love—to show her a way to see love. Share this heart-saving shortcut: “When a guy tells you he loves you, those are just words. Love is what you experience when he’s happily meeting your needs (and maybe some you didn’t even know you had!) and you’re happily meeting his, all the while maintaining your self-respect and meeting your own needs, too.”

Kaycee Jane is the author of Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends (Amazon only). Jane blogs at www.frogorprince.ca. When life with your teen seems overwhelming, try www.TeenCentral. Net’s Parent section and get help from a professional.