Ask an Expert: We believe our daughter may be in a dangerous relationship

My husband and I have serious concerns about the man our 18-year-old daughter is seeing.

She tells us he is 26, but we have been told by others that he is 30, and is using drugs, and treats her badly, may even be hurting her. We hear he has been sending her video messages of him masturbating, and expects her to send similar things to him when they are not together.

We have caught her out in a lie that she told us about spending the night at a friend’s house, when she actually was staying with him.

I have been told by her concerned friends that he has been calling them from her phone and abusing them, threatening to harm them and their families. We have met him once and of course he was as nice as pie. I confronted him about his age and he still said he is 26.

We are at our wits end and don’t know what to do. We are trying to encourage her to stay home with us and invite him around to try to get to know him, but he uses the excuse that he is “unwell” and doesn’t want to come. We want to believe that she is telling us the truth, but after catching her out in a lie that is pretty hard, and the things that her friends are telling us are pretty hard to ignore.

Please help us to help our daughter find the way out of this relationship safely.

I can certainly understand your concerns about your daughter and her relationship with this 26-30 year old man. I would recommend the following considerations be made.

  1. Identify your daughter’s reasons for vulnerability in being with this man such as low self-esteem and then identify ways to build this up in your daughter separately to her relationship with this man. The hope would be that as her self-esteem improves her acceptance of a relationship like this reduces and would then result in her breaking up her relationship.
  2. Continue to encourage your daughter to spend more time at home or on family holidays and also encourage her relationships with her friendships.
  3. Safety is integral for all and any threat to cause significant harm should be taken seriously and potentially reported to the police.
  4. Communicate concerns to your daughter and continue to try to work with her empathically to motivate her for change.
  5. Request that your daughter seek counselling support. If she has a history of engaging in relationships like these or had emotional difficulties during school years, use this as a motivating factor to engage in therapy.
  6. Provide your daughter with access to youth-based websites such as ReachOut.com and Headspace so that she knows where to go if and when she needs counselling support over the telephone.
  7. It may be worth having a few sessions with a psychologist to discuss your concerns and problem solve through an action plan.
  8. It sounds as though her boyfriend may present with features of narcissism. People who are narcissistic have an ability to be threatening and aggressive and then immediately become nice and engaging. If you think that he may be narcissistic, read some literature on this such as Disarming the Narcissist.
  9. Continue to keep an open relationship with your daughter so that she knows she can turn to you if and when she needs it.

While I completely appreciate your desire for your daughter to break up from this relationship, given that she is 18 years of age you will have little ability to control this. Keep her engaged in her relationship with you, build up her self-esteem, encourage open communication and encourage time with her friends. It would also be recommended that you consider support for your daughter and for you as parents with a psychologist who can brainstorm an approach to this very concerning situation.

Dr Michelle Pritchard, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Mindright Clinical Psychologists, www.mindright.com.au.

Our Ask an Expert Week panelists are all qualified professionals in their field. However, advice given on The Kids Are All Right website is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional counselling or psychological care, medical care and diagnosis.

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