Dear Dr. Carver, Thank you for your brilliant articles. Sadly, our beautiful, talented, smart, witty daughter of 22 has been dating a “loser” for six years. She has never dated anyone else. She has broken up with him at least 50 times, but only for a day or two at a time. She is addicted to him. He has at least 18 of the “Loser traits” in your article. He has fought us in every parenting decision we have made concerning our daughter — for six years. He is the worst thing that has happened to our family. Looking back, we wish we had shipped her off somewhere when she was 17. He has no respect for authority of any kind. We didn’t know what a serious problem this was back then.
Now, he has made her choose between her loving, close family and him. They are engaged, and because we asked him to get a job (he hasn’t worked or gone to school for months and months), he refuses to come to our home or speak to us. He has told her if they get married, we are not invited! He has also told us there is no way to reconcile things until after they’re married — and that will take at least a couple of years.
We have sent her to a good counselor who later told us he knows these two will not be happy together.
We have read your articles over and over, Dr. Carver, and are wondering if you have any other advice for us. We’re holding on loosely, but it is so hard. She is close to a few of her siblings, but they don’t dare say too much because they don’t want to drive her away.
Our daughter is angry at us and acuses us of ruining her life. We have offered to send her to Europe, on a semester abroad, or anywhere she’d like to go, but she can’t leave this loser. She came close to leaving him a couple of times, but he tells her he will be gone when she comes back, and she backs down. She cannot cope with the thought of him with another girl.
On top of it all, he will not work. It keeps getting worse. We can’t imagine that she will marry him, but she is making no effort to get away from him.
By my calculations, she began her relationship with the Loser at about 16 years of age. This makes the situation more difficult: as bizarre as it sounds, the loser has parented your daughter for the past six years. All of the various “stages” teens and young adults pass though were controlled by the Loser boyfriend. This is one of the reasons leaving him is so difficult for her. Her adult-level social and personal development has been influenced by his antisocial thinking. She has been brainwashed that her parents are the enemy, that he is her only hope for true love, and that all actions to help her are actually actions to destroy their “wonderful” relationship.
- By capturing your daughter as a teenager, a unique situation is created. As I’ve discussed, the bad part is his strong influence on her social and emotional development during a critical time in her life. A hopeful aspect is related to this same situation. “Captured” at 16 years of age, your daughter will grow up and mature — he can’t stop that. The Loser never “matures” in a normal sense and his behavior will remain demanding, immature, controlling, and irresponsible as she ages. As the 50 breakups might suggest, she may eventually “outgrow” him. As she sees other men his age working, with a family, focusing on a career, she will come to realize that he is, after all, a Loser.
- Emphasize her options for the future. College, a career, better income, nice things, etc. As she matures, these are actually normal incentives for any 22-year-old. Keep in mind that her friends have iPods and the Loser can’t afford a boombox. This positive emphasis will be received better than attempts to educate her regarding the boyfriend.
- Keep in mind that she knows he’s a Loser. Fifty breakups tells us she’s dissatisfied. At the same time, she gets homesick so to speak when he’s not around (remember — he raised her). She has all her eggs in a Loser basket and for that reason can think of few options each time she leaves. It’s like a kid who runs away to the corner of the street, then comes home for dinner. As she matures, those breakups may get longer and longer. She may not know how to leave him or she may be afraid he will harm himself (a common Loser threat) if she leaves. During those breakup times, don’t focus on what a Loser he is as she will become defensive and run right back. Rather, focus on how to improve her life, what options are available, etc.
- I’d also recommend reading the Loser and Stockholm Syndrome discussion groups available on this website (here for the latest thread on losers, and here for Stockholm Syndrome). What started as a small discussion on Losers has now become over 200+ entries. You are definitely not alone in this situation. Parents all over the world are struggling with their sons and daughters caught in relationships with Losers. They share their stories that are very much like yours.
- Relationships with Losers are emotionally exhausting and may eventually burn-out your daughter. If that happens, she may return home emotionally exhausted and devestated. Be prepared to have treatment/recovery options available. Do your homework. Know your mental health professionals and other resources. It may be helpful to have an alternate family member standing by to whisk her out of the area for her recovery. Know all your options and allow her to participate in the selection.
The family can survive this difficult experience. It is sadly a waiting game where “Hold on Loosely” is appropriate. Two things circle overhead when we’re having a difficult time — vultures and angels. It’s important that parents be the angels. We know who the vultures are…
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