Dealing with a Teenage Girl’s Crush on My Husband

Reader’s Question

We are good friends with a family that has 4 children. My husband and I agree that one of the girls (age 17) has a strong crush on him (age 40). We love the family dearly, however, we feel it would be more healthy for her to be interested in a young man her own age. Her actions make her feelings obvious to both of us and my husband and I feel uncomfortable with her behavior. We would appreciate your recommendations for how we can best handle this delicate situation.

Thank You!

Psychologist’s Reply

Experiencing a romantic crush during the teen years is a common part of adolescent development. If we think about the developmental stages involving romance, preteens and early-teens often develop crushes on music, television, sports, or movie stars. These are relatively safe romantic feelings, expressed by posters, fan clubs, and having “idols”. This is love and romance at a long-distance.

As teenagers develop emotionally and physically, the next stage is often a romantic crush on an idolized or respected adult. Targets for these affections are often teachers, ministers, neighbors, community professionals, or other adults in their environment. These are also rather safe unless the adult target of the crush is immature or has significant personality issues.

As the teenager gains maturity, their attention then moves toward peer relationships. For most, the earlier experiences with worshipping movie stars, then an idolized yet safe adult, have provided some practice and experience with the emotional feelings associated with romance, love, and affection.

In your situation, here are some guidelines:

  • Teenage girls tend to have the most intense crushes from an emotional standpoint. This makes their behavior readily observable to those around them. In your husband’s presence, she is likely to “light up” in facial expression or seek his personal attention. These are behaviors we can use to help her through this experience.
  • The majority of crushes produce no significant action or risky behavior. The same lack of maturity and experience that produces the crushes also leaves them with no idea about what to do or how to handle this situation. As a result, the teenager girls appear socially clumsy and awkward and rarely have the self-esteem or personal confidence to engage in purposeful seductive behavior.
  • As a crush is fantasy, don’t place yourself in situations that increase the fantasy. Your husband shouldn’t be alone with her, transport her alone, etc. If he shows her extra attention, she may interpret that as evidence that the romantic feelings are two-sided.
  • Discuss the situation with her mother. Most crushes are addressed by the girl’s parent, following fantasy discussions of the crush or when witnessing her affectionate behavior. Parents are encouraged to identify the behavior, recognize it as normal, and provide some education. When witnessing flirting behavior, her mother can explain in private “I’ve noticed you showing extra attention to (name). That’s normal at your age. We’ve all had such feelings as part of our growing up. It’s helpful to recognize what we like about that person, then try to find the same traits in people when we start dating.” The discussion can often be started with phrases that suggest it’s a common experience such as “Most girls…” or “A lot of girls…”.
  • If her behavior would suddenly move into the aggressive range — sending cards, romantic emails, suggestive remarks/behaviors, etc. — then both families would need to develop a strategy to manage the behavior.
  • Keep in mind that the behavior of the teenage girl is somewhat involuntary — that is, produced by her developmental stage. It is not an intentional threat to your marriage. For this reason, we want to deal with the situation in a kind, understanding, and supportive manner to avoid humiliation and rejection. We don’t want her to be emotionally crushed by her crush.

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