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Daughter Wants Her Boyfriend To Say I Love You

by Worried Mom

Hi Annie,
My daughter is 16 and her boyfriend is 17. They have been dating for about 6 months, but have known each other for about 2 years. He is a year ahead of her in school.

Recently my daughter told me that she is concerned because her boyfriend had not told her that he loves her. We have got to know her boyfriend quite well. He spends a lot of time at our home and has gone on vacations with us. Other than my daughter's concern about him not stating he loves her they seem to have a very caring, loving and respectful relationship.

This is the second relationship for my daughter, the first for her boyfriend. When her boyfriend first started to express feelings for her (before they started dating) my daughter was reluctant to begin a relationship because she had recently broken up with her boyfriend and was still hurting. However, he did not push her and kept doing things with her as friends. Eventually, about 4 months later he asked her again if she would be his girlfriend and she accepted.

She has gone from being not sure about getting into a relationship to realizing she is very in love with him.

A little background on my daughter. Her father and I divorced when she was 2 years old. Her father moved far away and has basically been absent from her life. Over the years he has seen her, but it mostly ended in hurt feeling, disappointment and heartbreak for her. He has told her he would be here to see her and take her somewhere and then not shown up, etc.

Without going through every detail, I think that she has a lot of insecurity when it comes to anything that causes her to have fear that someone does not feel the way she would like them to feel about her, or the same way she feels about them. Hope this makes sense. Basically, she has been abandoned and hurt by someone who should never do that, her dad. However, I did remarry when she was 5 and her step-dad is very much a loving father to her.

She is a very beautiful, fun-loving, athletic, and straight A student. However, I think she is very hard on herself and lack self-esteem to some extent. In addition, her first boyfriend did not help her self esteem. She told me that he made her feel like she was never good enough. Thank goodness she ended the relationship.

Recently, we have had three occasions when she had become very upset, crying, etc, when she has told me about her concern with her current boyfriend not stating he loves her. I try to reassure her and tell her that her boyfriend spent a lot of time building a relationship with her and was very patient waiting for her.

I know she knows he cares about her deeply by the way he treats her. She told me her old boyfriend used to tell her all the time that he loved her. I told her that everyone wants to know that the person they love, loves them back, but I told her that actions speak louder than words. I have told her that I understand how she must feel.

I have tried to go through possible solutions with her, including her telling her boyfriend that she loves him or how she feels. She said she is too scared to tell him because it might ruin things or she will feel rejected if it doesn't go well or she doesn't want to think that he will tell her he loves her because that's what she want to hear.

I think that her boyfriend may be afraid to tell her because of how long it took her to just say yes to being his girlfriend and he may have the same feeling of ruining things.

It hurts me greatly to see her so upset. I don't know what to do. I have told her if it is bothering her this much she should try to get it out in the open instead of letting it build up inside and having it end up hurting her relationship. I am a believer that communication is one of the most, if not the most important part of a relationship. However, I think my daughter has emotional damage from the rejection and hurt she has experienced with her father.

I'm at my wits end and I am really having a hard time seeing her suffer. I don't know if I should let her work it out on her own and just be there for her or if I should intervene. I have thought about saying something to her boyfriend in confidence. However, I am scared to death of hurting my relationship with my daughter if he does not keep our conversation in confidence. He is a very thoughtful, caring and loving young man. I think if he knew the way my daughter is feeling he would be devastated and want to reassure her of his feelings.

Comments for Daughter Wants Her Boyfriend To Say I Love You

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Those Magic Words - Part One
by: Annie Desantis


I think one of the hardest things for parents is when we see our child hurting in some way. We just want to fix it all up. However I don't think your intervention in talking to her boyfriend is a good idea. You would place him in a very difficult position having to keep a secret from her about your conversation. So that sets up an element of dishonesty. How would she ever trust what he says if she thinks it came from you or she found out you were talking about her behind her back? I know your motives are totally for her well-being, but you simply need to let her learn to deal with her insecurities.

He is not responsible for her happiness. If he loves her or is not sure yet, is not really the issue. They are young, relationships deepen over time - or not if that is how it unfolds. They have heaps to learn together, and in my opinion, learning about relating to a significant other person, is just as important as grades in school.

Childhood Experiences
Color Our Beliefs

I think you have hit the nail on the head in saying you think your daughter's insecurity comes from the abandonment from her father. Being let down continually by a parent has a huge impact on self worth. And your daughter is playing out that insecurity in this relationship. Her boyfriend can't fix that, no matter how much he does love her, she has to believe she is loveable regardless of how the relationship unfolds with him.

Sadly we tend to reinforce childhood disappointments, in that we unconsciously collect to reinforce an old belief. Her previous relationship added another layer to that, but fortunately she had the strength to end it when she found he was not treating her well. However, she blames him for her not feeling good enough, and I suspect most of that is her own feelings of self worth.

Part Two Follows . . .

Those Magic Words - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

How Can Parents Help?

So what can you do? You are most likely doing all that you can, you clearly have a close and open relationship with her and letting her unload and helping her to look at options is really what parenting is about. How she chooses to act though, is her responsibility. She is the only one that can leap this hurdle. If you try to fix it you are risking the relationship with her, and you put her boyfriend in a really difficult position.

Emotional Maturity
Takes Time To develop

Your daughter needs to learn that she is loveable and wonderful regardless of if he loves her. If he doesn't love her, then she will still be OK, and really she would be better to know that. As you say, your observation of this relationship is that it is a deeply caring one, and she is way out of balance worrying about how he feels. She is looking for evidence that he does not love her, that he might abandon her, or treat her the way her father has. She does not yet have the emotional maturity to recognize that perhaps she is not being rational about the relationship, or that she is putting a whole load of negative thinking and energy around a relationship that from what you say, is actually a really lovely one. Her obsessing about if he loves her may actually push him away.

I agree with you, communicating is the best way to clear the air and know where you stand. She is caught up in the drama of what might happen - he might leave her, he might feel pressured to say he loves her etc etc - and she is reacting to that - and it has not even happened! Even if he does say he loves her, if she does not believe inside she is lovable, or has a belief that if she loves a man he will let her down - then she is not going to believe him anyway.

Teenage relationships can be very emotional, and communication can be messy. But that is what they are about, the time to learn how to take risks, the time to learn to speak up, learning to negotiate needs, exploring deep feelings - including sexual feelings. Figuring out how to handle feelings that seem way out of control. In short - growing up!

Part Three Follows . . .

Those Magic Words - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Parents As Sounding Boards

The best we can do as parents is be a sounding board for them. Sometimes they just need to let of steam, cry, express their fears, and they feel more settled for a while. They don't always have to action or make any changes. Sometimes just talking about something helps to get it in perspective. It sounds like you are doing a great job of offering her ideas to handle it, but you just need to let go the control of fixing it up.

Playing devil's advocate is a good strategy for parents - you can be the reality check to her responses. "What if you did tell him you love him? What's the worst that might happen? Would you still be you if he doesn't love you? Are you only loveable and worthwhile if he loves you?"

Encourage Her To
Focus On The Good Things

I would also challenge her to look for the good in the relationship - a reality, rather than a fantasy. But get HER to come up with the ideas, not you pointing it out. "In what ways do you think his behavior is showing you he does care deeply about you? What are the ways he treats you well? What are the things that are special about this relationship?"

Taking a risk and sharing deep feelings is hard. He may well be finding it just as hard as her. Clearly he has persisted for some time in wanting to be with her, he must have some pretty strong feelings. But your daughter is basing her relating on her fears, not on how she feels about him. Her fear of loss, rather than her joy being with him. So helping her to see her fears are not what is really happening in the relationship. But if she keeps relating from that place she will create it! How can he connect with the love in her if she is projecting fear of loss or fear of not being loved?

Part Four Follows . . .

Those Magic Words - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

She is lucky that she has a loving step father, that helps heaps to have an experience of a loving father figure. But clearly the hurt from her birth father is playing a big role in how she is relating with her boyfriend. Growing and healing past hurts takes time, and knowing that we are often reacting from a backlog of unresolved hurts is not something many people are aware of.

She does need to build her self worth and self esteem regardless of any relationship. Of course we get hurt sometimes in life, it is all part of growing and gives us the richness of being human. Some people stay stuck with old pain and make limiting decisions to protect ourselves from further hurt. I am sure with your guidance and love your daughter will gain the maturity to take a few emotional risks, and to learn that she is OK, without the approval or love of others. If we put all our need for love and connection onto one other person, they can never fill all those needs.

Of course a deep loving relationship goes a long way to help us to reinforce the belief that we are loved, that we have worth, that we are of value. But that belief has to become a core belief inside, that is not dependent on any other person to feel OK.

Empower Not Fix

You have done a fabulous job with her, and clearly have a special and close relationship with her. I know how hard it is for you not to be able to fix her pain - but you are helping her. Just by being her sounding board, giving her a reality check, challenging her when she is looking at the worst of everything. That then allows her to grow and develop her own sense of knowing she can figure things out. If as parents we jump in and fix everything (and believe me, I'm a compulsive fixit person!) - then we dis-empower our kids. When they gain the courage to speak out, or make a declaration of feelings - the learn so much more than us charging in and sorting the situation.

So just keep on being the loving support that you are. Challenge her when you see she is out of balance with reality - and push her a bit to take a risk to speak her truth. She has had a wonderful cushion of support from you, and she just needs to take the next few steps towards adulthood when she is ready. Relationships are not always easy, we have so much crazy stuff going on in our heads, most of which is rubbish! She has a great base with this one, in that they clearly have some solid caring, respect and he is sharing your family life. Whether or not this relationship lasts the distance is not important - what is important is the huge learning she is gaining from it.

What a wonderful mother you are, just trust you are doing all you can, and even if she has hurts and painful events in her life - she has your support and love to help her grow through it. You can't wrap her in cotton wool and filter her experiences so she only gets nice ones!

All the best - feel free to reply or ask for further clarification in the comments.

Annie D :)

by: Anonymous

Thanks Annie. This is the best $5 I've ever spent. Deep down I knew it was not the right thing to try and "fix-it", but it's not easy when you see your child in emotional pain. I hope she has the courage to tell her boyfriend how she feels.

It also tells me that she may be in need of some counseling to deal with her emotional scars from her father. Thanks again for reinforcing what I already thought! It does make me feel better about just being there for her and letting her fix the situation herself.

by: Annie Desantis

Hi again,

I did wonder about suggesting counseling - but at her age she would have to come to that on her own. You can make the suggestion, but it is not like having a younger child where you can make an appointment.

Some of what she is going through may heal with maturity and good experiences with Men and in her life choices, particularly if she works at building her self esteem. But if she seems to be stuck in reinforcing old stuff, then counseling could be really useful to help her to be aware of when she is reacting from past hurt, that is out of proportion to her current situation.

You can only suggest and see if she is open to the idea.

All the best,
Annie D :)

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