Let's take a short trip back in time...
You're in high school. After months obsessing over the love of your life, you summon the courage to tell them how you feel. Well, you ask a friend who knows someone who knows them to pass on the news. You vibrate with anticipation waiting for the reply, feeling an excitement you've never felt before. Minutes tick by like hours. The world seems to move in slow motion. Finally, after an excruciating wait, you prepare for the news that is going to make your life perfect.
"They like you as a friend."
Though no one else can see it, the walls around you crumble. Hopes and dreams are crushed. Your heart sinks and your stomach turns. Nothing will ever be good again.
Ahh, young love. There's nothing quite like it. The highs are beyond the moon and the lows hit the depths of the ocean. Often in my practice parents walk through the door looking for the cure to a broken heart. I feel for them. The rollercoaster of emotions their teen is going through is never easy on anyone, especially mom and dad.
There isn't an easy answer or a quick fix, but there are things to think and steps to take. When a client seeks the cure, here is what I tell them.
1. It's Normal: Responding, instead of reacting, is the name of the game. Before anything else, parents must understand what's happening. The crazed teen living among them, who barely resembles their child, is normal. The situation is common. It happens over and over in every home throughout the state, country, and world. Broken hearts know no bounds. This alone helps bring calm to my clients. Knowing that the phase is a natural part of life--and not a sign of terrible things to come--reduces a cataclysmic event into a right of passage for their kids.
2. Remember: I then help them remember. It's easy to tell your teen to get over it. Why can't they just suck it up and move on? The reason, of course, is that your perspective has decades of experience and hindsight. But not theirs. Remember what it's like to have your heart broken. Remember what it's like to feel like your entire world has collapsed. Remember what it's like to love everything about life one second, then see nothing but sadness the next. We know love unreturned isn't the end of the world. We know a breakup is a bump in the grand scheme. But you didn't when you were young. They don't either. Remember that and enter the situation with empathy and not dismissiveness.
3. It's Chemical: I also remind my clients that chemicals are at play; it's not only a difference of perspective. As my friend, colleague, and author of Adolescence is Not a Disease (Advantage Media 2016) Jeffrey Leiken, explains, "The intensity of the hormonal rush that happens with first loves can be overwhelming. It's not easy for anyone to be rational when their emotions are flaring." In a sense, then, they're not even in full control of their minds at that point. Just as you guessed, they truly are possessed.
4. There's No Cure: Many of my clients want the quick fix, the magic combination of words that will instantly make it all better. Sadly, it doesn't work that way. One of the only cures for a broken heart is time. This is as important for you to remember as it is for them. As a parent you want to do all you can to make your kids happy; seeing them so torn can be just as heartbreaking for us. We want to do something. Sometimes, though, we have to stand by and wait to be needed. Be supportive and offer guidance when they come to you, but try to avoid unleashing an unrequested avalanche of "mother/father knows best."
5. See the Big Picture: When they do come to you for help? You know your kids best and you know how to be a great parent, so I have no doubt the right words of wisdom will come. Just in case you need a kick start, though, here are a few tips of advice for teens that have proven effective in my practice.
This is not the love of your life. Oh, I know it can seem that way, but the truth is rarely do first loves become forever loves. This is the first on many connections you'll have, each one teaching you new things about who you are and what makes you happy. They'll actually get better and better. (Sharing your own story can be massively effective.)
The right one is out there. The one who will make you happy, the one who will help you become the best version of yourself, the one who will accept you and inspire you will come into your life at some point. Until he or she does, enjoy the relationships you have but don't worry if they don't last forever.
Let go and move on. Time heals all wounds--if given the chance. Though I know you want nothing more than to hold on, to keep trying, to stay connected in some way, the quickest way to feeling good again is to let go and move on. It didn't work out and that's painful, but the pain will diminish every day if you let it.
Teen love is exhilarating. Teen love is excruciating. It truly is a right of passage and one that will make your teen stronger for having gone through the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Be ready.