Dear Dr. Donna,
I have a 24-year-old son who is having problems getting along with his girlfriend. It seems to be affecting his mood. He has a history of depression and doesn't express himself very well, and I'd like to offer some fatherly guidance. However, I want to help him in a way that he figures out his own solutions, even though it is tempting just to give him advice. Do you have any suggestions?
Thank you for your question. I think it is admirable that you have the desire and confidence to connect with your son in this way. I believe it is really important to have an open, two-way dialogue, where you each listen and speak honestly with each other. You might try opening the conversation with your observations and concern and then ask for his feelings about the issue.
For example, you could say, "Son, it seems that you are feeling sad about the problems you are having with your girlfriend right now, and it may be hard for you to express these feelings to her, is that right?"
By asking for his feelings, you are inviting a two-way dialogue. Then you can continue to listen and respond like a mirror, reflecting back his feelings and values that you hear. At some point, you might ask what he has done in the past that has worked that might be useful to try again and what other solutions he has considered to resolve the current situation. If he suggests a solution that you do not agree with or see as impractical or destructive, try using an "I-message" to state your feelings, needs and request, without negatively evaluating or judging his responses.
For example, if he says, "I might as well just break it off," you might reply, "I am concerned that would create more pain for you and I think you'd need a good support system in place to help you get through that time period. Would you be willing to talk to a counselor? If you keep the dialogue open and honest, and listen with empathy and without judgment, I feel confident that you will be able to find solutions that will meet the needs of all concerned.
-- Send your question to: Ask Dr. Donna, P.O. Box 2204, Payson, AZ, 85547 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Donna facilitates a Communication Support group every Friday, from 10:45 am-noon at 616 S. Beeline Hwy. For further information, call 474-4452.