When Your Married Son or Daughter Seems Emotionally Distant

Learning to relate to your adult son or daughter in healthy ways takes wisdom. And for many parents, switching gears from connecting as parent-child to adult-adult isn’t easy. You know you need to let them go, but you don’t want to lose a close relationship. That’s not a bad thing; God designed moms and dads to feel this way!

Still, bumps in the road are unavoidable when you add in your unique personality, that of your son or daughter and their spouse, and the dynamics of their marriage. It’s not uncommon to feel a disconnect. You might sense a coldness or separation in your interactions. You might even suspect it has something to do with their spouse.

But before you decide that the relational distance is “their” fault — or yours! — take a step back. It’s possible to stay emotionally close while also respecting your daughter’s or son’s independence. The key is to build a strong peer relationship.

Remember that leaving and cleaving isn’t just about “leaving home”

For a marriage to thrive, leaving and cleaving means leaving home physically, relationally, financially, spiritually — and emotionally.

That means it’s normal and healthy for your son or daughter to turn to their spouse before turning to you. It means your opinions do take second place next to their spouse. Don’t expect them to call or text you every day.

See the benefits of boundaries

Appropriate boundaries are a must with your adult son or daughter, especially when they have families of their own. The challenge is to respect those boundaries while assuring your son or daughter of your steadfast love.

Also, remember that boundaries exist for your sake, too. Parents often blame themselves and assume full responsibility for tension in their interactions with their adult son or daughter. However, that’s not fair or accurate.

Every parent makes mistakes. But your son or daughter is defined by their choices, not by your shortcomings. (This is particularly true in the case of a married adult son or daughter whose attitudes and actions are partly shaped by the influence of a spouse.) Set a boundary against self-blame for the decisions of other autonomous adults.

Bridge the gap with love

When the natural leaving and cleaving of your married son or daughter starts to feel like an unhealthy divide, don’t react out of worry or anxiety. Respect boundaries and do your best to embrace a peer-peer relationship.

  • Express love and offer help as you have opportunities.
  • Extend invitations on appropriate occasions.
  • Cover your child and their spouse with prayer — lots of it.
  • Ask God for wisdom and comfort when you feel confused or left out. Trust that He’ll help you reflect His love in the most effective way.
  • Get professional guidance if you’re not sure whether the strain you feel is normal or something deeper that needs to be addressed.

For more insight into relating well to your adult child, read Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, and listen to our broadcast “Healing Parent and Adult Child Relationships.”