Dating While Living with Family
Farrah Hughes, PhD, ABPP
Are you living with your adult kids? Or have they moved back in with you? If so, you’re not alone. In 2018, the Pew Research Center estimated more than a third of the U.S. adult population lives in a shared household. What’s more, about 14 percent of these adults are a parent of the household head; that is, they live with an adult child.
Seniors who live with family members experience many benefits, such as spending extra time with grandchildren, gaining access to helpful family members who can assist when needed, and having a built-in antidote for loneliness. The flip side of this closeness, however, are potentially sensitive issues, such as how and where to spend time with guests or go on dates.
Of course, seniors value their independence and their privacy, so it can be frustrating to have the additional consideration of at-home family when planning a date. Here are some tips for seniors – and their family members – to make the experience a little bit easier.
· Be clear about your feelings and needs. If you feel like your privacy is not being valued, or you are interrogated every time you go out, start a conversation with your family members. They may have legitimate concerns that can be addressed in a more supportive way, or they may not know what you are thinking and feeling. For example, “I really like spending time with John, but I worry that you might not trust my instincts. How can I tell you what you need to know so you don’t feel like you need to ask so many questions each time I go out?”
· Communicate openly. Avoid making assumptions about what others in the household are thinking or feeling. For example, you might assume that they don’t want you to bring a date around, when in fact they would be happy for you to do so. Say, “I understand the cookout you’re planning for this weekend is for family. I wonder how you would feel about me inviting Sarah.”
· Share your general schedule and plans. Let your household partners know the who, what, where, and when. For safety, it is important others know about your plans – not so they can parent or micro-manage your life, but so they can know when to expect you to return home and be prepared in case you need assistance.
For family members:
· Be concerned but avoid being parental. Your senior family member is not as naïve as you might think. If they date someone with health problems, you may become concerned that they will end up caring for another aging adult. Express concern by asking questions such as, “Where do you see the relationship going?” or, “What are you hoping for in this relationship?” rather than assuming they don’t know what is at stake.
· They may need help avoiding scams. Though they have much wisdom and are not generally gullible, today’s scams are very deceiving. It is important to help them spot a scam, particularly if your senior family member is meeting people online or via dating apps. Scammers can create very believable scenarios in which they need financial help, and then they lure seniors into sending money. You could address this by saying, “oh, look at these dating profiles. I would love to hear about the people you are chatting with online.”
· Be supportive and nurturing. Remember, it’s important for your loved one to live a vibrant and healthy life to the extent possible. Relationships and time spent with others are important, not just for emotional health, but also for physical health. Support their social endeavors and nurture their interest as much as you can. Ask, “what can we do to help you live the way you would like to in this chapter of your life?”
If you could use some help communicating with your family members about important issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted family friend, a pastor, or a behavioral health professional. Counselors (LPC), clinical social workers (LISW-CP), psychologists (LP), and marriage and family therapists (LMFT) are available to help with difficult conversations in a healthy way and to improve your relationships.
Farrah Hughes, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as the director of Behavioral Health Services at HopeHealth. She is happily married to her best friend of more than 20 years and together they have two children. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association, and the Society for Couple and Family Psychology.