There was a confrontation. You had an argument. Maybe there was yelling. Both of you said some stupid things to each other and now there’s an icy tension. There’s no going back for a do-over, so how are you going to move ahead?

It’s likely that what actually happened, your story about what happened, and your feelings about what happened are all jumbled together. Let’s pull them apart to see what we can learn.

Why am I upset?

Did she take the car without asking? Did he make a late-night mess in the kitchen? Did she make plans to attend a volleyball tournament out of town after you put a cap on spending? Did he track his muddy boots all over the carpet?

Something happened. And you got triggered.

What were your expectations and assumptions?

  1. This is where you ask yourself, ‘how did I think it would go? What was I hoping would happen? What did I think she should have known? How did I expect him to behave?’
  2. Be honest with yourself and dig under the surface. What do you feel? Maybe disappointed, dismissed, discouraged.
  3. What story did you tell yourself about your son/daughter? Perhaps it was: ‘She’s untrustworthy’; ‘He only thinks of himself’; ‘She’s irresponsible’; ‘He doesn’t care about me.’

Your feelings and the story in your head will reveal your expectations and assumptions. Own them.

What are your boundaries?

Boundaries are about what feels comfortable or acceptable to us; what we are willing or not willing to deal with. Having boundaries is about honoring ourselves and acting with integrity. Here’s an example:

Since we share the car, I want us to always discuss with each other about using it.

Often we get triggered when a boundary has been crossed. This can happen even if we didn’t know we had a boundary. Upsets with our teens illuminate invisible boundaries, and this is a good thing, because now we have information from inside us to bring clarity to the upset. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about a mom who didn’t want her teenager telling her how to spend her money; their argument was partly a boundary issue.

Can we talk?

If you are able to break the ice with your teenager you will model problem solving skills and relationship repair. Enter the conversation prepared to apologize for whatever you did that you regret (I’m sorry I left the room when you were talking; I’m sorry I raised my voice at you; I’m sorry I called you ‘selfish’) and listen with an open heart.

When you’re ready to move towards repair, check with your teen to see if they are also ready. You could try saying, “I would like to talk with you about the fight we had yesterday. I’ve been thinking about why I got so upset and I’m able to share my thoughts with you now in a nicer way. And I really want to hear what you’re thinking and feeling. Would you be open to that in the next day or two?”

What was the impact on you?

When you’re both ready to have a conversation, tell your teenager what impact the argument had on you, and what impact the initial event had on you too. Speak about yourself and your experience:

I realize I contributed to the fact that we haven’t spoken since Saturday night and I feel bad about that. I was so shocked to find mud all over the carpet, and then I felt angry knowing Aunt Judy was coming over and I had just vacuumed before you came home, and I know I didn’t handle myself well.

Next, ask your teen, “What’s going on for you? What have you been thinking about?”

Really listen.

Ask your teenager about their intentions

Something happened: you got woken from a deep sleep in the wee hours and found a mess in the kitchen the next morning. This event can be talked about because the dirty dishes all over the counter are solid evidence. But it’s more difficult to talk about the impact those dishes had on you because the impact was internal, just like we can’t know your teen’s intentions with the messy kitchen because his intentions are also within his mind. We need to SHARE impact and INQUIRE about intentions because we can’t see them.

What’s important to you?

Tell your teenager what is important to you and why. “It’s important to me that we make plans about volleyball tournaments together because I really want to support your athletics and I don’t want to run out of money at the end of the month.”

Ask your teenager what’s important to her/him. You will learn something! My own son once told me, “I left the kitchen messy because I was afraid if I washed the dishes it would be noisy and I would wake you up. I intended to clean up in the morning.”


When we argue with anyone, it’s because we feel bad in some way. Upsets in relationships always have emotional roots. Sometimes we rush into repair mode because we feel better when we are doing something active. But take the time to dig inside and find out where you got off track. Authentic repair is an uncomfortable process most of the time but it will be worth it.



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