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Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Answers to 5 common questions about your grown kids' relationships

En español │With the marriage age at a historical high point — 26 for women and 28 for men — the path to "happily ever after" seems to have grown longer and more complicated.  In what might be a decade-long journey to find Mr. or Ms. Right, there's now more time for all kinds of relationship drama. This might also mean your twentysomething kid will be introducing you to more romantic partners, which will lead to delicate questions about what your role should be.

From our research interviews with hundreds of families with "emerging adults" — grown children ages 18 to 29 — these are the questions we typically hear and answer:

Q: My child is seeing someone I don't think is a good match. Should I say something?

Is She Really Going Out With Him?

— Caterina Bernardi/Corbis

A: Probably not. But if you must say something, comment on what you observe, rather than on the person in question. Instead of saying, "I don't think that person is right for you," try, "When I see the two of you together, I see something I'm concerned about." Then identify a specific action that worries you, such as: "He puts you down" or "She interrupts you."  Sticking with observed behavior gives your son or daughter room to open up — or tell you to back off.

Q: When my son or daughter is unhappy in love, I'm so tempted to give advice. Is this a good idea?

A: You may still have strong feelings about what's best for your grown children, but you should keep your big opinions to yourself. Hold the judgments and "I-remember-when-I-was-in-my-20s" lectures and listen with empathy. We call this approach "friends with barriers," and it's all about the delicate balance between support and intrusion, between staying connected and being overly invested in your emerging adult's every move. Be ready to respond if asked, but be readier to step aside and let grown children make their own choices, and learn from their own mistakes.

Meanwhile, you might also ask yourself what your child's relationship is providing that you're not seeing. Just considering this question reframes your perspective from criticism to greater understanding.

Q: Do young people today even date, as in go out to dinner and a movie?

A: In this dating-and-mating-2.0 world, paired couples are on the downswing in high schools and college campuses, and for many, the old courting patterns have gone topsy-turvy. Instead of a few movies, plus dinner out and then deciding to have sex, today's kids, especially "friends with benefits" might hook up, have sex a few times and then decide to start dating.

Most twentysomethings have a second life on Facebook, and almost half of those who do online dating are in the 18 to 34 age range, according to Mediamark Research Inc. The result, as one 22-year-old college senior explained: "We have every opportunity at our fingertips, so everything has become a lot more disposable for us. We can drop people as quickly as we can type." 

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