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She Said He Said: Trouble since daughter moved back home

Lori Ann Kret and Jeff Cole
She Said, He Said
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit ​​www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.
Courtesy Photo

Dear Lori and Jeff, 

My marriage has been up and down over the last 10 years but became significantly worse last year when our 28 year-old daughter moved back home. My husband has always been dependable, trustworthy, and the provider for our family, but has never listened to what my daughter has needed. She is a good kid but life is so much harder financially for her generation than it was for ours. We have plenty of resources and I just want her to be happy, even if it takes a little time for her to discover what she wants to do. My husband on the other hand is too hard on her, pushing her to get a job and threatening to make her move out if she doesn’t work. I just can’t believe how easy it is for him to toss her out. We argue constantly and he accuses me of being too soft and letting her take advantage of us. How do I help him see that his behavior is only making it harder on her?

Signed, 



Empty Nester No More

Dear ENNM, 




Lori and Jeff: You’re far from alone. During COVID it was estimated that 32-52% of young adults had moved back home because either they couldn’t afford other housing or were trying to save for the future. Even as the pandemic is shifting, many of these 21- to 34-year-old boomerangers haven’t yet flown the coop.

Lori: Your daughter is playing two roles. First, she is the child that needs parenting (which I’ll explore more in a moment). Second, and perhaps more importantly for you, she is the surrogate for your marital problems. Each of you is projecting the experiences you have with your spouse onto her. You imply your husband’s relationship with her is cold, uncaring, and lacking emotional support. I imagine these are in fact your biggest complaints about him as a husband. He accuses you of lacking boundaries with her, and I’d imagine he also feels you lack boundaries with others, leading to you not prioritizing time, energy or attention for him and the marriage. The first step towards resolution is for each of you to face the stories, needs and expectations you have about each other and stop using your daughter as the placeholder for them. 

In regards to parenting, your daughter needs both support and structure. She will be asking for, and perhaps even demanding, support without parameters. However, without age appropriate expectations, the message that she’ll absorb over time is that you don’t believe that she is capable of more. Ideally both of you would be embodying this balance with her. But instead, you’ve both dug your feet in, and have created greater polarization in which one holds all the expectations and the other holds all the support. If you want your husband to be softer and more empathic, you need to be willing to take on some of his tough love.

Jeff: The three of you are subconsciously playing out a dynamic, commonly found in any triad where there is conflict and tension. It’s called the Drama Triangle (or Trauma Triangle in more extreme situations) and there are three specific roles: the Victim, the Perpetrator and the Rescuer. From your daughter’s perspective, she is the Victim, your husband is the Perpetrator and you are the Rescuer. At times, you may feel like the Victim as you perceive your husband to be the Perpetrator in criticizing and judging you for not setting stronger, clearer boundaries with your daughter. You then recruit your daughter to play the Rescuer in wanting her to join with you in accusing your husband of being too cold and heartless. Your husband may feel like a victim as you push back against his boundaries to get his daughter to launch. If you all stay locked in your roles, everyone will feel unheard and misunderstood and nothing will change.

Ideally, the roles need to change and the dynamic can become the Growth or Learning Triangle. The Victim needs to become the Grower or Learner (your daughter) and you and your husband need to be comfortable in the other two roles of Challenger and Coach/Teacher, moving fluidly between the two, as your daughter needs change. As one of you challenges your daughter to grow or learn in certain areas, the other can help support that growth. The most important piece is that your marriage needs to be strong enough to allow both you and your husband to stay out of the Victim role so you can best support your daughter. You can learn more about the Drama Triangle on our podcast: http://www.functionallove.com/episodes/the-trauma-triangle

Jeff and Lori: Even though this conflict appears to be centered on your daughter, her presence is really just the catalyst for your underlying marital tensions to erupt. If you want her to one day launch into the world as a healthy, well adjusted adult, you and your husband need to refocus on finding solid ground in your relationship. 


Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Visit ​​http://www.aspenrelationshipcoaching.com/blog-1 for all previous She Said, He Said columns.