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He Won’t Respect Any of Our Boundaries

Birds arguing

Tuesday42 is in need of strategies for her partner’s teenaged son. He constantly pushes all the boundaries in the household; none of the conditions they’ve set have made an impact. It’s hard to think about kicking him out… but his behavior is so disrespectful!

© Amy S via Pixabay

I need advice about my boyfriend’s 18 year old son. We are new to this site. We are trying to find a way to keep supporting him while maintaining healthy boundaries and not have to kick him out of the house. He refuses to get a job, he breaks the screens in the windows so he can smoke pot in the house, he drinks in his room alone, he says he does not have a problem and we simply do not know what to do. We've come up with tons of lists, agreements, boundaries, etc and none of it seems to stick or to matter ultimately. Sometimes he's sober and acting normal and then he goes off the rails. He cannot make it past 3 days without using. We cannot tolerate the outright, in-your-face smoking in the house and are on the fence about kicking him out.

Any thoughts, feedback, help would be appreciated!

Welcome to the site. There are a number of posts (see the topics tabs to the right: home/ homeless) that address this most difficult question of whether or not to ask a Loved One to leave your home. Reading through these will illuminate some of the more universal themes, and also help you see how you need to apply the CRAFT principles to your specific situation. We typically suggest practicing CRAFT, patiently, in the day-to-day, for 6-8 weeks to start to see results… of course this figure is an estimate. Some find it works more rapidly, while for others results can be slower to surface.

There are a few key things to keep in mind while you embrace the CRAFT method. One is avoiding confrontational exchanges – we like to call this “keeping out of the weeds.” If the goal is to get your partner’s son to open up, look to you for help in vulnerable moments and accept meaningful help from you, then having exchanges that promote his defensiveness won’t work in your favor. Whether you have the best intentions or not, brining up a Loved One’s substance use problems when they aren’t ready to talk about them is very seldom productive.

Another important idea is that of collecting information. Try thinking about all of the observations you make – about his use, behavior, etc. – as simply information. This requires being present enough with your own feeling about his use, behavior, etc that you can let them go and separate them from your actions. Your Loved One is not responsible for your feelings. So we practice a lot with giving ourselves time to let them be, learn from them, and release them – so that when those pivotal times come to interact with our Loved Ones, we can be present, grounded, and even loving and empathetic.

We can practice reflective listening and build bridges, rather than running through the same old tired cycles of arguments, frustration and desperation. This all starts with your finding ways to center yourself – even amidst the most chaotic situations. The more you can cultivate that, the more you can make wise choices with how you act and respond in the moment, no matter what the external circumstances are. If you think this sounds hard, you’re absolutely correct. Simple doesn’t mean easy. But you know that the alternatives – feeling like you’re turning around in circles trying to get the situation to change and constantly ending up back where you started – just aren’t effective. That’s why you’re here – it’s why we are all here.

At the very least, if you work on owning your own feelings – slowing down, giving yourself time and space to really listen to them, learn from them and let them go – then whatever interactions you do have with your Loved One can come from this place of clarity and centeredness. Setting boundaries – and sticking to them – isn’t an act of cruelty or malice. Drawing a clear line and upholding it without anger and frustration is a powerful, and radical act of love and compassion. It all hinges on where the action is coming from.

If you feel you have been dedicated to doing CRAFT for several weeks at least, and it is not making the difference you need in your home with your Loved One, then you can say you did your level best. CRAFT teaches you the skills to help shift your LO with addiction. If these don’t work, then you’ve done what you can. If your boyfriend’s son shows no effort in any direction, and insists on using and breaking understandings, then it may be time to gently move him out.

By gently I mean giving your boyfriend’s son a way to get started like any parent would for a child, but with the caveat that he not handle the money on his own for now. You could arrange for him to find a room in a house for $500 for a couple months, paid to the landlord, and provide some credit at the local market – something  along these lines. You’ll want to keep money out of his hands as best you can, but don’t go crazy trying to do this: a person can return or sell just about anything.

Remember that it is key not to frame this as a punishment – despite the fact that your patience has clearly worn thin and you are understandably beyond fed up at this point. Practicing CRAFT in the day-to-day teaches us to move neutrally between the responses called for by our Loved Ones’ actions. If you can settle into these rhythms to try it out, when it does come time to discuss a new strategy such as helping him transition to a place on his own, this can come from a more level-headed place, not as an act of desperation. If your communications about this can really stay neutral and loving, rather than punitive, he will feel this – whether or not he has the maturity to accept or appreciate it at this point in time.

So perhaps two to three months of rent/more, maybe dinner on Sundays where the talk is light and loving, and does not have to do with treatment or smoking or drinking. Remember that you want to show him that you are there for him, even if the external circumstances change. You want him to feel that you genuinely are interested in him, as a whole person, not just someone with Substance Use Disorder. In these types of situations at home it can be easy for all parties involved to forget to consider the whole person. Somewhere deep down, he needs to know that you see him as a whole and capable human being, despite his struggles. If he moves out and you are still connecting on weekly basis, those are golden opportunities to keep things light and loving.

It would certainly help if your partner could watch the modules with you. Show him this post if you think it would be helpful, and maybe read through a few of the posts under the home/ homeless tab that grab your attention, or any other ones on the discussion blog that speak to you. Take some time to talk out what appeals to you about this approach and what your hesitations may be. Be candid with one another. Can you and your boyfriend agree on a united and loving front, practice CRAFT together in the day-to-day, and assess together how it is working after a set period of time? Try to curb your expectations during that time. Don’t anticipate miraculous transformations, just commit yourselves to getting in the rhythm of rewarding non-use and coolly stepping back when you see use. Keep it light as much as possible.

If this doesn’t prove to be fruitful after the time frame you set together, can you agree to look at next steps and help find this young man his first place? Can you do this gently, neutrally, together? You’ll know pretty soon how serious his addiction is by how he does on his own. The work then would be to continue using CRAFT practices to guide him towards the help he needs.

Let us know how this sounds. We are glad you’re here and invested in learning about how to help your boyfriend’s son. Dealing with a disrespectful teenaged boy is so trying – don’t forget that you need to be equally invested in caring for yourself. We are here to support you. Please let us know what else you need. Thanks for being a part of our community. We are all in this together.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)