Dear Dr. Coleman,
Our 21 yr old just announced she is getting married in 5 months (not pregnant) to her 2 yr companion and addict boyfriend. We dislike him and his family-there is nothing positive to say about him. We have always had a good relationship with her (so I thought) until this guy came into the picture. Should we participate in the wedding? Should we try to pay for it? (we’ve been unemployed for 3 years now & husband is on disability). Should we ‘bless’ this union even though I get sick thinking about it? I’d rather her continue to live with him than marry him – he is so low & has threatened us. She totally supports his actions – not ours. Her perception has always been “off” and with her multiple disabilities, she will never see clearly. We’ve been accused of being controlling, but we have her best interests in our hearts & she needs protecting b/c of her learning disabilities. Please help!
It is very tough on parents when they a) don’t like their future daughter- or son-in-law and b) believe that their child is making a very serious mistake in marrying that person. From my perspective, it’s rarely productive to come out and say, “I don’t like your fiancé.”
She, for whatever reason loves him and if you say it in that way, you place her in a potential loyalty conflict between her love for him and her love for you. At 21, this is not a battle that you’re likely to win.
HOW DO I VOICE MY CONCERNS?
On the other hand, I believe that parents have the right to say, in a loving way, what their concerns are ONCE before their child of any age gets married. So, you might say something like the following: “It’s obvious that you really love him (here, dear reader, try to say something about what she might see in him as hard as that is. But continuing…) “You know that he has threatened us and so far, you have allied with him. Sometimes people ally with their spouses or fiancés because they don’t know how to defend themselves or defend their parents. On the other hand, maybe you’re allying with him because you’re more angry at us than we realized.” I would ask her which it is (it’s probably the former but she’ll probably say it’s the latter). If she says the latter I would hear her out, try to empathize with her complaints about you, and suggest a few meetings with a family therapist (with or without her betrothed) to bring more of these issues to the surface.
I would then say something like, “We want to support your marriage but you know that we can’t allow ourselves to be threatened by anyone. You have to understand that as much as we love and support you, if at any time we believe that our life or well-being are in danger, we’ll call the police in a heartbeat. I’m sure you understand that and I would expect you to do the same, if you were ever threatened by anyone.” I add the latter part because if he has threatened you, he will probably threaten her at some point.
You should go on to say:
“Also, he seems like he has some problems with drugs and alcohol. Am I right?” If she says no, then you can give a few examples of what leads you to believe he’s an addict. If she says yes then you can ask her how she believes his addictions will play out in the coming months or years. If you’re on good terms with your daughter and she’ll take your feedback, you could tell her that you believe that addictive problems and marriage don’t mix very well. That marriage requires a fair amount of selflessness, and that addictions, by their nature, are a self-centered enterprise.
So, he has threatened you, he’s an addict, and your daughter has learning disabilities and other issues which interfere with her judgment. I could see why you’d be concerned. Should you refuse to go to the wedding? I say, assuming that your safety isn’t an issue, that you should go. This is because we have much more influence over our adult children if they see us as allies rather than as adversaries, however impossible the bind they place us in. If you don’t go to the wedding, she may feel so unsupported or rejected by you that it may eradicate any wisdom you’ll have to offer later down the line, when this very fragile marriage begins to fall apart. And, rightly or wrongly she has already complained that you’re too controlling, so protesting this union by refusing to attend may cause her to misperceive your behavior as more evidence of that.
Should you pay for the wedding? Since you’re both unemployed and your husband is on disability I would say that you probably can’t afford to pay for it. In general, I don’t recommend that parents go into debt to pay for their children’s weddings if they will have a hard time paying them off. But, you should offer to help in any way that you can. If you have the means to pay for part of it without a lot of hardship, then I might do that. The main issue here is showing your daughter that you are her ally and that you support her even when you think she’s making a terrible mistake, as it clearly sounds like she is here.
What do other readers think?