click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Dating Advice #149 - Stuck at Home
Dating Advice 149

Dating Advice #149 - Stuck at Home

Her failure to individuate is preventing her separating from her parents.


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm in trouble. I got engaged six months ago, bought her a huge diamond ring, and we are currently building a new house.

The problem is, I'm very unhappy and unfulfilled by our relationship. We hardly ever do anything alone and when we do, it's not because she wants to. She always wants to be with family and friends. She's 36 and still lives at home with Mom, Dad and both brothers!

I love her, but something tells me if we get married, it will be a short and painful one. I see major problems down the road. In the meantime, she and her family have been going nuts planning a big wedding in a few months!

If we were not engaged, I would have been long gone! But this is different. What do I do?


Dear Jason,

We agree that you have a big problem, and in order to deal with it you have to understand that love is not everything. Fortunately, we won't have to work hard to convince you of this fact. As you love your fianceé, you recognize there is a serious impediment to your building a life together.

The root of the issues you described to us appears that your fianceé has not individuated from her parents. We don't say this simply because she still lives with them at age 36 -- in some cultures single adults are expected to live at home until they marry. We see signs of her failure to individuate/separate because she never wants to do anything without her family or unless she is surrounded by friends. In all likelihood, she doesn't want to be alone because she doesn't know how to function independently. Even though she loves you, she may be going through with this marriage because her parents tell her she has to, and she may be terrified of the thought of leaving the nest.

People who have not individuated have trouble seeing themselves as a separate person from their parents. They define themselves through their parents' eyes, have difficultly forming their own opinions, and rely on their parents to make most major decisions. Someone who hasn't individuated may be well-educated and have a career, but nevertheless rely on parents to handle aspects of their everyday lives -- perhaps choosing what to do for entertainment, helping select a wardrobe, handling finances, making medical appointments.

Individuation is a process that begins when a child is a toddler, continues through adolescence and the teenaged years, and is usually completed in early adulthood. Adults who have not fully individuated are able to achieve this stage of life with the help of a qualified therapist, and a good therapist can help them do so within a reasonable amount of time.

However, this is something that should be accomplished before marriage. Newlywed couples have so many adjustments to learn how to live together -- and these will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, if one of the spouses has not individuated. In addition, no one should hope that marriage will become the vehicle that will enable them to emotionally separate from his or her parents. It doesn't happen.

If your fianceé wants to address this problem, both of you have to understand that she must do so on her own, without the involvement of either her parents or you. Certainly, you can give her emotional support, but she will have to attend therapy sessions without you or her parents, and perform any exercises or "homework" recommended by the therapist on her own. Gaining independence is an independent process.

As she progresses in therapy, the nature of the way you relate to each other may change, hopefully for the better, and you may decide that the two of you can develop the skills to make your marriage a success. Of course, you may decide the opposite and decide to break your engagement.

If your fianceé doesn't want to address this issue by working with a therapist, we do not believe that your upcoming marriage should take place. Of course, we aren't in the business of breaking up engagements. But, then again, we can't encourage someone to go through with a marriage that seems likely to end in disaster.

You will need to express maturity here. Maturity means taking pain now for a benefit later. If you have to break it off, it will mean biting the bullet and being brave, to probably save yourself a much bigger mess in the future.

We hope this has been helpful, and wish you good luck,

Rosie & Sherry

February 21, 2004

Submit Your Dating Advice Question (Click here)

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 6

(6) john, March 5, 2004 12:00 AM

Who are you marrying?

Your wife-to-be or her family?

Answer that honestly, the way will be clear.

(5) rebecca, March 2, 2004 12:00 AM

Jason talk to her now about this

Jason I went threw a similar situation. My marriage ended in divorce a nasty one my (husband's mother was always at our house in our personal life interfering. she even picked out my wedding ring, my dress,curtains everything she was very controlling. Do not do what I did I kept quiet then one day i couldn't take it anymore and told her what I thought, and my husband wouldn't say anything to her he thought more of her feelings and opinions than my own.You really need to talk with your future wife, she may not even realize how you feel; if she loves you and wants to marry you she will understand how you feel and you will work it out. Also, that is her family and that will take some adjustment on your part as well. Family is very important Jason, but I'm sure you know that. jason don't forget to pray G-D be with you

(4) Anonymous, February 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Jason might benefit from assistance addressing issue with her

Jason, suggests, by having written in the first place, that he should consider getting some professional assistance to sort out how to address his concerns both about, and with, his betrothed, including whether, or how, to suggest to her that her relationship with her parents might, or perhaps should, precipitate her parents pursuing professional counselling, to help them understand the psychopathological nature of their relationship with their daughter, and how to help it, her, and them become healthy[ier], so the marriage can have a prayer of a chance.

(3) Art Haykin, February 23, 2004 12:00 AM

The role of the parents

No where in the response do I see a comment made on the role of her parents in this issue. Surely they are participants in this dilemma. Dependency is a two way street, and you must consider all the ramifications including
their role as potential grandparents. Just supposed her parents suddenly were taken. How would she (and you) cope with this possibility? BTW, is she an only child?

Do BOTH of you a favor, and think about this LONG AND HARD!!

(2) Anonymous, February 23, 2004 12:00 AM

Carefully Reconsider


I have a wife of 18 years and 39 years old who has never individuated. She will discuss our personal problems with her parents and brother and seeks only their advice. She is on the phone or emails each of them several times a day. When I'm out of town for a week or two, we go several days before she will contact me. If we did not have children, our marriage would have ended long ago.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment