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Dating Maze #333: My Parents' Red Flag
Dating Advice 333

Dating Maze #333: My Parents' Red Flag

My parents want me to break up with a great woman I've been dating. Should I listen to them?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm a 32-year-old man who has been dating a great woman. She's bright, personable, kind, and fun to be with. We had chemistry from the start. We also have similar life goals and religious values. I like her and would like to continue seeing her.

So why am I writing? My parents are pressuring me to stop seeing her. They are friendly with relatives of hers, and have learned that her parents have had serious marital problems in the past. My parents are also concerned that a medical issue in the family may have a genetic component.

I want to be sure I’m not ignoring a red flag.

I can understand my parents' concern, but I want to know how much consideration I should be giving this. As far as I can see, this woman is physically and emotionally healthy. She's a professional who works with handicapped children. I admire what she's doing, and her exceptional personal qualities make her perfect for this work.

My parents and I have different outlooks on many things, including different views on what's important for marriage. I just want to make sure that I’m not brushing off something that may really be a red flag. Should I be concerned that she may have grown up with parents who don't have a good relationship? Should I be worried that her parent's marital problems have harmed their children emotionally? Should I be concerned that the medical condition my parents are worried about may be hereditary?

And how do I handle the fact that my parents are so opposed to my moving forward with her?

-- Mitch

Dear Mitch,

You're right – it sometimes can be hard to distinguish between a "non-issue" and a genuine "red flag." You're wise to realize that even though you and your parents have different criteria for choosing a marriage partner, their concern about this woman’s family background might be a valid one.

We always urge daters to view a prospective marriage partner as a whole person, who has positive as well as negative qualities. It's important to be able to accept a potential spouse for all of their qualities.

Unfortunately, many people put on blinders, ignoring the negative and focusing only on the positive. They correctly look for someone who shares their values and goals, and whom they like, admire and respect. But sometimes they're so caught up in the moment (a phenomenon that can be exacerbated by sexual involvement) that they push aside something they really need to consider, such as an annoying habit, an ongoing medical condition, a difference in expectations for the future, signs the other person has difficulty coping with stress, or a difficulty in the way they relate to each other. But the issue doesn't go away, and at some point it will have to be dealt with. If it turns out to be something that can't be resolved, the result is usually a broken engagement, a divorce, or a strife-laden marriage.

So how can you know when something is a real issue to consider, versus trusting your gut feeling that it's not something that really matters? A general rule to follow is to explore anything that might have a long-term impact on a marriage, even if it presently doesn't effect how you are relating to each other.

Role Models

As for your specific situation, yes – this woman’s family background may be an issue that seems innocuous, but can have a long-term effect on her and her future family.

The reality is that as we are growing up, we learn about relationships by experiencing how our families and other close people interact. From these experiences, we begin to decide what we want our own relationships to be like, and conversely what we don't want to model in our own lives. Someone whose parents don't have a harmonious marriage may not be troubled by certain dynamics of a relationship that would concern another person. Or, they may be very conscious of the problems in their home and not want to emulate them, but may not have learned better relationship skills. That doesn't mean such a person can't have a great marriage. But it may take more of a conscious effort to learn how to do that.

A home that lacks marital harmony may not be teaching good relationship skills.

It's always important for a couple whose courtship has become serious to talk about what it was like growing up in their homes, what positive qualities in their families they'd like to bring into their marriage, and which ones they don't want to emulate. This is even more crucial when one or both of them comes from a home that lacks harmony. It is helpful for the couple to be able to acknowledge that because of their backgrounds, they may need help learning healthy relationship skills, even if they are determined not to follow their parents' example.

There are a number of ways to learn these skills. One is by spending time with couples who get along well, and observing how they relate to each other. Another is by attending workshops or courses that help engaged and newly-married couples develop healthy relationship skills together, such as the internationally-reknowned Prepare and Enrich (Known as Choices of the Heart in Israel) or the Shalom Task Force S.H.A.L.O.M. workshop in New York for engaged couples.

As far as the medical condition in this woman's family, it would be a good idea to explore the situation. Even if it doesn't trouble you now, it is important to know how it may affect your lives in the future.

Find out exactly what the condition is, how it can affect anyone who has it, how it is treated, how it affects quality of life, how well it can be managed, what expenses are entailed, if it can be cured, or if it will require a lifetime of management. It's also important to know if it is hereditary, and if so to find out from a genetic counselor if there are ways to prevent it from being passed on. Once you have all this information, you can make a well-informed decision about how you assess the risk of having a partner with this condition or who may pass it on to your children. This is a deeply personal decision that only you can make.

Parental Role

As for your parents’ role in all this, it is important to keep one fact squarely in mind: Your parents care about you and are very well-intentioned.

It is normal for parents of adult children to be concerned about their choice of a marriage partner. In many healthy adult child-parent relationships, parents express their concerns, offer advice, and give emotional support. But there comes a point at which parents have to step back and allow the child to make his own decision, even if they don't agree with it.

If you choose to go forward with this woman, you should tell your parents that you've listened to their concerns and have taken them into consideration – but ultimately need to make your own decision. This is what an adult who has separated and individuated from his parents is able to do. Making a decision that runs contrary to the parents' wishes can cause friction between them, but that's a consequence of raising emotionally healthy children.

Even when this friction occurs, it's important to continue to show your parents respect. Many times, parents eventually come to accept the child's choice, as they recognize how it is in fact the right thing for their child.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry

May 7, 2011

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 25

(22) Michelle, December 17, 2012 10:19 AM

Good Answer

I was interested and surprised to see the vehement comments to this article. This touched a nerve as many commentors had negative personal experiences. The authors did not tell this man to break up, on the contrary, they asked him to assess, for himself, the concerns of his parents and to see if they are valid, but not to ignore them. I think that the commentors are coming from a more modern perspective of "finding someone you like is so hard, so just go for it," which is also wrongly based in fear. Fear that you won't find someone you like again. This is not a healthy approach to decision making. This as opposed to Rosie and Sherrie's more frum perspective which is "love grows, lets make rational decisions at the start," and also from a more empowered position--is this person a good fit for me, long and short term? It is wrong to think that just because you found someone great that you should discount other important issues for love. On the other hand, its wrong to throw away something very good for something perfect that will never come. Therefore their advice was balanced and sound. Explore the concerns of loving parents, but decide for yourself once you have all the facts. I think I know which way his decision will go :)

(21) Marion, August 22, 2012 3:33 AM

Disagree, disagree, disagree.

As a child who lives at home, I would just say six words to my folks: "Don't tell me what to do." My father was going to marry another woman before he met my mother. Why didn't he marry her? Her mother didn't like him, and she remained unmarried for years afterwards until she finally stopped listening to her mother. My parents didn't quite approve of my partners, but they didn't go to the extent of pressuring me to break up with them. And, I think that you aren't going to find Miss Perfect. Some of the advice in the article, such as looking at her negative points as well as her positive and thinking about whether you really want to stay with her, is good, but don't take the advice to heart, please. You won't find someone with no negatives at all, and as someone who has an incurable but fairly manageable medical condition, I think that everybody deserves to be loved. What say you met a diabetic? Would you break up just because of that? Or what about if someone had terminal cancer, would you break up with them when they needed you most?

(20) Anonymous, August 18, 2011 9:00 PM

I respectfully disagree--meddling parents can destroy

As a woman that's been dating a while, I've had the experience of men's parents rejecting me for not fitting their vision of what they wanted for their son. Sorry, a thirtysomething man is an adult and should be responsible enough to make his own decisions and be responsibles for his own thoughts and action. In my case, because I was not raised religious and had a father that died when I was in college. I still managed to turn out fine. I'm normal, pretty, put myself through school, have a OK career and no debt. Yet the guys' parents didn't even want to meet me, it was just based on their son could "do better than me." It didn't matter that we shared the same values, goals, religious level, had strong connection and got along great. Shalom bayit with their parents in the end was more important. Years later, these men as well as I are still going to the same singles events and are on the same dating sites. The men are still looking for the princess that will win their parents' approval. What a loss.

Claire, August 7, 2012 7:39 PM

Did parents do this will all his dates?

I have to agree here, and feel the authors have really missed it, especially in their unsubstantiated assumption that "your parents love you and only want the best for you." How do you know enough to spout this "mantra?" He is 32, still unmarried and still concerned about minor possible "faults." What girl will be free of these "faults." Sonny will never marry and they will have their baby all to themselves, which is what they want.

(19) C, May 26, 2011 2:49 PM

She might understand the true value of love, more than someone else does

Some of the most caring and wonderful people have been through the hardest struggles in life. The real question is: is she a growing person who works on herself? Does she have people she has spoke openly with about what she has been through? Is she a kind good person? Don't assume that just because she was born (against her will) into a situation that was bad that she is marked or maimed for life. She might be the most wonderful spouse/parent ever. She might know more than someone who grew up with a better life who how important family/love truly is. She might be willing to work harder for love than someone with a supportive family to fall back on. The real question is if you love her. If you can support her through her fears, through her struggles and if you trust her and believe in her. Your parents may or may not have your best interests at heart, assuming they do is a very immature position to take. The reality and truth in life is that sometimes parents have your best interests in mind, and sometimes they have a confusing mix of their own feelings and fears and issues they project into the mix. Ultimately, this is about you and her. What are YOUR feelings and YOUR impressions of her?

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