June 21, 2011
I often speak with parents of young adults about their concerns with their children marrying someone who might have a pornography problem. Many of these parents, especially fathers, wonder if it’s their right to do some investigating to see if their child is dating someone who struggles with pornography. I can certainly understand their concern, as that one specific behavior will have a potentially devastating impact on their child and future grandchildren. There are two main questions to consider here. First, is it the right of the parent to ask a potential in-law if they are struggling with pornography? Second, if it is appropriate, how should they approach this conversation?
I believe that it’s the parent’s privilege to counsel with their adult children’s romantic partners before marriage. However, there is one important factor that will determine how much influence a parent will have in this arena. If the parent has a healthy and mutually respectful relationship with their adult child, then there is a greater likelihood that they will encourage parental involvement in that decision-making process. On the other hand, if the parent is emotionally disconnected from their adult child and is either aloof or forceful, this involvement might only create more problems. So, before there is any discussion about whether or not a parent should be involved, it’s best to examine the nature of the parent/child relationship to see if there is even a healthy space to begin discussing such a sensitive issue.
As a child matures, a parents moves from the position of a “manager” of the child’s life to becoming more of an “influencer” of their child’s life. A parent, through respect and regard for the child’s growing independence and decision-making, earns this position of influence. When the time comes for a child to make a decision about marriage, the parent should already have a long history of being there for the child when the child is navigating difficult decisions.
If the adult child has an emotionally connected relationship with her parents, then it’s likely there have already been discussions about her relationship with her fiancé. The parents will most likely already know something about his family, his interests, and may even have had an opportunity to spend time with him in family settings.
Not only does a parent need to have a healthy relationship with their child, but they also need to begin building a relationship with their child’s romantic partner so they can have the trust necessary to ultimately talk about such sensitive things. Not only will this relationship serve as the foundation of trust for the conversation, it will also promote more honesty and candor from the fiancé.
When it is time to discuss this issue with their child and/or the romantic partner, an already-established relationship will allow for a more natural transition to the topic. Additionally, the question of the fiance’s pornography use won’t simply be a “yes” or “no” response. Instead, it will open up a dialogue about the issue where a real conversation on the topic can take place.
In part two of this article, I will give specific suggestions on how a parent can go about discussing this sensitive topic with their child’s fiancé.