I recently read an article written by young lady who said she was duped after she got married. It stated that when she first met her husband, he was charming, gentlemanly, funny, religious, and considerate. She wrote that she quickly fell in love and agreed to marry him. The story turned dark when she told how he began abusing her on their wedding night.
As a father of three daughters, how can I know if a guy (daughter’s boyfriend) is really a good person and not an abusive two-faced loser? I guess I just don’t want my daughters to be deceived and see them go through such painful heartache. Any advice would be appreciated.
While you may not be able to predict whether or not your daughters will marry abusive men, you can work now to help your daughters develop into confident women who can quickly recognize the signs of abuse and, ultimately, refuse to tolerate abusive behavior from men.
In fact, this is the best protection for your daughters, as it’s likely that any guy who wants to be two-faced will only show you his more desirable qualities. Your daughter will have more exposure to his true character behind closed doors. She can learn what’s healthy so she develops a strong internal sense of what’s safe and unsafe as she navigates close relationships.
One point I need to mention is that I hope you have a realistic view of marriage and don’t mistake normal relationship repair as abuse. There won’t be a guy out there who won’t cause your daughter emotional pain. As you know, both men and women hurt each other’s feelings in marriage and do things that are selfish, inconsiderate, and insensitive. Abuse, on the other hand, is a more pervasive pattern of diminishing another person’s dignity as a human being.
Former Brigham Young University president Jeffrey R. Holland gave the following counsel about finding safe romantic partners:
There are many qualities you will want to look for in a friend or a serious date — to say nothing of a spouse — but surely among the very first and most basic of those qualities will be those of care and sensitivity toward others, a minimum of self-centeredness that allows compassion and courtesy to be evident.
In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.
If you have a close and open relationship with your daughters where they regularly seek out your advice and counsel about their lives, they might invite you to share your opinion on their dates. I’m sure you’ll have opportunities to observe and counsel with them about their relationships as they date a variety of guys.
You can teach your daughters to get to know lots of different guys and not just settle for the first guy that wants a serious relationship. My wife’s father challenged her back when she was a teenager to get to know 100 different guys before she decided on whom she would marry. My wife was very clear on what she wanted when we met and began dating. She said that as she spent time with different guy friends, dates, and boyfriends over the years, she noticed patterns and personality traits that would have been harder to detect without the contrast of interacting with so many different individuals.
You can also teach your daughters how to recognize when something feels uncomfortable and not second-guess their emotions or instincts. In a safe relationship, there is room to say, “I’m not comfortable with that,” and expect the other person to be considerate. She can learn that if her partner refuses to make space for her feelings, needs, or preferences, she should be careful.
As you build a strong relationship with your daughters and show them what respect, kindness, and consideration look like, they will learn what to expect that in their romantic relationships.
Encourage your girls to spend time in a variety of settings and contexts with their romantic partners so they can experience his reactions to different people and situations. Even if he checks out and then begins acting abusive after they’re married, she can have good reflexes to stand up for herself and either get the help she needs for her relationship or exit it entirely, depending on the severity of the situation.
Your daughters are fortunate to have a father who is looking out for their safety. You don’t need to be afraid for them as you help them develop confidence in trusting what they feel and experience. They will know if something isn’t right and they will need permission throughout their lives to respond to anything that feels dangerous or uncomfortable.
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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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