I have a wonderful daughter who is about to graduate from college. She did not date much in high school and has only had one serious boyfriend. She recently started dating a young man she met at school. This young man has had problems with drinking and smoking pot and also has struggled with pornography ever since he was exposed to it at a young age.
He does treat my daughter well and loves her very much. She has been patient with him and understanding of his weaknesses and desires to master them (he is working a 12-step addiction program). However, as you can guess, I am deeply concerned about this relationship and their future, should they decide to marry.
Her father (my ex-husband) also struggled with a pornography addiction that resulted in infidelity and eventual divorce. She is aware of her father’s addiction and infidelity. Unbeknownst to her, she also has two uncles who are good men, but have also had lifelong struggles with pornography that have deeply affected their marriages.
I really do not want to see her heart broken. He already cheated on her once with another woman, and it broke her heart. He appears to be penitent and sincere about working to repair things with her. He also comes from a loving and supportive family.
I have shared my concerns in a loving way with her. How can I steer her in a healthy direction and help her consider the long term challenges that entering into a marriage with this young man might bring?
I can see how unbearable it is to have a front row seat to your daughter’s love life and watch her go through the trauma of betrayal. It’s one thing to go through it yourself and feel like you can at least do something to direct your life, but when you’re watching someone you love go through the same thing, you feel so powerless that every instinct in your body tells you to jump in front of her to protect her from danger.
You have already shared your concerns and invited her to consider the consequences of pairing up with someone who may cause her years of suffering. Unless she comes to you to talk through this, I don’t recommend you insert yourself further into her relationship. Your job is to stay accessible and responsive to her as she learns to trust her own feelings and observations.
If you get in the middle of this and pressure her to leave, she will continue to second-guess and will likely end up in another relationship with similar dynamics. As awful as it is to see her get hurt by someone who isn’t faithful, I believe it’s worse for her to never learn to trust her own feelings, develop a strong voice and make decisions to improve her own situation.
Your involvement will sabotage this delicate and essential process.
Like the caterpillar who relies on the pressure created during the fight out of chrysalis to form wings capable of flying as a butterfly, your daughter must struggle to figure out how she will direct her life in the face of betrayal. If you shortcut the process, she will never develop the strength she needs to deal with difficult decisions.
Your presence matters and she will need you to stay interested in her and available to listen. She might even ask for your advice when she’s feeling vulnerable and unsure. Be careful with how quickly you try and problem-solve this for her.
You might consider picking up a copy of the wonderful book by Gary and Joy Lundberg called, “I don’t have to make everything all better.” This book will teach you how to stay in an emotional support role instead of a “fixer” role. You can’t fix this for her, but you can stay with her as she learns what she needs to do.
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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