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I am 26 years old with a good head on my shoulders, and am currently in a courtship with a 29-year-old man who has a solid career, is in church leadership, and loves the Lord and me. I’ve always been obedient to my parents and done whatever they’ve told me in the area of relationships. I see tremendous value in having my parents involved, but I believe they are now over-involved.
When we began the courtship my parents told us it was a flexible courtship, but they have not been the least bit flexible with us. It is their way or the highway. We’ve spoken about this to my parents, and they say we’re lucky they let us go out to dinner sometimes without a chaperone. Because of the controlling nature of the courtship, it is strangling our relationship with my parents. We are frustrated with all the rules and are becoming bitter towards my parents’ “standards.” We want to make decisions in our relationship on our own now because it is practice for making decisions when we are married. And their response to that is, “You two knew the conditions and you agreed to do the courtship. Now you are backing out of your agreement and not honoring us. So we will not bless your marriage, and we will never accept your future husband into our home.”
I do not believe I am being dishonoring. But according to them, I have no free will. I am torn. I want to honor my parents. But there is a difference between honor and blind obedience. I want them to bless my marriage, but I don’t know how I can have a healthy relationship with both my boyfriend and them with the way the courtship is currently structured. Whenever I try to explain my position to them and try to reach a compromise, all they do is defend why their way is best, and right, and most godly. Is my parents’ way the only right way to prepare for marriage? We’re both in our mid- to late-20’s. Are we wrong for wanting to do something different than what my parents mandate?
Please–any help would be greatly appreciated!
Exasperated in Exeter
Unfortunately your situation is a very common one among those who grew up in the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). I, too, was once involved in ATI and a very controlling courtship, which ended when the man decided that my family was too much for him. After that, I swore off courtship. A few years later, God brought a wonderful man into my life. We dated, and have been happily married for 11 years now. We currently serve in our church as mentors to engaged couples.
First of all, let me say that God’s design for marriage is for a couple to leave their parents and cleave to each other, becoming one flesh. Either a failure to leave, or a failure to cleave, can destroy a marriage. Leaving one’s parents is often a hard thing for couples to do, but it is one of the best things they can do for their marriage. Your situation is certainly more severe than most couples we deal with in our church. (Most of them have never even heard of courtship!) But you should understand that 99% of couples will have to have a hard conversation with their parents at some point. I’ve certainly been there, and I can tell you that it was hard, but so worth it.
Please understand that you cannot control your parents’ actions. They may never give their blessing to your marriage. They might not accept your husband into their home. You might even have to leave your home before you marry and they may not be a part of your wedding. My question to you is, “Is he worth it?” If not, you shouldn’t marry him. If he is worth it, then consider those hard conversations an investment in your future happiness. Back when I was dating my husband, I told my family not to make me choose, because I would choose him. I had to reiterate that a few years into our marriage when my mom wrote me a nasty letter about my husband. I told her that if she wanted to be a part of our lives, she couldn’t talk badly about him. The choice was up to her. Thankfully, she chose to bite her tongue and I have a great relationship with her now. But I realize that she could have cut me off and I would have had to live with that. Setting appropriate boundaries is an important part of growing up.
One bit of advice that we give our couples with regard to family situations is this: You should each be the bad guy in your own family. Don’t put your husband in a situation where he is fighting with your family. He wasn’t born into your family, and your parents will always be more willing to accept you than him. In addition, be very careful involving your parents in conflicts with your spouse. You may forgive him and be willing to move on, but they won’t. And you most certainly shouldn’t accept financial help from them.
I’m really sorry for the position that you find yourself in. I’ve been there, and I can tell you with certainty that it gets better. It takes time and perseverance, but it develops in you an inward strength that you might not have found elsewhere.