He will never be good enough for daddy’s little girl and she will never take care of mamma’s little boy like she ought to. How many people find themselves in a similar scenario? We all want those who raised us and the person we see ourselves with in the future to get along. However, an inevitable question arises when this is not possible: how much should we depend on our parents’ opinion in our love life and in choosing a life partner?
Parents disapproving of their child’s choice of partner is a dilemma older than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Researchers at the Bristol and Groningen Universities believe they have discovered the reason behind this, at least when it comes to parents of females: “The conflict over the choice of one’s partner could be rooted in a conflict over resources,” authors say.
The root of the parent-child conflict regarding the ideal partner
The conflict appears when the child settles for a partner who does not offer them as much support and resources as the parents would want, according to the computer model simulated in the research. Parents feel forced to make up for the losses because they wish all their children to reach the same level of support, explains one of the authors, Dr Tim Fawcett. As a consequence, they will offer more help to the daughter who chooses a partner who cannot support her.
The potential conflict emerges from the analysis of different expectations, of parents and children, regarding the future life partner of the latter. “Surveys have shown that children tend to focus on physical attractiveness, smell, and a sense of humor, while parents are more concerned with social class and family history”, the coordinator of the study, Piet van den Bergh declared.
When the parents are the ones who tie the knot
With the exception of extreme cases, the parents’ actions regarding their children are usually well-intended. Their advice, drawn from their life experiences, their own failures and successes, can often be helpful in guiding young people to choose a life partner. “Yes, you may all like to think that you know better than your parents, but you really don’t. They are not infallible, but they know you and they know marriage, and they will be able to tell if you are fooling yourself by choosing that one”, says Brother André Marie, prior at the Saint Benedict Center.
The Bible also reminds us how valuable the advice and involvement of parents is in their children’s lives, regardless of their age: “A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence” (Proverbs 15:5).
The parent’s opinion: what science has to say on this
Science suggests that the family’s involvement in the life of their son or daughter may have benefits. Psychologist Robert Epstein, PhD, from the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, studied the implications of marriages arranged by parents, in the study, “How love emerges in arranged marriages”. The results make us wonder: What came first? Love or marriage? According to his conclusions, one of the most important things parents do when arranging their children’s marriages is that they are careful and look out for unacceptable behaviours in the potential partner. Their involvement from the start in the arrangement is an important factor for a strong marriage, according to The New York Times.
If at the beginning of an arranged marriage, the newlyweds evaluated their love for their partner at 3.9 (on a scale from 1 to 10), after a relationship of 19 and a half years the love between them reached a value of 8.9, according to results. In one of the cases, the participants said only 3 months of relationship were enough for them to come to love each other at the highest and most intense level (10).
“In arranged marriages, thought goes into the matching. In the West, physical attraction is important. But people must be able to distinguish lust from love. Strong physical attraction is very dangerous, it can be blinding. In the West marriages are easy to get out of. But in arranged marriages, the commitment is very strong. They get married knowing they won’t leave, so when times are harder—if they face injury or trauma—they don’t run away. It brings them closer”, says Dr Epstein. His opinion is shared by Francine Kaye, relationship counsellor: “They are determined to make it work”. However, the idea of arranged marriages appears to be ill-suited to the culture we live in which strongly values the desire for freedom and independence. Young people (but not only them) are romantic. They want to fall in love, they want to experience love and “butterflies” and wait to meet the right person.
When parents are too pushy
Not only arranging a marriage can be intrusive. Parents can become too pushy in their actions and in expressing their opinions regarding their children’s partner and their love life. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the best-known host of a US relationships radio show, recalls some of the habits of parents who cross the line of involvement in their child’s romantic relationship or marriage.
These include expecting the child, now an adult, to listen to them fully, and sometimes being included in all aspects of the couple’s life (including vacations or expensive purchases, such as a car). Sometimes they harshly criticize the partner chosen by their child, or are possessive, especially when it comes to spending free time and honouring family traditions.
Those with too intrusive parents must remember to treat these moments with compassion and understanding and not to react in a critical or irritated way. “The older generation clings to their attitudes and opinions because it helps them feel safe in a changing world. Their intentions are probably good. Find ways to reassure your family of origin that you appreciate and honour your past while you are also becoming part of the global community that includes people from other walks of life”, says Psychologist Marie Hartwell-Walker, PhD, family and marriage counsellor for Psych Central.
Compromise and understanding, the main factors for unity
Avoiding resentment towards parents or partner is equally important. In this sense, a more suitable approach is the attempt to build up a relationship and reach unity within the family. “Do your best to negotiate compromises, understanding, or at least respectful disagreement. When you have to turn down someone’s demands or requests, be clear that it doesn’t mean that you don’t love them. It means that it doesn’t fit with the kind of family you want to make,” Dr Hartwell-Walker says.
Last but not least, the criticized partner must not turn into an ally in the context of a conflict with one’s parents, with the purpose of teaching them a lesson. “It’s not fair to the person who loves you to be used as a pawn in an ongoing fight you are having with your parents about such things as religion, race, or status. It may feel good to have a supporter in the battle but ‘us against them’ isn’t enough of a basis for a lasting relationship,” the expert says.