How Much Influence Should My Family Have Over Who I Marry?

Dear Neil: I am engaged to a wonderful, charming man. He is everything I want in a man: thoughtful, intelligent, funny, loving and handsome. We have been together over 4 years, and have seen each other through good times and bad. We have both been married and divorced previously, and we each have 3 children (ages 9-19). Our children all get along well and we get along with each other’s children.

But I have been on a roller coaster when it comes to marrying him. One hesitation (from my family) is that he is not a Christian—and I am. He has always been respectful of my religion and comes to church with me at times. I have no expectation that he will convert. I respect his stance on life and feel that we are compatible in our basic values in life. He is a very sincere and good man. Previously I was married to a very religious, but not so nice man.

The other hesitation from my family is that I should wait till all the kids are grown before we get married because of all the difficulties of a step-family. Is it selfish for me to want to want to be married again when my kids are still young?

We also have different parenting styles. He has never been abusive toward his children or me, but he and his 13 year old daughter don’t get along very well right now, and they will sometimes yell at each other. This troubles both my children and me. I wonder if it is wise to move in with another family who deals with problems much different than we do. I am hoping that you can offer me advice on how to proceed.

Hesitating in Colorado

Dear Colorado: You mention three hesitations about getting married, and it sounds like two of them belong more to your family than they do to you.

I don’t mean to say that your family isn’t important or doesn’t count, but their opinion shouldn’t be more important than yours. If you’re OK with the religion issue, than that is good enough for me—and I wouldn’t let that concern dictate whether you marry or not. It’s your marriage, after all, and you should be able to decide what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not.

And I would say the same thing about the blended family issue. You say that all 6 kids get along, and that the two of you get along with each other’s kids as well. That sounds about as perfect as things are ever likely to get. If you were putting your kids through great disharmony or chronic fighting, not combining households would make more sense. But that’s not how you’re describing this situation. Yes there will be behavioral challenges over the next 9 or so years. Yes, not all the kids will get along all the time. Yes you will not always be happy with his kids and he will not always be thrilled with yours. Yes the kids are likely to act out—perhaps outrageously. Yes there will be kid-related headaches that the two of you will be forced to deal with, maybe many times.

But that is how things work when you are helping adolescents grow up—and both of you will not always be so delighted with your own kids, by the way. And there might be some advantages about this arrangement for your kids. They may become close friends and companions and help each other through crises. So no, I don’t think it is selfish for you to marry before the kids leave home.

But perhaps it would be useful to have a conversation with your fiancé and agree on ground rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the household, how discipline should be handled and how you two want to respond if someone were to become disrespectful or hateful. Then you could say that he and his daughter yelling at each other is not an acceptable role model for your children, and that he is going to have to find a better way to deal with a disrespectful 13 year old if he wants to live with you and your kids. Perhaps then the two of you could address what is going on with his daughter, and how he might handle the situation more effectively.

Don’t hesitate to get married because of the reasons your family is giving you. Perhaps they have cold feet, but you don’t have to have cold feet also.

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