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How important are family members’ opinions about who you are dating? Or in who you decide to marry?

This topic has been on my mind lately and I don’t know why. I’m not even close to dating anyone and everyone else in my family is already hitched. So it’s not really a pressing issue in my world at the moment. But I’ve been thinking about it nonetheless.

My family has never actually said no to anyone I’ve dated. But let’s be honest: That’s mostly because they’ve never met anyone I’ve dated, due in part to lack of boyfriends and in part to lack of longevity of relationships. Translation: I don’t date ‘em long enough to bring ‘em home. (Don’t worry, my therapist is well aware of this phenomenon.) I imagine it’d be a difficult position to occupy if I loved a man and my family did not approve of him. But I also imagine there would be some pretty solid reasons for their disapproval. My family isn’t flaky enough to dislike someone just because his personality is different or he’s in an Aerosmith cover band or he works a non-traditional job or he has 12 dogs named Rex.

I, on the other hand, have disapproved of my siblings’ relationship choices in the past. (Huge, whopping, enormous disclaimer: The operative phrase here is “in the past.” They are all now happily married to wonderful, beautiful people who make our family richer. Please don’t withhold Christmas gifts from me!) In those few instances — that happened a long, long time ago (please read aforementioned disclaimer) — I have, in fact, voiced my disapproval. It’s so hard not to! I love my family members so much and want what’s best for them. Sometimes I feel they’re blinded by love and don’t see the reality of the situation — that their girlfriend or boyfriend is completely wrong for them.

But looking back, what did I know? Who did I think I was? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still think I was right. (Sister Ruth almost always is!) But what qualified me to make that call?

I think you don’t have to experience the exact same situations to be able to provide insight. An outside perspective is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. I’ve never been sitting on a railroad track eating lunch as a train begins to chug along toward me. But if I saw someone doing that, I’d know immediately to do whatever it took to get that fool off the tracks! I think as family members, we’re obligated to look out for one another. We’re obligated to voice our concerns, especially over matters with such life-altering consequences. Marriage is forever. Even after divorce, it’s forever. That person is always with you. Those choices affect you for the rest of your life. It’s not something to take lightly.

But here comes the tough question: When do we step back and let them make their own decisions? When do we come to terms with the fact that we’ve made our concerns known, then shut up and let them do what they choose to do? This part hurts.

I’ve been known to have my own opinions. When I was younger, I tended to vocalize them often… no, always. I was so Jersey! I’ve noticed that over the years — by a combination of God’s grace and the wisdom that comes with experience — I’ve become more reserved with my thoughts. I’ve learned that I don’t always have to verbally vomit all my thoughts onto everyone around me, particularly when other people’s emotions are on the line. It’s a process. I’m not perfect. The pot still boils over at times, but for the most part I like to keep it at a low simmer.

But that’s not to say that I should keep completely silent. That can’t be right. As you can tell from this wishy-washy (and completely unfunny) blog post, I’m still trying to figure this all out. But I’ve come to the following conclusions:

      • If you feel genuine concern over your family member’s dating choices, you should say something. Maybe not right away, maybe not in the heat of an argument, definitely not with the significant other in the room — but you should say something.
      • If you’re arguing the petty stuff, get a life and mind your own business. Stick to the major areas: faith, family, work ethic. The other stuff — personality differences, quirky behaviors, appearance, hobbies and interests, income level — that’ll all work itself out.
      • At some point, you have to let go. Assuming that family member is an adult, they are responsible for their own life choices. After you’ve expressed yourself (once, twice, thrice), you have to move on.
      • Prayer helps. Prayer really, really helps. I’ve learned this only later in life: I cannot change someone’s heart; only God can. Pray. Sincerely. And let go.

Has anyone in your family or circle of close friends ever disapproved of your relationship choices? Have you ever disapproved of theirs? How’d it go?

~Ruth