#44 Should I ask for hand in marriage? / If you have to ask now you are not ready

Dear Annie: I have been dating "Brittany" for five years. We are both 22 years old and in love. I would like to propose. Do I need to ask her father for permission? If so, when do I do it? Groom-to-Be in Long Beach, Calif.

Dear Groom-to-Be: Well, aren’t you adorably quaint. These days dear you ask the girl first. Assuming Brittany accepts your proposal, it would impress her daddy no end if you asked your future in-laws for their permission to marry their wonderful daughter.

Good luck. You sound like a real sweetheart. —Annie

Gabby's Response:

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Gabby’s Response:

Hi Groom-to-Be: It appears your genes have intuitively retained some of the wisdom behind the traditions of many cultures, the formality of asking permission; it's an important step that is now often ignored. If you agree that it's a  son's/daughter's responsibility to bring into the family someone who will compliment and enhance the clan then the following will make sense. The key word in your question is "ask" which I'll address below.

I’m a bit concerned that you’ve been dating her for five years and don’t have a relationship with her parents such that you already know you have their support. Let’s assume that distance or some other legit reason has prevented each of you from introducing the other to his/her parents.

Three things come to mind:

1) Your question, "father's permission," is sexist; it reveals something about your unconscious attitude towards women that doesn’t feel good. Most women reading your letter would prefer that you had asked, "Do I need her parent's permission?" This "accidental" chauvinistic slip does not bode well for your relationship; not that you wrote it but that you didn't catch it yourself.

These days it's so much more than needing the permission of both sets of parents. You'll need the committed support of both families—assuming of course your intention is to have an always expanding loving relationship. Most divorcees will tell you that one of the parents/in-laws did not enthusiastically support the engagement.

The absence of enthusiastic aligned parental support can be thought of as a circus tight rope walker with one parent down below yelling, "I keep telling you it won't work." Never underestimate the power of a hex—also referred to as an intention to be right.

A few years after the wedding ceremony 50% of married couples notice that it was not their intention to have the marriage last, merely to try it out until their mind generated enough reasons to quit. Most divorcees sincerely believed at the beginning that they would remain married; most discovered that they were unconscious and lied when they vowed, ". . . till death do us part." A lie believed does not make it the truth. A truthful vow would be, "I'll stay married for as long as it works for me."

2) What does Brittany think/know will be her parent’s response? It could be a setup for you to support her in thwarting her parent’s wishes. She should already know that permission is a given, that she has chosen a man whom she knows both parents will be proud to have as a son-in-law. Loving daughters do this automatically.

On the other hand, a daughter stuck in adversary (with lots of unacknowledged breakdowns in communication) dramatizes her incomplete relationship with her parents by marrying whom she pleases, usually knowing full well one or both would not agree with her choice. Her unconscious intention is to cause them to fail as parents and to take as many others down with her as possible. 

For her to introduce you to a man (her father) whom she suspects might not like you would be abusive. In a healthy father-daughter relationship there is trust—trust that she will relate with, and bring home/into the family, people who treat others lovingly. She knows that it would be unethical and abusive to bring a "loved" one into a family that communicates abusively. Submitting another to a dysfunctional family is not a gift of love. Such behavior reveals a lack of respect for which there will be undesirable consequences.

3) It's your responsibility to have checked out her family to make sure they aren't addicted to abusing each other. In other words, it's your responsibility to interview her parents to make certain they meet the expectations of your parents, to include having some sense that they will all like each other.

In order to create, have, and sustain a wonderful growth-expanding relationship you need to be willing to not have it.

About asking: What if you "ask" and he doesn’t say the words yes or no but what gets communicated is no? Would you abide by his wishes? Or, would you enroll her in thwarting and ignoring him and manipulate her into marrying you anyway?

Specifically, are you asking permission or presenting a non-verbal ultimatum?

The ultimatum being: "Your daughter and I have decided to get married and we’d like your support, however, if you don’t like it, tough luck, we’re going to do it anyway." In other words, will your request for permission be just a "polite act" or do you intend to honor and respect his wishes? Keep in mind his non-verbal covert communications are the important ones.  "It's OK with me if it's OK with your mother" is tantamount to a covert hex on the relationship—there's no experience of him accepting responsibility for screening you to ensure that he has a sense that he's willing to make it work—it's indicative of incompletes in his relationship with both his daughter and his wife. If he’s not in favor of it then ultimately it won’t work, unless, and this is a biggie, she has estranged** herself from her dysfunctional family for life/until they've all completed x-hours of therapy per her insistence. BTW: An ultimatum can be sensed the moment you walk in the door. It's an adversarial ego presentation that's not open to support.

Fathers sometime unconsciously hex their daughter's relationship. He might not be aware he resents that another man can cause his daughter to be attentive, thoughtful, generous, and playfully affectionate given she never treated him (her father) that way. He is blind as to his cause in the matter. He blames her and has unknowingly taught her to blame as well. He intuitively knows to not support the relationship until she learns how fulfill his expectations of a daughter-father relationship.

Now here's the kicker: A man who dates a daughter who treats her father (her parents) in ways he would not want to be treated, and, doesn't support her in cleaning up her relationship with her parents, as a priority to any commitment, is in fact thwarting and sabotaging that family. The daughter will eventually treat him as he supported her in treating her parents.

Let’s look at this from another perspective. If she doesn't know intuitively that her parents would enthusiastically say yes then she has serious communication problems within her family which she will bring into her marriage. She should have validated for you her choice in you a long time ago. "My parents will just love you. You’re going to love them." A daughter who is in loving supportive communication with her parents comes from, operates from, supporting them. The point being, daughters have a mandate, to search out and bring into the family someone who will enhance her clan.  A daughter who has communication problems with her parents has yet to learn the leadership-communication skills necessary for a successful marriage. To marry such a woman guarantees that you will have many conversations with her that include parts of former conversations with her parents, interactions, that did not turn out mutually satisfying. Her arguments with you will contain remnants of arguments that she started and never won with either her mother or her father. The key word being, "started."

Most importantly, a marriage in which during dating a daughter has sex with you by sneaking behind her parent's backs will contain many deceptions. Put another way, conning a young woman into having sex with you, knowing full well it would upset her father is not smart karmic-wise. Your integrity will set up life for you to get what it was like for him for you to support her deception and to thwart him. A couple committed to open, honest, and spontaneous communication, zero thoughts withheld, will have no problems when it comes to creating a mutually satisfying divorce. Those who have deceived both sets of parents will acknowledge their perpetrations to all concerned.

Based upon your question, my guess is she knows that her father knows she’s not ready for marriage, if for no other reason than how she treats him. I'm assuming here that she's pretty much hidden you and her parents from each other rather than having continually shared with them  the excitement of the growing relationship. You’ll know when she’s ready because you will have thoughts of envy and admiration about the awesome intimacy between her and her father. She would do well to engage the services of a communication skills coach who will coach her in having a complete supportive relationship with her parents.

If you were ready for marriage you would have naturally asked your parents your "permission" question instead of asking Annie—so, you would do well to elicit some coaching to support you in being complete with your parents. They were supposed to have taught you these things. That they didn’t reveals there are quite a few conversations you have yet to have with them before you bring a daughter-in-law into the family. In support of a fantastic marriage I recommend that you do the Relationships Tutorial—conversations to have with your fiancé.


** Estranged: There is an exception to asking for permission. If either your parents and/or her parents are stuck in abuse/illegal activities and you both are willing to recess them from your lives until they get therapy to your satisfactions, then you can co-create a new paradigm, a new lineage. If you choose this path I recommend that you both do the Spouse Abuse Tutorial because, unbeknownst to you, both of you are also addicted to abuse—to being abused and to abusing (to include enabling abuse). A person who is whole and complete does not attract someone who needs therapy, this is why both partners need coaching.

For more about wedding vows go here and here and here (to read about wedding guest vows).

Great question! Thank you, Gabby

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Check back occasionally for minor edits (last edited 2/3/13)

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