One of the most challenging developmental tasks of Young Adults is the selection of a lifelong partner in marriage. How can parents assist them in negotiating that decision? If I could ask one question to your adult children, it would be the following: “To what extent do you desire the relationship with your intimate partner to be similar to your parents’ marriage?” If they answered honestly and sincerely, what do you anticipate they would say? That question is one that parents rarely dare to ask. The Apostle Paul encouraged his converts to “be imitators of me…” as he was an imitator of Christ (I Corinthians 4:16). Can you offer the same advice to your children regarding marriage?
The selection process of a mate and the ongoing interactions in marriage are significantly influenced by the dynamics of the parental relationship. Consciously or unconsciously, Young Adults mimic the good and the bad in their parents’ marriage. We learn by imitation from infancy to adulthood, but often are unaware of the underlying complexities. Since no one is perfect, there is no completely satisfying and serene marriage. But there are patterns of communication that are growth producing versus dysfunctional or destructive in relationships. Can we as parents be honest with ourselves and candid with our adult children about that?
I suggest four specific actins that parents can take to assist Young Adult children in this challenging task of mate selection and commitment.
First, invite your adult child to share with you what they love about their future partner. What are they attracted to and how do they believe this person can help them grow. The parents’ task is to listen without judgment or pointing out flaws. Express gratitude for your child’s sharing and confidence that he or she can make a wise choice.
Second, share some of your own marital journeys. Tell your adult child what you have learned over the years. Contrast what you observed and believed when you first married, and what you now understand at a deeper level. Be candid and loving both with your spouse and child. Encourage your child to model the positives in your marriage and to try avoiding the mistakes that you made.
Third, challenge your child to read some good books on premarital preparation and marital relationships. There are several excellent sources available including such authors as Les and Leslie Parrott, John Gottman, Harville Hendrix, David Olson, Pairs International and others. Urge your adult child to obtain premarital counseling and offer to pay for all or most of the sessions. The decision of marriage is probably the most significant choice of their life and should be approached with much careful deliberation.
Fourth, emphasize gently that marriage and problem -solving in intimate relationships should be based on scriptural principles. Their partner should share a common faith in commitment to Christ (II Corinthians 6:14-16). Couples should regularly apply the principles of healthy relationship discussed in Ephesians 4 and 5. Pray with them and pray for their emotional-spiritual well being.
Remember the words of Apostle Peter, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8)