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Mona Ackerman

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How To Prevent An Ill-Fated Marriage

Posted: 08/07/08 08:27 AM ET

Q: Most people are really thrilled when they announce their daughter's engagement. I am actually quite miserable and embarrassed. I don't know if I should go ahead and unhappily make the wedding preparations or if I should state my negative opinion and announce that I will not be supportive or involved in the plans. I don't know which direction is the better parenting choice.

My daughter, Jill, lost her father quite suddenly and traumatically when she was five years old. She is now 18 years old. I don't know how many memories she has of her biological father nor am I aware of any distress that she felt at the time or after. She doesn't talk about it. Jill has, however, always been close to the men who have entered in my life since her father died. I married one man, Peter, and she called him "Daddy" for the five years that the marriage lasted -- between her ages of 10 and 15. Jill was quite distressed when we split, rejected Peter quite emphatically and has refused to see him since the divorce. After that, every man who entered our home enjoyed her attention and she seemed to enjoy the men in return. At the moment there is no man in my life, but there is a man in her life.

She has now brought into our home an artist, Robert. He's 32 years old. That in itself should be a warning signal. But, even worse, Robert has never earned his own money and he seems to be quite happy to just move in and become another child. Jill has her own small inheritance from her deceased father and I have been able to live comfortably on my own inheritance, my salary, and the benefits of an inheritance that provides specifically for her. I don't have the right to withhold that monthly stipend. If she moves out of my home, what we used together from her inheritance will go only toward her needs. That is okay with me, but I do not believe Jill or Robert have any idea of what things cost. I do not believe that her inheritance alone will support them or the baby, which they frighteningly mention occasionally. Unless they grow up and earn some money, this will be a disaster. They will end up returning to my home, both as children themselves, and I will then be taking care of not just one daughter, but a daughter and a son.

What do I do?

A: Of course you are right to be concerned and you are certainly on top of the obvious issues. But you did not ask what is going on with your daughter. Instead, you are only asking how to stop this marriage. You probably can't. The reason for this is that your daughter is going through a rather obvious - but unconscious - attempt to rewrite history. Let's review her issues and then maybe you will find the clue of how to handle this situation.

Right from the top, even though Jill has never indicated any distress over the sudden loss of her biological father, an event like that cannot occur without its producing emotional debris. By denying the impact on her, she has been able to continue her life with a minimum of distress. However, any unresolved issue will re-emerge at important, stressful moments of life without our actually being fully aware of the previous trauma. Jill did survive her trauma - but it affected her nevertheless. It's a part of her life. It's a big part of her life. She lost her father at a young age, quite dramatically and suddenly.

Jill has missed the family as a typical two-parent home. In addition, she has missed the older male, the father, to help her find her femininity and sexuality - the elements of self-esteem that are so important to a girl and, later, a woman. She thought she had it for awhile with Peter or "Daddy." But when your relationship with him disintegrated, she had to once again forcefully deny the important position he had in her life. Naturally enough, she didn't want to repeat the extraordinarily painful abandonment and emptiness she had experienced once before. So, she just threw Peter out as if he didn't exist and she resumed her search for someone to fill the emotional hole in her life. Needless to say, Robert fit the bill. She doesn't care if he earns money. She doesn't care if he is independent or wants to live on his own. She just needs to rewrite her own history. She wants to find the peace she did not have as a child. Robert can live at home with her and you. You will all be a whole family again and Jill, at last, can have a mother and father.

So, can you in any way stop this inevitable train wreck? Probably not! Jill needs to recognize that her real needs are not rooted in her love for Robert, but rather in her childish need to find the security that only a real "Daddy" can provide. Sometimes, we all have to just make our mistakes and to try and learn from them. If Jill marries Robert and eventually finds that he also does not give her the security and love that she has always wanted from an older man, she may in that moment find the strength to face the reality that Robert is not her real "Daddy." She will then feel the original pain and the original anger and the original loneliness from the original trauma. She will have to face that she lost her father. It hurts, but she cannot deny reality. That particular hole in her life cannot be filled. Such is life.

So, what do you do? Stay close to her. She will need you in the future. If you embrace her and Robert, she will not be able to blame you for the inevitable demise of a marriage based on an emotionally wobbly foundation. And if you don't create problems for them -- if you become their ally instead of their enemy -- you may be able to exercise some positive influence. For instance, try just asking them to hold off on children. Tell them just to enjoy their time together. See if that works and then watch the fireworks begin!!!!