I have a wonderful daughter who has served a mission and is about to graduate from college. She did not date much in high school and has only had one serious boyfriend; she recently started dating a young man she met at school. This young man has also served a mission but has had problems with obeying the Word of Wisdom (drinking, smoking pot) and also has struggled with pornography ever since he was exposed to it at a young age. He does treat my daughter well and loves her very much. She has been patient with him and understanding of his weaknesses and desires to master them (he is working a twelve step addiction program and meeting regularly with his bishop). However, as you can guess, I am deeply concerned about this relationship and their future, should they decide to marry. Her father (my ex-husband) also struggled with a pornography addiction that resulted in infidelity and eventual divorce–she is aware of his addiction. Unbeknownst to her, she also has two uncles who are good men and active in the Church, but they have also had lifelong struggles with pornography that have deeply affected their marriages.
I have shared my concerns in a loving way with her. I really do not want to see her heart broken; he already cheated on her once with another young woman and it broke her heart. He appears to be penitent and sincere about working through the repentance process. He has a loving, supportive family. How can I steer her in a healthy direction and help her consider the long term/eternal perspective/challenges that entering into an eternal marriage with this young man might bring?
I can see how unbearable it is to have a front row seat to your daughter’s love life and watch her go through the trauma of betrayal. It’s one thing to go through it yourself and feel like you can at least do something to direct your life, but when you’re watching someone you love go through the same thing, you feel so powerless that every instinct in your body tells you to jump in front of her to protect her from danger.
You have already shared your concerns and invited her to consider the consequences of pairing up with someone who may cause her years of suffering. Unless she comes to you to talk through this, I don’t recommend you insert yourself further into her relationship. Your job is to stay accessible and responsive to her as she learns to trust her own feelings and observations.
If you get in the middle of this and pressure her to leave, she will continue to second-guess and will likely end up in another relationship with similar dynamics. As awful as it is to see her get hurt by someone who isn’t faithful, I believe it’s worse for her to never learn to trust her own feelings, develop a strong voice, and make decisions to improve her own situation. Your over-involvement may unintentionally sabotage this delicate and essential process.
Like the caterpillar who relies on the pressure created during the fight out of chrysalis to form wings capable of flying as a butterfly, your daughter must struggle to figure out how she will direct her life in the face of betrayal. If you short cut the process, she will never develop the strength she needs to deal with difficult decisions.
There are wonderful resources to support her through this process that allow her to exercise her agency and follow the Spirit. If she’s seeking additional help, you can invite her to attend a Spouse and Family Support Group through the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, meet with a professional who can help her understand her relational blind spots, and receive a priesthood blessing for comfort and guidance.
Your presence matters and she will need you to stay interested in her and available to listen. She might even ask for your advice when she’s feeling vulnerable and unsure. Be careful with how quickly you try and problem-solve this for her. You might consider picking up a copy of the wonderful book by Gary and Joy Lundberg called, “I don’t have to make everything all better.” This book will teach you how to stay in an emotional support role instead of a “fixer” role. You can’t fix this for her, but you can stay with her as she learns what she needs to do.
Recognize that our attempts to save our loved ones from pain can actually prevent them from developing a relationship with the Savior. The LDS Addiction Recovery Program Spouse and Family Support Guide teaches the following:
It is natural for us to want our loved ones to experience the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and we strive to help them in any way we can. However, it is important to understand that we cannot save them. If we try to save them from the consequences of their poor choices, we are wrongfully attempting to usurp the role of our Savior and Redeemer. Some of our efforts and intentions in their behalf may actually postpone their turning to the Savior. For the Lord to heal them, they need to exercise faith and be obedient to His commandments. We cannot do that for them.[i]
You both need the same healing and enabling power of the Atonement and she will develop better reflexes as you trust in God and in her to work through this learning process. You have been hurt and you are naturally terrified to see your daughter suffer. The answer isn’t to pull her away from any potential hurt, but let her know she can seek answers and guidance from God and support from others who have gone before her. This will set her up for more long-term safety and peace as she learns to navigate her future with or without this young man.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@lo************.com
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.