Dear Therapist:

My son recently got married and I am a bit concerned about how he is treating his wife. It's nothing major but I see his immaturity and lack of awareness about living and thinking about someone else. Most people advise me to stay out of it and let them grow up together. I'm not so sure about that. I am worried about the damage that could be done to their relationship if I just let it go. I would appreciate hearing your opinions as to when, if, and how a parent should try and help and direct a child in their new relationship after marriage. Thank you. 



I obviously don’t know what your relationship with your son (or with your daughter-in-law) is like. I also don’t know his temperament, insecurities, or emotional needs. To the largest degree, these are the types of factors that will affect your son’s response to your advice or criticism.

However, even if your son might respond favorably to your advice, this does not necessarily mean that you should offer it. It is important to first ask yourself what your motivation is to get involved. Your initial thought will likely be that you want your son and his wife to be happy. However, this is probably true for the people who are advising you to stay out of it as well.

Granted that others probably don’t have your insight into your son’s relationship. However, some of them probably have something that you don’t: objectivity. Of course you want your children to be happy. However, to what degree do you feel the need to get involved in order to soothe your own feelings of helplessness and fear?

With objectivity comes the ability to view a situation logically. It can be very difficult for us to separate our own emotional needs from an objective viewpoint. When we are too close to a situation, we tend to mistake emotional needs for logical thought. (This is the reason that therapists shouldn’t treat their own family members.) It can be easy for us to believe that we are making proper, logical decisions without acknowledging the emotional needs that are driving these decisions.

You stated that others advise you to stay out of your son’s relationship. You also seem to disagree with this. If you believe that you should get involved—and you believe that you are in the best position to make this decision—what is making you hesitate? Is it simply that you want to be cautious? Is your relationship with your son not that open, or do you think that he may resent your intrusion? Or is something “deep down” telling you that there may be something that you’re not recognizing (perhaps your unconscious emotional needs)?

As parents, we want to protect our kids. We feel that it is our job to guide them in the right direction. Of course, this is true to an extent. However, there is always the risk of overprotecting. Although it doesn’t sound so terrible, overprotecting children can lead to issues like low self-esteem (my parents protect me because I cannot do things for myself), and lack of independent thinking (I don’t need to work things out on my own because I can always turn to my parents).

There are many other factors that can affect your decision. Generally speaking, you want to try and separate your emotional needs from your logical thoughts. In order to do this, the first step is to recognize and focus on what may be causing you, emotionally, to feel strongly about getting involved in your son’s marriage. You would then try and think about the logical reasons for you to get involved, or not to. Remember that your current “logic” is likely following your emotions, so if you feel that you should get involved, you “think” that you should. Aside from inhibiting thoughts that might weaken your current argument, this can also cause you to dismiss—or altogether ignore—reasons to stay out of it.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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