Geoff Steurer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
I clearly remember the lunch appointment with my future father-in-law to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. I was a bundle of nerves, but I loved his daughter more than I was afraid to talk with him. I had no idea what questions he might have in store for me. As the lunch progressed, our small talk turned into serious talk as he asked me questions about my family, my thoughts on parenting, and how I planned to support my future family.
I had only met him one previous time when I ate dinner at their house. However, I felt his love and protection for his daughter and wanted to do everything I could to win his confidence and trust. Thankfully, he gave me his full blessing and asked me only one favor: “Will you please stop by her mother’s house on your way home and show her the engagement ring?” I obliged his request and spent some time with her mother before going to propose to my wife.
After nearly fifteen years of marriage, I reflect back on that interview with gratitude for his loving protection for his daughter’s emotional, financial, and relational safety. His paternal protectiveness was certainly in the best interest of his daughter and their entire family.
I have no doubt that if I were to go through that same interview today, her father would more than likely include one more line of questioning. I imagine it would sound something like this:
“Pornography is such a common struggle for so many young men these days. Naturally, I worry that this is something you have struggled with as a teenager or young adult. Will you please describe your experience with pornography and how you’ve handled it?”
Since my interview happened in 1996 when most homes were barely getting their first dial-up modems to access this new thing called the Internet, this question was never discussed in my engagement interview.
My hope is that today’s parents, especially fathers, plan to bring up this important subject when they speak with the young man who will take their daughter’s hand in marriage.
Granted, social media, texting, and cell phones, have virtually erased the parental hurdle young suitors traditionally had to jump before moving forward with a romantic engagement. However, even though the tradition of asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage is becoming more passé, I believe that it’s still a father’s responsibility to protect and ask questions regardless if he is formally petitioned.
In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”[i], fathers are instructed to preside, provide, and protect their families. A father’s presence and protection at this critical crossroad in his daughter’s life most certainly fulfills this divine mandate and will be a blessing to her and her future family.
And, I believe it’s equally important for fathers to prepare their own sons for potential questioning about their pornography use from a future father-in-law. Even though young people are more insulated in their telecommunication bubble, parents, especially fathers, can help build strong marriages by respectfully introducing this sensitive topic.
If there isn’t a father in the home, then I still think it’s a good idea for the mother to have this conversation with the boyfriend. As awkward as it may seem to bring up this topic, I believe it’s even more awkward to deal with the potential aftermath if this issue surfaces later in marriage.
Please note that if you are personally struggling with an unresolved pornography problem, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, to counsel a future son-in-law about your concerns. You will feel like a phony and will either avoid the conversation all together, or minimize the seriousness of it as a way to protect yourself from the reality of your own struggles. If you have struggled with pornography and haven’t fully repented and recovered from the impact on your life, make sure that you’re actively working the same recovery process you would expect from this young man.
When considering how to begin this conversation, it’s helpful to view this as something more than a “yes” or “no” question. I believe it’s safe to assume that the young man has already been exposed to pornography. One recent study showed that 86% of college-aged men had viewed online pornography in the past year. Forty-eight percent of those same men viewed it weekly.[ii] Even though he may not be currently viewing pornography, it’s likely he’s been exposed to it somewhere in his past.
I also recognize that a young man could lie to his future father-in-law and deny that he’s ever seen pornography. Obviously, there is no way to prevent someone from lying (unless, perhaps, you’re Robert DeNiro and have access to a lie-detector in your basement a la “Meet the Parents”).
In reality, it will simply require a good, honest conversation about his experiences with pornography. What should you ask? What should you look for? Here are a few questions you can ask along with some warning signs that might indicate that the young man either has or will have a significant problem with pornography in the future:
In my experience, a man who has healed from a pornography problem isn’t afraid to talk honestly about it with those who need to know. He is remorseful about the impact on himself and others. He recognizes his need for ongoing healing and recovery. He understands that he’s going to have this vulnerability for the rest of his life and he accepts the need to always be on guard with his thoughts and actions. Most importantly, he is fiercely protective of the feelings and emotions of his romantic partner and how this issue might concern her.
Remember your purpose in asking these questions. You’re there to offer a layer of protection for your daughter and family. If there are any questions or concerns about the young man’s involvement in pornography, it’s better to encourage these to be addressed now instead of later.