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Question 

We have an adult son who has serious emotional and relationship problems that started when he was a child. We have worked closely with him and his teachers over the years to address these challenges. Despite all of our efforts, he still struggled to relate to others, manage his emotions, and be socially appropriate. He’s now engaged to a lady who he’s only known a short time. I am certain she hasn’t seen this side of him and now we’re concerned about what she’s getting herself into. I know it would be totally wrong for us to pull her aside and tell her our experiences with him, but we feel like she should somehow be prepared for a future with him. After he left our home, he pretended that everything we had tried with him wasn’t even real. We are deeply concerned for their future.

Answer

I can understand your worry about this couple heading for a train wreck without the proper support. I’m sure your son’s life would have turned out much differently had you not been so involved in helping him navigate the world of relationships. It’s probably difficult to imagine his future success without some kind of coaching and supervision. However, I’m going to suggest you trust the work you’ve done and allow him to manage this next stage of life.

Recognize that his ability to form a relationship with this woman is possible because of the work you’ve already done with him. Granted, I know nothing of his condition or the serious pitfalls he may encounter. However, he is obviously interested in forming a committed relationship and living in relationship with someone.

I realize that it’s not easy to measure our efforts as parents. There are too many factors that influence the lives of our children to consider ourselves success or failures. Instead, I prefer to position myself as a lifelong guide that will be there for my children instead of framing their lives as a win or a loss. Our children are more likely to turn to us as we make ourselves available to support them rather than evaluate their lives. None of our lives are finished as long as we’re willing to continue learning.

You did as much as you could when he was in your direct care. You managed many variables in his life, which likely gave you a sense of control and power. Now is the time to move from managing to influence by your interest and presence. Unless he’s breaking the law, he doesn’t need to be managed or controlled by another person. Allow him to figure out this new relationship in the way that works best for him. His fiancé will hopefully let him know if it’s working or not.

Sometimes having the mirror of another person’s reaction may be the feedback he needs at this time in his life. He’s motivated to care what she thinks about him and his behavior. If he’s not, then she’ll likely move on. Her reactions can be a great motivation for him to learn lessons you never could have taught him in your home. She might be able to reflect back to him the most important areas of his life that need to be changed.

You’re right that you don’t need to approach her or him about the future. He knows you have concerns about his behavior. You were highly involved in supporting him to succeed in school and life. Now he needs a chance to try it on his own. It’s a possibility that one or both of them may come to you for advice and support. Allow them to ask for the help they need instead of trying to manage it from the sidelines.

This is a time for you to show them you believe in them, even though you may have serious reservations about their ability to succeed. I once heard someone say that marriage is our last chance to finally grow up. Marriage will help him grow up if he allows it.

You’re worried about the impact he will have on her. Recognize that she will also have an impact on him as well. She brings with her a history of choices that may require some feedback from him. They will both have to give, stretch, and work to accommodate one another.

Work to see each of them as individuals who have an opportunity to figure out life lessons. You have good reason to be worried, but you also have good reason to trust that you have given him a good foundation. Don’t let one crowd out the other. They are both true.

Their life together will likely look different from the plan you had for him. Try to get to know them as individuals and see if you can stay open, supportive, and curious about how they work together and individually. Ask good questions and allow them to show you who they are as a couple.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.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.geoffsteurer.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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT