Ask Richard: What Should I Do If My Mother Disapproves of My Muslim Partner? July 2, 2018

Ask Richard: What Should I Do If My Mother Disapproves of My Muslim Partner?

Note: Letter writers are given pseudonyms to protect their privacy and to facilitate conversation in the comments.

My parents don’t like my Muslim partner who I love so much

My head and heart is saying forget your parents I am 36 not a child I didn’t have much of a childhood because of my mum

My mum is going to embarrass me in front of my neighbours

I absolutely hate the man she is with now gives me the creeps

I don’t tell her who she should be with so it should work the other way around

I want to be with him forever be his wife

If i had to choose it would be him

Help me please

Diana

Dear Diana,

Often the short, simple letters imply complicated issues in the background about which I can only guess.

You are correct: At 36, you’re not a child. So the only power that your mother has over you is whatever power you give to her. To the extent that her approval of your partner is important to you, that will cause you to be unhappy or uncomfortable about her disapproval of him.

Most adults would prefer to have their parents’ approval of their chosen partners, but sadly they don’t always get it. That conflict is the cause of legendary wars and famous tragic plays, as well as millions of sad stories from ordinary people. Sometimes the only happy ending that can come from those stories is when the adult children shrug off the importance of their parents’ approval or disapproval, and just focus on their relationship with their chosen partner. That of course is often easier said than done. Let’s look at why this might not be easy for you to do:

The only clue I have is that you said you didn’t have much of a childhood because of your mother. I’m guessing, but that might mean that whatever difficulties there were forced you to “grow up” too early and too fast, to have to play the role of adult before you had time to emotionally grow into the role. So perhaps that has left you with an incomplete and inconsistent sense of your adulthood now. Perhaps you don’t enjoy the solid and strong confidence in yourself as an adult that you might have been able to develop if you had had more time to build it slowly. That might leave you with a lingering sense of a child’s need for your mother’s approval about any number of things rather than merely an adult’s preference for her approval.

If any of that seems more or less correct, I think that you should take time to think carefully about what success you have had building the solid parts of your own adulthood and self-confidence. Clearly there are solid areas, since you are not just acquiescing slavishly to your mother’s will. You can also gradually fill in the half-finished areas of your self-confidence by re-thinking and changing negative things you might still believe about yourself.

If you can afford it, talking to a trained therapist can make this process much easier. It’s a very common problem.

You are also correct to point out that since you don’t tell your mother who she should be with, she should not do that to you. She does not have the right to embarrass you in front of your neighbors any more than you would have the right to embarrass her. The mother-daughter roles should no longer be in play here; you should be relating to each other as adult-to-adult.

When you have resolved any lingering unfinished parts of your maturing into adulthood, you will be able to respond to her as an adult, keeping your calm, disagreeing yet treating her respectfully, and expecting respectful treatment in return. If she is not yet able to treat you respectfully even if she disagrees, you as an adult can calmly end the conversation, politely saying exactly why, and adding that the two of you will try again later.

If this process proves difficult at first, you don’t necessarily have to completely cut off all contact with her; you both have to practice new roles, and that takes time, open communication, and plenty of practice. If you are patient and persistent with her learning progress and patient and persistent with your own learning progress, it is possible to build a new and better relationship based on respect and acceptance.

Now let’s turn to the issue of you and your partner. He’s a Muslim, and I’m assuming that you are not. Have you and he thoroughly, openly, and honestly discussed the many issues around that? What specific relationship roles does he expect of you as his partner now and as his wife if the two of you marry? What specific relationship roles do you expect of him? What will be his family’s reaction to your relationship, and their expectations and demands of him and of you?

The prospect of children and how they will be raised will make every one of these issues all the more intense, and agreements that you think you have settled could be thrown into question again. Talk these things out in careful detail, and take time in between discussions to think carefully about them. Write it all down so there will be no confusion about what were your agreements.

Do not just dismiss these potential problems with something like “love will find a way.” That’s not how adults deal with life. They discuss such things at length openly, meticulously, and realistically.

I hope that things work out for you, your partner, and your mother. It is possible, but it will take honesty, patience, courage, and hard work on everyone’s part.

Richard

You may send your questions to Richard right here. Please keep your letters concise, but include pertinent information such as age, the part of the world where you live, relevant financial issues, and significant people in the situation. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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