My daughter is dating a guy she met at a kiruv Shabbaton where they were both advisors. They were still too young to date officially until recently. However, they were in constant touch with other, via phone and text.
When I first met this boy, my wife and I did not have a good feeling about him. However, we dismissed it because we saw how happy she was with him. As time went on and their relationship progressed more seriously, we became alarmed. First he started criticizing her friends by saying they aren’t frum enough, until she finally dropped them. Then it progressed to this boy complaining about the way our daughter dresses. She even changed her way of dressing.
My wife and I believe that they are going to get engaged soon. But we really want our daughter to break up with this boy. We’ve discussed this with other family members, who say that we are overreacting, and that we are lucky that our daughter found a guy and will not have to go through the shidduch system.
Are we wrong? And, if not, how can we break them up without breaking our daughter’s heart?
By Baila Sebrow
It is understandable that you and your wife feel concern about the relationship your daughter is having with this boy. You are seeing big flashing red signals that something is wrong. That should never be undermined by anyone’s opinion that you are overreacting. Nor should anyone frighten you in believing that your daughter is doomed to the torment of the shidduch system. While it is true that many singles are having a difficult time in finding their bashert, the tradeoff is not for anyone, girl or boy, to remain in a destructive and dangerous relationship just to be married. That’s absurd.
It sounds like your daughter is accepting of this boy’s controlling behavior of her. The question is whether the manner in the way he is treating her is based on him being very frum and thus, trying to change her into becoming more makpid on matters of frumkeit, or whether this could be a sign of early abusive behavior. Or, very possibly, whether both issues are intertwined.
Very often, an abuser will use frumkeit as the foundation for control. In the frum society, abuse of this nature is very common and is actually used as the typical excuse for abusers to control their victims and still come out looking good. These types of people will convince their victims that their friends are bad influences on them and, therefore, must be dropped. They will very often quote halachic sources on the importance in having frummer friends.
Furthermore, they will use the mitzvah of tzniyus and frighten their victims regarding the consequences of going against Torah requirements. Many of these women are not doing anything wrong in the eyes of the society they are living in. But telling that to a controlling person is like talking to the walls. The bottom line is that this relationship does not appear healthy.
You and your wife are astute in recognizing that an ordinary couple dating does not have such issues. If the guy is not happy with ways that feel more modern to him, he will not continue the relationship, and will cite that as the reason they are not shayach for each other. But this situation is different. He realizes that your daughter is probably too modern for him, but continues the relationship by exerting control and high criticism. Not only did this boy change your daughter’s style of dressing, he also succeeded in isolating her from her friends.
Your daughter seems happy because, right now, this boy is all she has in her life. She has no one else to confide in. Her friends are gone, and I would not be surprised if he has spoken against you and your wife. Your daughter, at this point, is emotionally dependent on the guy she is dating.
I generally give the benefit of the doubt to the person being complained about. However, in this case, it is best to follow the route of being safe rather than sorry. This boy seems to be following a pattern of coercive behavior before he is even engaged. Now it is emotional domination; later it can, G-d forbid, become physical.
Getting your daughter to break up with this guy will not be an easy feat, and it is best that you get professional guidance. You must also understand that your daughter may view you as the enemy, and she may likely accuse you of being jealous that she is happy. That is because, at this juncture in her life, she actually believes herself to be happy.
You and your wife need to arrange a private time to talk with your daughter. Allow the conversation and mood to be free-flowing initially. Bring up anecdotes from her childhood. Proceed to ask her about the guy she is dating and how things are progressing in their relationship. Remind her of how much you both love her and want to see nothing other than her happiness. At this point, share your concerns with her by naming them.
Your daughter will likely become defensive. Do not allow this conversation to become a battle in where you and your wife are the accusers, while she is the boy’s defense attorney. Rather, build up her self-esteem. Very likely, this boy may have caused her to feel less of herself with regards to intelligence and decision making. Tell her you understand how she feels, and praise her on her strengths and fundamental values as a person. Remind her of previous wise decisions, and of times she may have cleverly advised a friend or family member.
Using that train of logic, confide (even if it’s not so) that there was a time when you and your wife reached out to a therapist for guidance involving whatever situation may have occurred in your family. Stress that nowadays it is very common for people to go for counseling while still only in the dating stage of their relationship. Tell her that people even in good relationships retain the services of a therapist in order to learn how to improve on their relationship to make it a happier one. Offer to go with her, if that would make her feel more comfortable. Otherwise, it would probably be better if she goes alone, at least in the beginning.
Make sure that you and your wife do thorough homework by checking that the therapist you are sending your daughter to is not only qualified, but has expertise in such matters. May this therapist be the right shaliach in getting your daughter to recognize the truth and reality of the situation she is in.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. v
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