How Do I Get My Family to Stop Pressuring Me to Get Married?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

How can I make my family understand that I’m not ready for marriage yet? For most of my life, I have been told by my parents (mostly my mom) to stay away from boys and to focus on my schoolwork and landing a good job. Now that I’m older, my mom comes out of the blue and starts lecturing me on finding a boyfriend, getting married, and having kids. I’m comfortable being on my own right now. —Happily Single

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Dear Happily Single,

Parents are like that—mothers especially. They know what they want for their daughters, so they tell them how to get it and nag them until they do. It’s fine for your mother to have ambitions and ideas as they relate to you, but it is not okay for her to push them on you. She wants you to want what she wants for you—not what you want for you.

You don’t say whether you fulfilled your mother’s expectations to “stay away from boys” and focus on schoolwork and getting a good job. Parenting directives of that nature come from a good place and may be appropriate when you’re a teenager. You don’t say how old you are now, but I gather you’re not a teenager anymore. And while your mom may still mean well, only your internal directives matter now.

In your mother’s eyes, getting married and having kids is the next step. Perhaps you will want those things in the future, perhaps not. The bottom line is you’re not there. You are not ready to get married and have kids and you are self-aware enough to know that. So stick to your guns. Now is the time to explore who you are now and to pursue the life you envision for yourself now.

Learning to advocate for yourself, to not take the bait, isn’t easy. But you may find it an enormously helpful life skill that comes in handy more times than you can imagine, and in a great variety of situations. Just because someone invites you to an argument doesn’t mean you have to go.

But what can you do about your mother? How can you make her stop? I’d start by suggesting you tell her to back off, but I have the feeling you’ve done that and it hasn’t worked. You can’t change her and make her stop talking about what she wants you to do, just as she can’t change you and make you do what she wants. But you can change how you respond to her.

You might try a karate master’s technique and let your mother’s energy just whiz by you. Summon your internal energy or resolve. Focus on your strength and feel your power. Let your mother’s words flow past you. Focus on your breath, stay centered, and let her words go by.

My grandmother used to say to me, “I’m going to tell you something. Promise you won’t get mad.” I would promise, then listen to what she had to say and get mad anyway. This went on for years, until I learned to say, “If you know I’m going to get mad at you, why do you say it?” After a time, she stopped handing out her free advice and we got along much better.

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You might take a similar approach, but one that could prove effective right away: keep your response centered on your feelings about the behavior, not the behavior itself. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements, as the latter tend to elicit defensiveness when the goal is empathy and understanding. When your mother throws out a line with the hook, “When are you going to find a nice boy and settle down and get married?” you can refuse to bite and tell her succinctly, “I know those words come from a place of concern for me, but I have made my position on this clear. It hurts me when my feelings are ignored. It makes me feel like I can’t be who I am.” See if that makes a difference. If she continues to press and you continue to feel burdened by her expectations, you might consult a therapist in your area who can help you learn strategies for coping with the distress your mother’s words are causing you. Again, you can’t change your mom, but you can change how she affects you.

Learning to advocate for yourself, to not take the bait, isn’t easy. But you may find it an enormously helpful life skill that comes in handy more times than you can imagine, and in a great variety of situations. Just because someone invites you to an argument doesn’t mean you have to go.

If you’d like to read more about this, check out Pema Chödrön’s audio book Don’t Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and Other Destructive Emotions.

Kind regards,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 4 comments
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  • francine

    francine

    August 14th, 2017 at 10:49 AM

    not all moms are like that…

  • Ginger

    Ginger

    August 15th, 2017 at 10:39 AM

    I had almost given up hope of ever getting married when finally it happened I thought that both of my parents would have a heart attack.
    Evidently they had also given up hope that I would ever get married too!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    August 19th, 2017 at 12:50 PM

    It often happens that when you give up pushing and simply let things happen on their own–they do. And they did for you!!

  • Jasminh

    Jasminh

    August 31st, 2017 at 8:29 AM

    I like her perspective on the topic. Very helpful.

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