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Does a family have the right to tell you who or what to love and marry?

Updated on June 21, 2012
Marriages are special. Whether they are viewed as a private decision or a family decision often depends on the culture where one lives and their values.
Marriages are special. Whether they are viewed as a private decision or a family decision often depends on the culture where one lives and their values.

Rights and Marriage


Many family conflicts arise from misunderstandings of rights and boundaries. The question was posed, “Does a family have the right to tell you who or what to love and marry?” The wording of the question is tricky. Parents have the responsibility to raise their children. During the process of raising a child, parents often direct children in forming their values and choices in marriage partners. The length of time this goes on often varies from culture to culture. The home is where the family’s values are transmitted.

Within some cultures, the parents direct many aspects of their children’s life, even after they have become legal adults. There is always the issue of how to handle children wanting to marry or people wanting to marry your children. By necessity, the parents and family have the responsibility and right to step in with such matters. In many Middle Eastern cultures, the oldest brother often has a tremendous influence on who his sister marries and how she conducts herself. That influence is often recognized by the courts in those areas as well. The families often base their actions on custom, the need to protect and religious teachings. The family indeed has the right to tell the children who or what to love and marry.

Western nations often forget that the whole idea of marrying for love and making that choice independent of the family is a new idea which came about in the 20th century. In previous centuries, the family often had a major say in the decisions about who or what to love or marry. Those families viewed their actions as part of their responsibility and duty. In some cases, families wanted to maintain their wealth or social status. In other cases, it was a matter of health and strength of blood line. The family wanted to make sure that they were marrying into ‘good families’. They understood the importance of strong inter-family connections. In the 20th century, many of these old practices changed.

The more interesting question is not whether the family has the right, which they do. The interesting question is “Where did the right to tell children who or what to love and marry come from?” Rights are legal terms. The law recognizes when people have the legal authority to tell their children such things. Laws and rights are recognized by the courts. The family, by necessity has the right. In some cases, such laws came from moral and religious teachings. In other cases, they derive from laws concerning inheritance and the division of property. As barbaric as it sounds, some cultures viewed women as property that the family passed down and had the responsibility for. Although to a modern reader, such a practice sounds barbaric, those same property laws were instrumental in protecting women from abusive practices as well. The right of families to intervene was used in dealing with underage marriages, and marriages where one of the parties was ‘incompetent’.

When rights come from religious teachings, the people often hold onto them very tightly. Questioning such laws amounts is tantamount to questioning their religious beliefs. When religion is the basis of their rights, the people do not surrender them. They view adherence to them as being a good religious ‘follower’. Another key question that is critical to consider is whether the courts allow the family to directly intervene. In nations where the courts allow the family to intervene, the person considering a marriage that the family disapproves of has serious consequences. In some nations, family members have been known to ‘murder’ those who stray from what the family says. If you live in one of those nations where such murder is allowed, the rights of the family is a matter of life and death.

If you live in a nation where the family has the right to speak out, yet you have the right to act independent of them, the question is no longer a matter of life and death. Going against their wishes may risk being ostracized or criticized, yet they do not have the legal right to physically intervene. Bear in mind, that some families are so controlling, they will intervene whether it is allowed by the law or not. When families are involved, they do not always recognize the authority of the courts when it comes to family matters.

It would be dangerous world if families did not have the ‘right’ to tell you who or what to love or marry. Family members often have a stake in what you do. You may think that it is a choice that only impacts you. They are also impacted by your choices. It is true that you will have to live with who you marry. It is also true that in the event that the marriage becomes abusive or life threatening, they may have to intervene. Your family may also see something in your mate selection that you do not see. It is common for lovers to have blind spots regarding the choice in who they marry. Your family has a right to speak their mind on matters that impact them. If they were not allowed to speak out, then you would not be allowed to speak out either. Removing the right of the family also removes your right to free speech and free choices. Just because they have a right to speak out, does not mean that you are obligated to listen to them.

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    • ladybluewriter profile image

      ladybluewriter 4 years ago from United States

      I am glad to see you write this article after the question you posed however. I was told when I first married that it would not last long by family on the other side of the issue. Surprise this marriage has lasted 37 years. The reason our marriage lasted is the values our parents generated in us by making good examples to follow and teaching us how to deal with life. I make it a practice to not step into a relationship in the fact that I become the cause of their issues , and if you provide them the basics in life, then they will make their own decisions.

    • Alma Cabase profile image

      Alma Cabase 4 years ago from Philippines

      They can provide insightful suggestions but you should be the one decide in the end.

    • Sue St. Clair profile image
      Author

      Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      ladybluewriter,

      Thank you for your comments. When I married, one side of the family said that I was "going to hell" for marrying a Baptist. Now, 27 years later, we are still going strong. I can understand what you are saying. The values do make a difference. When you provide children with the basics and good values, you will not have to step in. You may have to allow some choices on 'faith', but that is true in most relationships.

      I am glad that you and your husband had the values to make your marriage last. We need more marriages like that. We can all learn from what you have done.

    • Sue St. Clair profile image
      Author

      Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      Alma Cabase,

      I agree about the suggestions. I think they need to be honest and straight forward. In the end, you should be the one who decides. My heart goes out to those many women living in nations where such choices are decided by family members. With hubpages, we need to realize that our readers are world-wide and many nations do not have some of the freedoms like we do.

    • Craig Suits profile image

      Craig Suits 4 years ago from Florida

      If my daughter came home with some sleezebag moron with no future other than drugs and violence, you bet your sweet patooties I'd have something to say about it even to the extreme where she didn't listen and decided to go off on her own. That would be her choice, her family or it.

      In normal cases, I think honesty would be the best policy. If I didn't think the guy was right for her I'd be forced to tell her how I felt and hope for the best but the final decision would be up to her provided she was old enough and mature enough to handle a decision like that. In the event she choose to stay with someone I didn't approve of 100%, again, it would be her choice and I would do what I could to help them both...

      Arranged marriges are about as primative, stupid, and probably disasterous and anything I can think of at the moment.

    • Sue St. Clair profile image
      Author

      Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      Craig,

      Thanks for commenting. It is encouraging that you would say something to your daughter coming home with a sleazebag. More parents need to speak out. As parents, we may not like 100% of the prospects our children choose to bring home. Hopefully they will be able to steer away from poor choices. They often still need some direction. I tell mine what I think along with my reasons behind my thoughts and then let them make their own choices.

      At one time I felt like you do about arranged marriages and had resistance to the idea. I have been researching the area more and now have less resistance to the idea in some cases.

    • ladybluewriter profile image

      ladybluewriter 4 years ago from United States

      If you as a parent tell them how you feel, then when things go wrong for them, then I would hope you are there when the pieces fall to help them rebuild their life in the right direction. Folks it happens everyday. Some parents throw their kids away just because they make mistakes. I thought I should make this statement , because it is like I told my daughter that I will be your mom and I do not care if I am 80 years old. I will never stop being your mother.

    • Sue St. Clair profile image
      Author

      Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      ladybluewriter,

      I believe in honesty and also in commitment to family. If you can not be honest and committed to family members, even when you do not like what they are doing, they still need our love. Many times they need our love more when they mess up. Too many moms and fathers give conditional love. We need real love and real honesty without conditions.

    • ladybluewriter profile image

      ladybluewriter 4 years ago from United States

      Amen to Sue St. Clair. I wish there were more moms with that attitude and not to mention fathers.

    • Craig Suits profile image

      Craig Suits 4 years ago from Florida

      OK dear, go run away with that moron drug addict. we'll still love whatever is left of you when you come back, if you live.

      Horsepuckies!

      Parents have been taking a firm stand from day one teaching a child right from wrong for it's own good. Just because a kid my turn 18 or so, a parents job continues on and on and at that age it's certainly not the time to get soft and compromising. Not if you love your child that is.

    • Sue St. Clair profile image
      Author

      Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      Craig,

      Parents need to say something when their child is considering marrying a drug addict. When the child it being irresponsible, the parent often times needs to exert responsibility, even when they are past 18. The magic number of 18 is arbitrary. Although it is arbitrary, it is a legal reality that parents do have to deal with. It also limits what kind of intervention we as parents can do. If as parents, we have done a good job of parenting from day one, they will seriously consider what we as parents have to say. If we have to physically prevent them from doing things at that age, something is not right, whether it is the parenting we have done or the child has some serious immaturity.

      Contrary to what many modern thinkers believe, parenting does not stop when a child turns 18. It changes, but parenting continues long after they are 18. My thoughts are that parents need to consider the maturity of the child more than the age. Some 18 year olds are not ready for adulthood, while others are ready for major portions of adulthood by the time they are 13 or 14. It has only been in the 20th century that we have created adolescence and the magic age of 18. 150 years ago, adulthood was based on maturity level.

      I am not advocating getting soft when they are 18. I am saying that a parent has to approach their child differently once they are of legal age. Love may mean that you have to be tough enough to set boundaries.

    • Craig Suits profile image

      Craig Suits 4 years ago from Florida

      I agree with every thing you said this time around but there's one thing you may not be aare of as yet.

      When it comes to teenage love, your reasoning, and teaching all those younger years may not be worth a pot in some cases. Then what?

    • Sue St. Clair profile image
      Author

      Sue St. Clair 4 years ago from I would rather be in Paris

      Craig,

      Teenage love is often a tough situation. I know what worked with my kids, and what my biases are, yet I know that my ideas do not work for everyone else. One issue that I did not touch on, yet is important to consider is the value system and religious beliefs presented in the home, both in terms of what is conveyed verbally and non-verbally. Since children often repeat patterns learned in the home, knowing those patterns is important in knowing the best way to respond to their individual crises.

      So when my reasoning is not worth a pot, I go back to the drawing board and consider what my options are.

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