A couple getting married in a wedding chapel.

Father Knows Best: Goin' to the Chapel?

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Hey Rev!

I’m getting married at the age of 30. We've been living together for one year and we soon would like to officially call it for good and start a family. Everything seems good for us. But one thing really bothers me is that he has a child with another woman whom he had gotten pregnant seven years ago. They don’t have communication at all. Nothing has been discussed. But I know sooner or later it will come out. Don’t know when but time will tell. I love him and so he is to me. Please advise the best way to make things right before we get to seal our vows.

Goin’ to the Chapel?

A couple getting married in a wedding chapel.

A couple getting married in a wedding chapel.

Dear GC:

There’s an adage that goes something like this: “Everything that comes before the word ‘but’ is a lie.” My experience is that adage actually has a pretty high batting average. “I’m not racist. But…” “Not to blame the victim. But…” “I really like you. But…” In each of these cases, you don’t need to be an evil genius to figure out what’s going to come next. To that list of examples, I’m inclined to add the one that you just gave us, GC. “Everything seems good for us. But…”

Everything is not good for you and your boyfriend.

The absence of communication between your boyfriend and the mother of his child is a major red flag. There are no fewer than three reasons to find it really concerning.

The first reason is the very one that you name: your boyfriend and his ex have no shared plan for raising their child. And their strained silence can scarcely help but have a negative effect on your marriage. That may take the form of an unexpected claim for child support. It may take the form of jealousies and resentments that hide in the cracks where your families overlap. Or it may take the form of a power struggle between your boyfriend and his ex over where their child will go to school, what kind of medical care she will have, how much involvement she will have with her father, and so on. Regardless of the specifics, GC, your instinct is right: this won’t stay quiet.

The second thing that concerns me has to do with your boyfriend as a father. If he and his ex really have “no communication at all,” then it is pretty much a logical necessity that he and his child also have no communication at all. And (unless there is a court order that you haven’t mentioned or some other extenuating circumstance that is keeping the two of them apart) that demands the question: do you want to start a family with someone who is capable of cutting his child out of his life? We can never know another person entirely, GC. But it sure sounds like you know that your boyfriend is the sort of man who can walk away from his kids when things get tough.

Third and finally, what’s troubling about the absence of communication between your boyfriend and his child’s mother is that it gives us a snapshot of how your boyfriend tends to deal with stressors and conflict. And the evidence is that he doesn’t deal with these things at all; rather, he just shuts down. That isn’t good news. Because one of the guarantees entering into a marriage is that there will be stressors and there will be conflict: people whom you love will die, bills will be bigger than you expected, one of you may get ill or be laid off, you may have a hard time agreeing about where you’re going to live. The list goes on. When those things happen, you have a right to expect that your spouse will be engaged enough in your marriage to weep with you, to struggle with you and, yes, to argue with you. A partner who refuses to do these things, who retreats behind a wall of silence as soon he begins to feel vulnerable, will wear you down fast.

Is there a way of making things right before you and your boyfriend make some big promises to one another before community and before God? Yes. In lots of successful, stable, and happy marriages, one or both partners were already parents before they met their spouse. But it took those couples a lot of work to get to that place.

So, get working, GC. Tell your boyfriend that, if the two of you are going to stay together, you need to talk all of this out with the help of an impartial professional. And then book yourselves in with a counselor and name everything that is on your heart right now out loud.