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Q: My [adult] daughter has been dating someone for a while now and I can tell she’s getting serious about him. I’m not the biggest fan of him—he’s overbearing and almost so nice that it seems suspicious. She’s also changed since she started dating him. She’s quieter and doesn’t push back against any of his requests, like she’s afraid to upset him. But I try to keep these opinions to myself and support her regardless. However, she’s started talking about possibly having a baby with him, only she doesn’t seem as into the idea as he does. She’d rather wait a while but he seems like he’s guilting her into it. He says she must not love him if she’s not ready for this big step. To me, this is a huge red flag. Am I wrong?
A: If I could insert a red flag into this article and wave it wildly above the headline, I would do that. Yes, in combination, these things you’re describing are absolutely red flags. Not because a male partner is excited to start a family—this can be a wonderfully positive thing. The red flags are for the pressure he’s putting on her combined with the guilt trip he’s giving her, not to mention him being “overbearing,” as you say, which could indicate possible control. Especially if you’ve noticed she’s become more submissive—it may indicate she doesn’t feel safe setting boundaries with him.
There’s a type of abuse called reproductive coercion that involves an abuser coercing a partner into becoming pregnant as a means of control. I’m not saying he’s abusive, but I am saying that all of these things in combination fit a concerning pattern that she and you are allowed to be wary of.
I’m also reading the “so nice” comment as potential love-bombing, a common tactic of abusers to get a partner to trust them by showering them in affection and adoration before they essentially trap them in a relationship. And there are few other traps more difficult to extract oneself from than a shared 18-plus-year commitment to a child. This is why many abusers push for a relationship to move fast—either pressuring a partner to get married, have a child or both.
“Pay attention to any pressure to have a child as a means of control, rather than a mutual decision based on shared values and readiness,” advised licensed somatic psychotherapist Ronnie Adamowicz when I described this situation. Adamowicz, who specializes in trauma, says red flags can look like manipulation, coercive tactics or a partner's unwillingness to engage in open communication about important life choices. If your daughter is feeling the same pressure you’re picking up on, it’s worth asking if she’s talked to her partner about this. What was his response? Did he shut her down or listen to her concerns?
“Trust your instincts and seek professional guidance if any doubts arise,” says Adamowicz.
Again, this is not to definitively say your daughter’s partner is abusive. We obviously hope this is not the case. But if he isn’t, then he’ll be open and receptive to a talk about pumping the brakes on the baby talk.
While I understand you want to be supportive, and disagreeing with her choice of partner or her decision to start a family might run the risk of driving a wedge in your relationship, your concerns are worth that risk. If this partner is, indeed, abusive, this is something your daughter needs to recognize right away before she gets in too deep. Abusers have a way of brainwashing and gaslighting victims to the point where it’s difficult for them to spot the abuse they’re being subjected to, akin to being lured into a cult. After that happens, it’s much harder to reach victims and let them know what kind of danger they’re in. Additionally, if he is abusive, pregnancy can trigger even more dangerous forms of violence and control.
Before jumping to the he-might-be-an-abusive-partner convo, perhaps it’s better to start the talk with your daughter about the decision to have a child and how momentous this is. After all, you’ve been there so you can speak from experience. I spoke with licensed professional counselor Erika Pranzo who suggested asking these questions before committing to having a baby with a partner. “Yes” answers could indicate red flags worth exploring. Maybe walking through this list together, at a time when your daughter’s boyfriend is not around, would be a good opener to your concerns.
8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Having a Baby with a Partner
- Is your partner pressuring you into having a child? Do they express anger if you say you’re not sure if you’re ready yet, or need more time?
- Do you often feel afraid when with your partner?
- Has your partner ever assaulted you physically or thrown objects at or near you?
- Does your partner threaten to cut off basic needs from you if you don’t have a child with them (i.e. housing, food, access to finances, etc.)?
- Does your partner promise things will get better after you have a baby?
- Do you ever fantasize about running away from your partner?
- Does your partner isolate you from friends or family?
- Has your partner ever forced you into sex?
In addition to these questions, your daughter may want to think about any red flags she’s spotted in her partner that could give her pause in starting a family. Ehab Youssef, licensed psychologist, eclectic therapist, and AI researcher at Mentalyc says to watch for these, especially:
- Financial control. If her boyfriend is controlling the money, encouraging her not to work or to quit her job or school, he may be deliberately making it difficult for her to make independent choices. Read more about this in “What is Financial Abuse?”
- History of substance abuse. “Substance abuse issues can impact a person's ability to maintain a stable and healthy home environment, posing risks to the well-being of children,” says Youssef.
- Inability to manage stress. “Parenthood comes with stress, and a partner who consistently struggles to manage stress in a healthy way may contribute to a less stable and secure family environment,” Youssef says.
- Disinterest in children. For obvious reasons, if her boyfriend demonstrates an aversion toward spending time with children, his reasons for wanting to have his own should be questioned.
- Unwillingness to discuss parenting plans. “A controlling partner may avoid open and honest discussions about parenting plans, trying to impose their ideas without considering your input and needs,” says Youssef.
More signs that a partner could turn violent or controlling can be found in this longer list of red flags. These questions and red flag lists might bring up some realizations for your daughter that can be frightening. No one wants to think about the fact that their partner could be abusive, and often there’s a sense of denial that comes with this. That can be followed by shame or blame (“How did I miss this?”), but survivors need to know that abuse is never their fault. Nor is it their responsibility to stop abuse. Abuse is a choice made by an abuser, and a survivor only needs to worry about getting themselves to safety.
It might be helpful to suggest that your daughter reach out to a trained domestic violence advocate at your local shelter. Most shelters have 24/7 hotlines where anyone can call to get advice, support or walk through next steps, like a safety plan or order of protection. If she plans to end this relationship, he may put up resistance in the form of additional love-bombing, promises of change or, on the flip side, threats or stalking. Having a safety plan in place—a list of possible scenarios that could arise and her planned response to each—can help her prepare for any abusive tricks he may pull.
In the best-case scenario, he may be willing to recognize the pressure he’s putting on her and adjust his behavior. There are also green flags of a healthy relationship your daughter should know that, if she can spot them in him, may put her mind at ease. We hope for this outcome and that she starts a family only when she is ready and feels safe and supported in doing so.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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