The concept of the groom approaching his beloved’s parents and asking permission to marry her may be old-school to some, but it is still widely entrenched in American society today. In fact, 70 percent of proposers ask for parental permission to marry their partner. In fact, the tradition dates back all the way to biblical times. “When daughters were married, there was a dowry that the father gave (or offered) to the groom to marry his daughter, so the man would go to the father to ‘get’ something in return for the marriage,” explains Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great and professor at Oakland University. "Later, it was thought to be traditionally the man who goes to the bride's family to ask for her hand—to symbolize a contract between the man and the bride's family (in return for your daughter, I will provide for her and take of her).”
These very traditional gender roles thankfully are no longer enforced the way they once were, however, many people are still asking permission to marry out of respect their partner’s parents. Here, experts share some pros and cons to still preserving this tradition.
Pro: It shows you value the parent’s opinion
Jonathan Bennett, relationship and life coach and certified counselor in Columbus, Ohio, explains that, by asking permission to marry someone’s child, you’re letting them know that you value their input into their child’s future. “This can come as a relief to many parents who might fear that they are completely ‘losing’ their child to marriage,” he adds.
Con: It’s outdated
While the idea of asking for your partner’s hand in marriage might sound sweet, Bennett points out that it goes back to a more patriarchal time when fathers had total control over the the lives of their daughters. “Many men and women have no desire to relive those kinds of customs,” he says. “If your future spouse's family thinks it’s an outdated, ridiculous custom, asking for permission could make you look creepy and out of touch.”
Pro: It shows respect for the family
Making the decision to marry someone is a huge, huge decision. The fact that you’re including a parent in this process shows how much respect you have for him or her—that you care about his or her opinion on the matter. “By asking permission to marry, you're essentially saying, ‘I respect you and your thoughts on this matter and I want to hear what you think because I respect and value your judgment,’" explains Dr. Orbuch. “By doing this, you're also building goodwill and respect at the beginning of the marriage for the future.”
Con: It might violate your partner’s independence
While your partner’s family will, most likely, play a role in your future marriage, they are not the end all be all in this day and age. By asking for approval, it reminds the couple that it isn't just their decision, but a larger decision regarding whether the marriage occurs—and most people don't like that, Dr. Orbuch points out. In American culture, it could represent the loss of independence for the couple,” she says. “For some couples, the asking should be romantic, where no one else should know.”
Pro: You get family support from the start of the marriage
Assuming that your soon-to-be-fiancé(e)’s family says yes, along with their approval of your future nuptials, you are also getting their support and validation for the long-term relationship that will continue long after you say “I do.” “By asking, later on if you need help, the partner's family is there,” says Dr. Orbuch. “It doesn't guarantee that they can help, but essentially they gave their permission, so you can ask them or seek support or advice later on.”
Con: The family member might say “no”
If your partner’s parent is not a big fan of you and has made it clear that you are not worthy of marrying his or her child, don’t be surprised if they give you a big, fat “no” upon you asking their permission to marry. Remember, just as you’re putting your heart on the line by asking your partner to take your hand in marriage, you are doing the same by asking the permission of his or her parent.