Before you pop the question to the love of your life, consider asking her father for her hand in marriage.

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Asking your sweetheart's father for her hand in marriage is an act that means different things to different people. Whether you think of it as a trend, a tradition, or just a nod to the days of antiquity when women needed their father's approval to be passed from the family to a husband, there are some things you should know before broaching the subject with her father.

Keep in mind that your wording holds a lot of power. For example, there's a difference between asking for permission and asking for his blessing. It's worth practicing the right words with a friend or family member in advance, so you'll be ready to articulate your wants and feelings without stumbling over them. Of course, be true to yourself in whatever you choose to say.

Perhaps you're 40 years old, own a home and feel silly asking for permission in a formal kind of way. Or maybe you've been raised to honor this ritual, but her dad doesn't share the same appreciation for it. Maybe a short and sweet bid for his blessing would be more your style or more appropriate for the situation than a formal question. Whatever you decide, listen to your gut and develop an approach that both you and he will be comfortable with.

Asking is a way to show respect, not only to your future father-in-law, but also to your soon-to-be bride. It's a time to share your good intentions and plans for the future. Hopefully you'll receive the enthusiastic consent you're hoping for. But if you don't, and parental approval is an absolute must for you, this can be a valuable time to learn about any concerns or questions her father has about your relationship. You can either address those points right then and there, or you can work toward alleviating them over time, before you propose.

For some practical, concrete tips on how to have this important conversation, go to the next page.