I need advice on how to handle a situation where my boyfriend and my parents do not get along. My boyfriend and I have been dating for just over 3 years. There is an age difference (he is 46, I am 29) but we have similar goals in life and get along extremely well.
This past Christmas, we went with my mom, dad, and sister to Hawaii for 2 weeks. It did not go well. My boyfriend felt like a complete outsider. No one made any efforts to get to know him and tried to exclude him from activities. Now that we are back he feels that he will never be accepted and doesn't want to marry someone who he will have in-law problems with. I really love him and want to be with him but I don't know what to do next. Can you help?
~ Divided Debra
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Dear Divided Debra --
If a family actively dislikes one's partner and won't make an effort to be inclusive, it's a painful and distressing situation. It's also very often damaging to the couple, the family dynamic, or both. Assuming this has been a respectful and healthy relationship, three years is a long time for your family to fail to find your boyfriend's virtues and to accept your relationship. I can offer some suggestions for you, but first I think you need to reassure your boyfriend that you'll do your best to speak with your parents and set some expectations for them. Be clear with him that you can't control their behavior, but you can assert yourself and make some rules.
Speak with your parents and be clear that you love your boyfriend and are committed to the relationship. Let your parents know how much their love and support mean to you, as well. Ask them what they can do to be more accepting of him, what they need in order to resolve their own issues with the relationship; ask them to begin working toward meeting you half way.
Try to avoid defensiveness and anger during the conversation. Claim your role as a grown woman, but do it from a centered, grounded place. Baby steps toward reconciliation are fine, if they're willing. At that point, both you and your boyfriend will need to exercise a bit more patience with the process.
If your parents remain unwilling to change their behavior, you must make it clear that this will impact the quantity and quality of time you spend with them. Let them know this will sadden you a great deal. At that point, I wouldn't expect your boyfriend to put himself in these situations anymore. Do not ask him to vacation or spend time together with your parents; if you wish to see them, do so alone. Periodically sit down with your folks and ask them to reconsider their position.
Through this period, I think it's important to remind your boyfriend that he's your family, too, and you understand that it hurts him not to be accepted. Assure him your parents' feelings are no reflection on him, nor do their feelings impact your love for him. Remind him, too, that you wish things could be different, but can only do your best to protect him and love him. Your family must choose for themselves what kind of future they want with you both.
Good luck, Debra. Don't get caught in the middle, please. Stand up, say what you need and expect from everyone, and don't be held hostage to the feelings of others -- and that includes your boyfriend.
Ladies? Please help out here; these situations are incredibly sticky and loaded.