Q. I have been with my boyfriend for 3 years and we are in a really great relationship. Recently my boyfriend wanted me to meet his family over the weekend and needless to say, I was very happy, excited and nervous. When I finally met his family, I didn’t feel the same. To make matters worse, my boyfriend’s parents also invited my boyfriend’s ex for the weekend. This made things awkward and tense.
I figured out that my boyfriend’s ex is someone quite close to his family and they still love her. I got the feeling that they still consider her as the right woman for my boyfriend and not me. My doubts were confirmed when my boyfriend’s mother told me that my boyfriend made a big mistake breaking up with his ex and that they were a perfect couple for the family. I tried to be as friendly and nice as possible, but I didn’t get the same from his parents or his sisters.
At the end of the trip, my boyfriend apologized for what had happened and he said that he had no idea that his ex would be there. I believe him but I am concerned about his family. They have given me the cold shoulder and made me feel unwelcome. I really don’t do well in such environments. When I was a kid, I stayed over at my aunt’s place for a month and I was never felt comfortable with her. Till date, I have never stayed over at her house because I feel emotionally choked with such people. I got the same feeling with my boyfriends’ parents.
Right now, I am seriously concerned about the future of our relationship. While my boyfriend is a great guy, his family is not. I would have no problems marrying him, but marriage is much more than just two individuals being together. It involves two families coming together and I really don’t see how I can enjoy my moments with his family. I fear putting on a fake smile and being too conscious of what I say and how I have to behave to not make things worse between us (which is what I did with his parents over the weekend and it was too exhausting).
How much importance should I give to his parents attitude and behavior in terms of my future relationship with my boyfriend?
A. Dear Feeling Unaccepted,
You said it yourself when you said that “marriage is much more than just two individuals being together”. You are so right.
People often forget that their special person comes with a family. Family can play a major or a minor role, depending on the degree of closeness that characterizes the relationship between the partner and his or her parents and siblings.
Families are embedded within a culture, too.
Cultural differences can be exciting but can also pose challenges. I don’t know if your boyfriend comes from a different culture than you, or if he’s just very close to his family, but you are right to wonder how that closeness will impact the two of you going forward.
Close family systems can be a real gift to a couple.
They can lend emotional and material support and a sense of belonging. Family can also be a wonderful gift to new parents. On the other hand, if the family holds on too tight, a person can have difficulty separating enough to form a new family system. To begin a new family, an individual needs to feel independent. This means that he or she can take care of him/herself.
Independence means feeling entitled to make important life choices with regard to friends, work, geography and, of course, in the choice of a life partner.
Your boyfriend appears to not have adequate separation with his family of origin to begin his own family. He needs to understand why he is still dependent on his parents for approval. Why do they feel entitled to interfere with his important life choices? Until he understands the fused dynamics of his family, he is not ready to ask anyone to join him in his life journey. He may be a great guy, but he’s not yet an adult, and marriage should be reserved for adults.