#240: My parents hate my partner, what do I do?

Dear Captain Awkward, 

This has to be one of the most asked questions in the history of the world, but I don’t know what to do. I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years. Boyfriend isn’t even the right word, it’s closer to partner / husband. The only reason we aren’t married is that I don’t believe in marriage. I’m 28 years old. We were living together until a year ago until I had to move to a new city, and we’ve been maintaining a long distance relationship while he tries to find a new job down here. This is not a guy that is going away, in other words. 

My family despises him. This hurts because my family and I are insanely close – my sister is my best friend, my mom and I used to tell each other everything, I went into the same field as my dad and am the apple of his eye. They’re all still very involved in my life, except for when it comes to Boyfriend – then, they basically will not even acknowledge him. They don’t want to know anything about his life, what I am doing when I am with him, what he gave me for my birthday, etc. They don’t ever ask about him, they shut down if I mention him. My mother maintains that if a wedding was to occur, it would be the biggest mistake of my life and they would not attend. She also claims that as my mother, she knows me better than I know myself. She’s convinced that I’m only with him because I am afraid to be by myself. He could jump in front of a bullet for me and her opinion of him would not change. 

This is obviously awful, not just because it hurts me but because it hurts him. And to make matters worse, my mother has predicted their hatred will take a toll on him and poison our relationship. I’m worried that she’s right. It’s already incredibly difficult to have to split up for things like holidays, birthdays, etc. I can’t imagine how it will feel for him the rest of his life. Any attempt on his part to make them like him is met with a brick wall. I think the reason they don’t like him is that a) he is not as attractive as I am and b) his job is not something they view as “professional.” But after four years it’s evolved into totally illogical hatred. What can I do?


A girl who considers her partner a part of her family!

Dear Girl Who:

This sentence in your letter really struck me: “And to make matters worse, my mother has predicted their hatred will take a toll on him and poison our relationship.”

You realize that it means she deliberately wants to poison your relationship, right? She sees this as something that she can “win.”

This sentence also jumped out:

I think the reason they don’t like him is that a) he is not as attractive as I am and b) his job is not something they view as “professional.””

You think those are the reasons. But do you know that those are the reasons? Are those reasons you supplied when you tried to figure out why they don’t like them (which means that’s how you see him through their eyes) or reasons they told you?

The reason I ask, is if my parents told me that they didn’t like a boyfriend for such superficial reasons, the next words they might hear are “Fuck” and “Off” possibly followed by “Forever.”  But if they sat me down and said “We don’t like how he treats you” or “You seem less happy when you’re with him” or “You were out of the room, but he said some really toxic stuff at Thanksgiving last year that made us really uncomfortable” or “When he gets angry, he breaks things, and that makes us worried for you” or “He was feeling up the bridesmaids at your cousin’s wedding” or “Why is he always drunk?” I’d at least hear them out and then I’d check that perception with my friends and other people I trust. When a relationship is toxic and/or abusive, sometimes the people close to you draw boundaries by saying YOU are always invited but S/HE is not because we can’t stand how s/he treats you.

I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, but I wanted to put it out there. Sometimes we hate the people our family members and friends choose to love for really good reasons.

I also want to put it out there that if your parents are insisting on separate holidays, birthdays, etc. that it is a choice they are making, and you don’t have to play along. You can invite them into your life, and it’s on them to choose whether they show up. If you keep going to their events without your partner to keep the peace, you’re playing their game and participating in marginalizing your partner. You can get away with this now while you’re long distance, but once he’s living with you again you need to figure out how to reset the relationship.

Here is what I suggest you do. Nothing here is easy – think of it as lancing a boil so it has a chance to heal – but it’s necessary.

Sit your folks down all together, face to face.

Say, “I know you don’t like ______ and wish I weren’t with him. This has been very painful for me over the years. I wanted to sit you down and ask you, straight up, to tell me the reasons you don’t like him and give you a chance to fully state your case. Can you tell me, as completely and honestly as you can, what your worries and objections are?

Take notes on what they say. I’m serious. Write it all down. You want a record of this. Plus it will give you something to do and a safe place to look while they talk.

And, this is going to be really, really hard, but don’t interrupt to correct or defend. What you want is their truthful perception (not what you want it to be, not what it should be, but what it is) of your relationship with your partner. And later, you want to be able to say that you heard them out completely. (Secret: This is called giving them “enough rope” – if they say ridiculous things, that’s super sad but also helpful in putting the argument to bed in the long run).

When they are done, say “Thank you for being honest. I don’t necessarily agree with all that you’ve said, but you’ve given me a lot to think about and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Then get yourself out of there so you can think about it. Take a good long time – a few weeks or even a month of radio silence with your family will do everyone good. If they get in touch with you, just say “I’m still thinking about what you said, I’ll be in touch when I’m ready.” Assuming there are no smoking guns of abuse, substance abuse, etc. and that it is the kind of superficial “We just wanted better things for you” stuff you suspect it is, the rest of this is about boundaries.

Boundary 1: Do not show this list or share these critiques with your partner. They aren’t his burden to bear – he’s not the one with an asshole family, and he shouldn’t have to try to “live up” to their expectations. Good audiences for the list are: Close friends (who can be trusted not to carry tales to either your family or your partner), therapist/counselor of some kind (recommended as you navigate this whole conflict). You do not pass negative things your family says about him onto him ANYMORE. Never again. Your mom can’t poison your relationship if you don’t pass the poison on.

Boundary 2: When you’ve come to some kind of decision about things (and for now I’ll assume it’s Partner Is Not Going Anywhere, You Guys), here is a script for communicating with your family. It can be in the form of an email or letter if that makes you more comfortable.

Family, I know you love me and want the best for me.  I know you don’t like (Partner). I’ve fully heard all of your concerns and talked them through with people I trust, and I’ve decided that being with (Partner) is what is best for me because we love each other and he makes me happy.(Then, if there are any things they said during your initial talk that are factually incorrect, take a moment to briefly clarify them.)

So this is what I need from you now:

  • I expect that (Partner) will be invited and included in family events like holidays and birthdays and that you will be polite and welcoming to him. If he’s not included, I’m not included.
  • I expect that you will not do or say anything to undermine my relationship. I’ve heard your criticisms – in fact, I wrote them all down – so there is no need for you to repeat them. If you can’t say anything nice about (Partner), don’t say anything. 

I love you all and know that you want what is best for me. Now I need you to trust me and support my choice of partner. You may never like him or love him the way I do, which makes me sad, but I can live with that if you can show kindness and respect in day-to-day things and accept that he is part of my life. Can I get your agreement to try?”

So now we’re onto boundary enforcement. Which is hard. And takes time – nobody gets it right the first time.

If they make an effort to invite/include/ask about your partner? Reward them with kindness and attention and your presence.

If they say something negative about him, call them on it and change the subject (or end the conversation). For example:

Your mom: “Something insulting and negative

You: “Mom, we talked about that – please keep your negative opinions to yourself from now on. How is work going?

Your mom: “But I don’t understand why you…(more negative stuff about partner).

You: “Sorry, I have to go now.” :click”

Turn off/unplug your phone, take a walk, go have hot sex with your partner, read a book you’ve always wanted to read. Give it about a week, then call her again like nothing has happened – be pleasant and friendly. End the conversation at the first negative thing she says about him. Keep doing this until she gets it. Maybe forever.

This is difficult and stressful, and I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t. You’re basically retraining your parents to realize that you can live with their disapproval but you can’t live with their rudeness and unkindness, and the price of treating you like crap around this is that you will talk to them less and be around less. Which means you also bear that cost – you get less contact with people you love and want to be close to. When it gets hard, keep reminding yourself: They can choose to be kind. They can choose to make an effort. If they choose not to do those things? This is not some horrible thing you are doing to them, it’s a choice they are making.

Take strength from the love of your partner, and take strength from the fact that you are doing everything possible to invite them into your life and giving them every opportunity to do the right thing by you. Hopefully they will adapt quickly and love will win the day.



69 thoughts on “#240: My parents hate my partner, what do I do?

  1. My sister has a fiance that everyone hates, so I can’t say I exactly relate to your predicament. However I do think that your family is behaving very badly.

    I would rather relive high school than spend a minute in this guy’s presence. My loathing runs deep, for years I tried to give him second and fifth chances, and he is still a jerk. He’s argumentative and patronizing at the least appropriate times. I’ve also seen that he has a propensity to lie to get his own way.

    But he’s still invited to holidays and birthdays. He’s included at every bbq we throw, he rides down with us to family visits. Everyone is pretty much polite to him. We try to include him in conversations and be welcoming.

    When they announced their engagement everyone said congratulations. I will admit that mine is not as enthusiastic as it would be if she were marrying, oh, I don’t know ANYONE ELSE. But congratulations were said. I even agreed to be her maid of honor.

    Unless you partner is secretly a third world dictator, this behavior is incredibly rude and childish. No matter how much or why you dislike someone there is no excuse for being exclusionary or treating anyone poorly. At the very least they should try to be hospitable and civil.

    At the end of the day your family should want you to be happy. That’s what we all want. Even if that happiness means we have to see someone we despise a little too often, it’s worth it because we love our family. (Even if we don’t necessarily like them.)

    1. Exactly. I haven’t always liked the folks my family get involved with, but (excluding any obvious abusive behavior) part of respecting them is respecting their choice.

  2. I think they don’t like him because he is taking you away from them somehow. Your family is “insanely close”–your words–which usually means NO OUTSIDERS ALLOWED. This gets awkward once puberty hits and uh, you want outsiders to join the club.

    Just wondering: how old is your sister? Is she seeing anyone? Has she ever? How did your parents feel about anyone she dated? And is it really just THIS ONE GUY they hate and they’ve liked everyone else you and/or she dated, or do they hate everyone you’ve ever dated, or do they only hate anyone they take seriously as someone you might settle down with for life? Because frankly, the reasons you mentioned are not good reasons to absolutely despise a guy for four years and refuse to have anything to do with him. Which makes me think “insanely close” + “irrational hatred” = He’s Taking My Baby Awaaaaay! reaction on their part.

    My mom (and dad too when he was alive) is by default going to hate anyone I am with because He’s Taking My Baby Awaaaaaay! My mom has been a lot more polite about it than yours has because at least she talked to the exes once in a while, politely bought one a present, etc. But the exes were still aware of the hatred anyway, and I’m not even going to start on back when I announced my engagement to one. Let’s just say “denial” happened for one parent and hysterical public sobbing for the other. At any rate, I wouldn’t expect my mom to embrace any rivals for my affections approximately ever, and I am always going to be stuck in the middle being forced to choose sides if I date. But she can at least be polite when she has to. That may be the best you can come to, I suppose.

  3. “It’s already incredibly difficult to have to split up for things like holidays, birthdays, etc. I can’t imagine how it will feel for him the rest of his life.”

    I would hope that you wouldn’t subject him to this for the rest of his life. I think you should take the Captain’s advice–listen to what your family has to say about this–but if all is well in your relationship and he’s generally respectful and kind towards you, etc. and you want to stay with him, do not split your time between your family and your BF on the holidays. As you are life partners, I’d think your holidays would be spent together.

    Otherwise, what the Captain said, all of it.

    1. I agree – I’ve not gone to family holidays because my partner at the time wasn’t welcome (it was an extended family thing, and some family members didn’t like that we were living together and not married). I really can’t imagine not going to a family social occasion where my partner wasn’t welcome. Because that’s saying, in a way, that part of *me* isn’t welcome – the part that loves my partner.

      1. Holidays with your partner, even if you have an amazing accepting family, can be a real gift to yourself. My family is in various cities up and down the East Coast, while Mr Machine’s family is all on the West Coast. It got so exhausting doing the “Who gets Christmas” game each year that we finally decided that *we* get Christmas. Now we spend the holidays drinking mimosas and playing video games together, and it is The Best Holiday.

        1. Just this last holiday, we decided to make this our tradition, now that we have our own home together. Our families are not nearly as distant as yours, so we could make the effort to see them on the same weekend even, but it’s not worth the stress of travel and family dysfunction. Last Christmas at home was great, and we’re talking about getting together with local “holiday orphans” in our social circles on Christmas Day as part of our new non-family holiday tradition.

    2. I agree with this. Never underestimate the power of figuratively putting your foot down on something as significant as holidays. A friend of mine had a sister who was dating a man her family didn’t approve of, and they essentially told her “us or him.” She chose him and pretty much skipped out on her family for Christmas and New Years, refusing to contact them on either. It made quite an impression, and needless to say, the issue has never arisen again and the family keeps their mouth shut.

  4. This ‘enough rope’ thing is something I’ve never heard of or considered. Probably because sitting still and shutting up during tough conversations is so, so hard (for me at least). Excellent advice, CA.

    1. Heh. Another object lesson in “Just ’cause it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

  5. I have to say that I disagree with Boundary Number One as a blanket thing.

    Although I’m not in the same situation, I do have a similar problem with my depression. My partner and I find that it’s really helpful for me to share my feelings with him – many of which are upsetting and distressing. As well as making me feel better, sharing this with him is also really important for him – he wants to be able to be there for me for all of my life, not just the good bits. Not telling him something because I didn’t want to be a burden would not be acceptable in our relationship.

    But that’s not to say you should share everything either as a blanket consideration! All relationships are different; maybe you feel that it would be a burden for your boyfriend so you don’t share that information, or maybe you feel it would be better to share. But don’t feel that if you share how your parents feel about him that you will be a burden or infecting him with their poison. You haven’t done anything wrong.

    1. Bunny, what I mean is, do not pass on insults from parents to partner. “My mom said you were crappy in these 10 specific ways, but I love you anyway” can be “My parents are still being difficult about things, but you know I love you.” You don’t have to keep unpleasant things from your partner, and can share things that make you unhappy, but passing on insults second-hand? Not cool. That IS doing the mom’s work for her – she actively hopes that the LW will pass these things on so the relationship will be poisoned.

      1. I’m afraid I still don’t necessarily agree. It’s perfectly fine to just say they’re being difficult and not elaborate. But for me, personally, a fight with my parents over my boyfriend would be very stressful. I would want to confide in him and rant about the specifics – and I wouldn’t want to leave anything out. I can envisage a perfectly healthy conversation in which LW talks about what her parents have said and how that makes her unhappy and it’s clearly untrue, and the partner comforts her and they bond together over it, and maybe talk through some of the LW’s parents’ motivations together.

        Again, I’ve had some very difficult conversations with my boyfriend in which I’ve said things like, ‘I’m not capable of feeling any emotion towards you right now, including and especially love’ and ‘Sometimes I wish I was dead.’ Now maybe in some relationships saying those things would be too much of a burden on him. That’s okay too. But I don’t think, for our relationship, I did anything wrong by sharing the hurtful specifics.

        Of course the mom wants her to share them and ‘poison the relationship’. But sharing specifics DOES NOT have to equal poisoning the relationship. It’s your relationship and your rules, and if you feel like sharing specifics will help you and bond you together that’s fine, and if you feel like you should not share them, that is fine too. But don’t do or don’t share based on whether your mom wants you to. Do what you want to do.

        1. Ok…do what works for you! As the LW will do, if my advice does not work for her, because all advice is caveat emptor and you should only do what you think will work for you in your specific relationship of which I only know that you tell me and even then I may be incorrect. That’s what critical thinking is for.

          What I do suspect is that if you are passing on “My mom hates you, probably because you’re not handsome or successful enough for me” for four years eventually the message starts to feel like “You’re probably not handsome or successful enough for me, which is why I always tell you all the time when my mom says that stuff.” The mom’s work is done because the toxic message is getting delivered over and over. Even if you’re just venting.

          I think the LW will benefit from finding other people to “vent” that stuff to and give the partner a break from hearing all the poisonous shit that comes out of her family’s mouths, and I feel strongly that it might be damaging to keep passing that on. Trust me, he knows they don’t like him by now. Feel strongly the opposite, and argue it here, in the nice commentspace provided for you, and I will argue back, and the LW will make up her own mind.

          1. I’ve been the recipient of this kind of venting. (“So-and-so said ALL OF THESE TERRIBLE THINGS about you LISTS SPECIFIC TERRIBLE THINGS.” Um, thanks?? Now I feel like shit.) It did not help matters at all, and “venting” to me with the specifics actually made me feel horrible.

          2. Agree with Sheezlebub, I’ve also been on the receiving end of this from a close friend whose mom for some reason hated me, and it strained the hell out of our relationship for two years. No good. I did eventually fix my relationship with friend (but not his mom due to all kinds of things) by setting a firm boundary about how I was Done Discussing That.

          3. Agreed. My wife and I were in a LDR while I lived with my parents (for six months) and this exact scenario played out over and over and over. They said some incredibly racist shit that she KNEW I didn’t believe, but it burrowed into the back of her brain anyway, to the point where she had to tell me to tell her what had happened but without the specifics of what they’d said about her, so she could give me support without having to get the drip…drip…drip of poison in her ear that was driving her into days-long depression each time it blew up.

          4. I have some sympathy with wanting to share: my partner and I are each other’s primary vent outlet too. In addition I come from a close family of origin which is as it often is a mixed blessing: intimacy! But also sometimes lack of boundaries and lack of saying “OK, I’ve heard you out, I disagree, and we had best not speak of this any more.”

            However, in this case where it seems likely that there’s going to be long-term or maybe life-long difficulties with the partner-family interaction, I think I’d back well off on specifics too. Every time partner hears this stuff, it may reduce his ability to ever have a relationship with the family. And if this all goes well, perhaps he and LW will want him to be on at least cordial terms with them. That will go easier for him if the first thought in his mind whenever he sees a member of LW’s family isn’t “this is the person who just last week said that I am a [insult/slur]” but is perhaps “this is the person who probably still isn’t my biggest fan but I’m glad she can be nice for an entire meal now, progress!” or “hey, I didn’t know we had [thing] in common, at last, a safe topic!” or “actually, in a good mood she’s fun!”

            Obviously not everyone wants to be on selective-awareness terms with toxic family/friends/colleagues, but for various reasons sometimes people either want it or are forced to have it, and not seeking out or being forcibly exposed to every piece of toxic waste that anyone said is helpful.

            I’d definitely never pass on a written list of criticisms: too easy to re-read in all its painful refreshing glory. In fact, if I have a quibble with the Captain’s advice, it’s that if someone said to me “OK, give me all your criticisms of [person] and moreover I am taking notes” I’d absolutely refuse to do so, because of the chance that it will intentionally or otherwise be delivered into [person]’s hands, and I’d almost certainly suspect that I was being set up precisely for that to happen. Every time I’ve had anything to do with written material that someone in particular MUST NOT SEE, they see it.

          5. Sorry: just to be totally clear. I realise the Captain very much advised not showing the piece of paper to partner. I agree with that! No quibble there!

            My concern is that, if I were in the family’s position, I would read “I’m going to sit here and take notes while you criticise my partner” not as the open hearing of concerns that the Captain intends but as a hostile act on the part of LW: “I’m going to sit here and write all this down and no matter what I’ve just promised I’m showing it to him”, that is, as a very hostile situation. So, for the LW’s consideration: some people (well, me) regard “I am taking notes” as a somewhat dangerous statement. Consider whether your family is in that category, maybe.

    2. No no. Boundary #1 is “don’t share your FAMILY’S feelings with the partner.” Not the LW’s feelings, which are totally up for sharing.

      For example:
      LW Mom: OMG you cannot invite Boyfriend to Aunty Matriarch’s Special Event! He’ll get gross Boyfriend cooties on everything!

      The LW would omit the gross cooties thing. He knows LWMom doesn’t like him, so no need to rub it in. What would be shared is “We’re going to Aunty Matriarch’s Special Event, and Mom’s being all weird about it again. I feel shitty about that.”

      1. Oops, I replied before reading this. I’m afraid this comment also does not change my opinion of how I should treat problems in my relationship. My boyfriend and I share the specifics. Not every couple should do this, and it doesn’t make us better than any couple that doesn’t. But just because I do does not make me a burden on him; and my boyfriend would prefer me to share the specifics. I sense I’m repeating myself just a bit.

        1. You are repeating yourself. You share everything with your boyfriend. Me advising this LW to NOT do that is not invalidating your practices in your relationship that you get to decide how you run.

        2. I’m afraid this comment also does not change my opinion of how I should treat problems in my relationship.

          Except, the advice in the column isn’t directed at you and your unique situation, unless you are the LW, which doesn’t seem to be the case. Also it’s nice that that works for you but your particular practices may not work for others.

          1. Absolutely agreed. Sorry for any offence caused – wishing LW all the best with whatever they decide.

  6. You’re basically retraining your parents to realize that you can live with their disapproval but you can’t live with their rudeness and unkindness, and the price of treating you like crap around this is that you will talk to them less and be around less.

    This is so fucken brilliant and true. I wish I had learned it, oh, about twenty motherfucken years ago! (Although I finally did, a few years ago.)

  7. Does your partner want to go to these family events? It sounds like your family’s behavior towards him is unpleasant enough that he might prefer to avoid them. I would suggest a conversation with him about what he wants out of his relationship with your parents (because that’s a relationship too, even if it’s a strained one) before you arrange for him to spend more time with them.

    1. Good call. I think everyone could benefit from a round of “what is your best case scenario?”

      Even if the best case scenario is “Partner is graciously invited and he graciously accepts every 5th invitation!”

  8. My dad couldn’t stand the guy my sister was living with for 10 years and refused to acknowledge him except grudgingly, and they ended up moving far away. Then again, the situation was an extreme one. The guy was a drug dealer and didn’t work otherwise. My sister ended up paying most of the bills. In other words, Dad had a very valid reason to be upset. They did eventually split up, as my sister was tired of supporting him. Unfortunately, the emotional distance between my dad and sister lasted for a very long time.

    Your situation, LW, is different. However, what I am wondering is if your family has a high standing in the community and is well-respected. Are your parents set on some type of partially “arranged marriage” where they make the choice as to who’s best for you for marriage? An upstanding family in the community is in the spotlight, and in order to uphold the status quo, choosing the “right” person for their daughter could be very important for their own validation in the social milieu.

    Your parents seemingly don’t like your boyfriend because he’s not as good-looking as you and because he’s not working in a professional field. That right there speaks of some sort of status situation. Do you think they would be embarrassed for him to meet their friends and colleagues, not being as good-looking as they would like? Would the fact that he’s not the professional they want also embarrass them in front of others? Do they think that you won’t be taken care of in the marriage because he doesn’t make as much money as your parents would like him to make?

    I feel for you, I really do, LW, because it seems as if your family has closed the door on your boyfriend and is intent on creating havoc for you if you go against their wishes. And it’s curious that they don’t even tell you the real reasons they’re against your boyfriend.

    I think you’ve left some points out regarding your family’s background. What standing do they have in the community? Are they considered highly-respected professionals? Do you come from a well-off, comfortable family? How have your parents dealt with other boyfriends you’ve had in the past? Do they mention anyone they’d like you to marry rather than your boyfriend? What’s your boyfriend’s background like in terms of his family? Do they accept you readily? Is there a great disparity between your family and his family in terms of status?

    If you feel that your boyfriend is the best person for you, no doubts, then marry him, but be prepared to weather the wrath of your family. You have to be a very strong person in order to deal with the onslaught. Time and time again, I’ve heard of people who have married against their families’ wishes (I recall seeing a special about Howard Schultz, of Starbucks fame, and he said something to the effect that his father-in-law wasn’t happy with him at the outset of their marriage because he felt that Howard wouldn’t be able to support his daughter properly!), and the families turned around. It may have taken years, but they did it. And of course there are the families who turn their backs forever, which is sad.

    I think counseling would be in order for the both of you. Get the best person you can find. At some point I think issues that you’d not thought of before would come to light, and your boyfriend will get valuable insight also. You have to find the right therapist, though, as there are many who are either downright lousy or so-so.

    Good luck to you!!

  9. MAY I JUST SAY: I feel your pain, and ohhhhh, does it blow. My ex sign-oth was Foreign and Not A Doctor and Not a 6’2 White Model-Type, which were really three things too many for my mom. And our relationship, then, was (ostensibly) great! My mom’s and mine. But when I brought home this important person, from around the world, her response was, ‘This isn’t for…ever, is it? I mean he’s just so…’ *literal hand-waving*. OH, he’s just so (*hand-waving*)? How could I not have seen it?! Then she proceeded to be ridiculously rude to him, in her own home, and be rude about him to me thereafter. And I gotta say, it fucking worked. I mean, I was able to recognize her bullshit, but I still couldn’t stop the ‘but my mom hates him oh no!’ from creeping in. It took me a long time – and my mother’s reaction (2 years ago) to finally learning about my teenage sexual abuse from an authority figure, in which she mused about how “such great people can be flawed, I guess we’re all flawed” – for me to finally realize that my mother is terrible for me. She is not on my team, even a little, and she is no longer allowed knowledge of my private life.

    LW, have you heard of Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Your letter says it’s the whole family causing this problem, but you talk specifically only about your mom. If you ‘used to tell her everything’, and she is gleefully telling you that her dislike will poison this relationship that she disapproves of, I smell a rat. A narcissistic rat. I suggest you seek out some resources for daughters of narcissistic mothers; it is probably not only in this area that your mom is not on your team.

    1. My mom is on information lockdown for just the same reason. I hope it doesn’t have to come to that, but I am happier for cutting her out of my inner circle for sure. Hugs to the Duck-Billed!

      1. Oh, we’re still speaking (or, rather, we’re speaking again); it’s just about the weather, books, family members. Nothing of mine, anymore. But thank you for the hugs! Consider them reciprocated.

    2. Placelot, I was just starting to notice the similarities with my own narcissistic mother when I came to your comment. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here!

      Even though we (my mother and I) are by no means close, and haven’t been since, oh, long about puberty, she has hated all but one of my boyfriends, and has actively tried to poison my relationships. Oddly enough (actually, not so odd, considering), the only boyfriend she liked was the charming (but abusive) BPD/NPD ex. Birds of a feather and all that. She’s now on serious information lockdown – she knows next-to-nothing about my most recent relationship, including the fact that we split up a couple months ago.

      Sadly, my sister (the golden child) is so enmeshed in their “insanely close” relationship that she hasn’t even dated since elementary school – and has admitted to me that part of the reason is her concern about upsetting our mother. Which she’s right – our mother would feel hugely abandoned were my sister, her only real friend, to start a new life with someone else. But man is that unfair and cruel to sister. I’m trying to help encourage her to branch out more and be more independent, but I’m not around much and our mother is, so it’s like bailing water out of a leaking boat.

      So, LW, I’d do some googling on daughters of narcissistic mothers, and see if that doesn’t apply to your situation. It may be hard for you to see – from your letter, it sounds like you would be the golden child of this family, and golden children rarely see what’s going on. I’d recommend looking at your siblings and their relationships with your mother.

      Also, too, let me just reiterate CA’s excellent advice about boundaries. THIS: You’re basically retraining your parents to realize that you can live with their disapproval but you can’t live with their rudeness and unkindness, and the price of treating you like crap around this is that you will talk to them less and be around less is about the A-number one, most important piece of advice that can possibly be given to a child of a narcissist. They can’t/won’t listen or learn – the only chance you have at “retraining” them is by withdrawing the thing they want most: your time and emotional supply. This applies far beyond the specific situation given here. It can take a LONG time. I’ve been withdrawing from my mother for years, and she still manages to sneak in insulting barbs nearly every time I talk to her. But she’s far better than she was, and knows now to avoid certain topics altogether – it’s sinking in. So expect your mother will need a lot of time and boundary enforcement.

      Good luck!

    3. I get on pretty well with my folks and they are definitely not narcissists–they have issues like everyone else certainly, and are flawed, but are basically good people who truly do only want what’s best for their grown kids. Having said then, they (my entire family actually) are on information lockdown about a lot of stuff about my life. They do not need to know everything about my dating life, my social life, etc. The extent they’ll hear is “Last night? Oh, I went to a play with a friend,” or something like that. Part of this is because when it comes to dating, they’ve decided that I am A Totally Inept Woman When It Comes To Love And Always Make Bad Choices (because I have ended relationships that were unhappy, which means I cannot pick the “right” man? I cannot even). So I will tell them about guy I’m involved with once it becomes really serious (and kind of official–as in, we’re spending the holidays together now, etc.).

      I have actually found that not telling them anything besides the new recipe I tried or the latest book I read or what I’ll plant in my garden this year or a funny anecdote about a friend’s dog being chased by the neighborhood feral cat is the way to go. I will clue them in if there’s something big medically going on, like the biopsy I needed to get six months ago (and they were very supportive). And I love them, and they love me and mean well, but I just like having some distance. I used to think that I should tell them all sorts of things, that it would mean we had a good relationship, but I’ve come to realize that having my own space is much better for me–and it’s nice to not be judged by the yardstick they created for me when I was a lot younger.

    4. On a related note, here’s the sentence that pinged for me: “She also claims that as my mother, she knows me better than I know myself.” I’ve been on the receiving end of that one before, and it is so, so frustrating. It comes across as small-n narcissistic, if nothing else, i.e. smugly self-centered. And it seems like any response to that statement is a losing proposition; can’t really logic one’s way out of it, and letting it go means letting it stand, but arguing against it means it just hit a nerve. Ultimately, then, I like the Captain’s advice: stay calm, ask questions (use your words!), and set firm boundaries.

  10. I got a weird response from someone once in a similar situation – just wondering if it might apply. Do they think HE is the one who is eschewing marriage, and don’t know/believe that it is you who do not believe in it? It’s possible they are old-fashioned enough in that arena to think that if he hasn’t given you a ring, he’s not good enough for you. They may not get that you’re the one who is cool with boyfriend-forever. I may be WAY off, but I have been surprised by people who in every other way seem very progressive and in touch with “alternative” lifestyles, and then they think that I broke up with my ex-yahoos because “they wouldn’t marry me.”

    I hope that they give you real, truthful information and that it puts everyone in the path of more happiness and more honest and accepting togetherness, in whatever form that takes. Best of luck!

  11. Oh dear. My husband’s fam was only mildly distrustful of me at first and had he not gone into full-on Liz Lemon “shut it down” mode, it would not have lasted. I’m gonna go ahead and assume your dude is a good dude (otherwise cool family turning all shunn-y can be a red flag, but I’m operating under the assumption that they’re wrong about your partner). You chose a good dude, yes? Stand up for yourself, your decision making ability, and your partner.

    If you chose to be on his side, and your family chooses to be on yours, you’re all on the same side! If your family doesn’t want that, it was their decision, not yours.

  12. I think there’s just not enough in the LW’s letter to warrant any serious nitpicking about who is in the wrong and who’s in the right. We don’t know anything about the boyfriend except that he would “stop a bullet for her” which is hyperbole and says more about the LW than the boyfriend. As for him trying to move to be with her … there are plenty of reasons besides love he might be doing that. Maybe it’s because he loves her. Maybe it’s because his life is more comfortable with her than without her. My point is *we don’t know.*

    Now in my own experience, when everyone who knows and loves someone all unilaterally say that someone else is a massive mistake, there’s a good reason for it. It would be hard to think that all three members of LW’s family (not just the mom) have NPD – and I hate it when people diagnose personality disorders via the Internet; it’s extremely degrading to everyone. The LW wrote a *lot* more about her family than about her boyfriend and she says she loves them a lot. I can imagine how it must feel as the LW to see all these comments about how awful her family is.

    I know a guy in the same position as the LW. He loves his girlfriend and has been with her for 7 years now. *Everyone* else – his best friend from childhood, his entire family, everyone else in his social circle – hates his girlfriend. She’s not abusive. She really does love him. She tries to pay bills and do her fair share. But she had a habit of jumping into every conversation, invited or not, and turning it into a conversation about how she has more experience than anyone else at whatever the subject is, or about how the subject isn’t important if she doesn’t have experience in it, or how it must somehow relate to her, and then she dominates the conversation and she will not take a hint – so finally people just literally shut up and walk away from her. She’s not a *bad* person. She is just completely socially inept to an annoying degree, and you really don’t want to invite her to a party that’s meant to honor someone else (like, oh, birthdays or anniversaries).

    People can not like someone else – violently not like someone else – without there being any abuse or whatever involved. Sometimes the family and the partner are just really not a good fit.

    As for the mom’s comment about hatred poisoning the LW’s relationship – when I read it, I took it for a statement of the obvious, not as the mom trying to poison her daughter’s relationship. The mom knows how the daughter feels about the family and about the boyfriend and, frankly, she’s probably right.

    LW has no idea why the family hates him, so her assertion that their hatred is totally illogical doesn’t seem to have any factual basis, unless she left some stuff out. Perhaps it’s illogical – or perhaps they can’t put it in words, or perhaps they can’t say it in a way she’ll hear. Why has she never asked? Captain Awkward’s advice to listen with a pad of paper was great advice and I hope LW takes it.

    1. Thank you for this. It is possible that her family is abusive, or that they are not. It is possible that her boyfriend is wonderful, or that he is not. I have a strained and oddly formal relationship with my family sometimes, but my best friend was the one saying, “If you’re happy, fine, but I really don’t like that boyfriend of yours” all those years ago, and she was right but sometimes we really are not ready to hear things we don’t want to hear until we are, you know? The point is, though, she was right. So maybe there’s something they know that LW doesn’t, or maybe there’s something they THINK they know (like, as mentioned upthread, the fact that he won’t put a ring on it and she’s their little GIRL).

      1. You are right! We don’t know if her family is great, and she is being obtuse, but I nearly always pick Team Letter-Writer at the Captain’s House, because the people here are generally my people. But even without my pro-letter-writer bias, she writes a lot about her mom, and the things her mom says and does, and that she IS her sister’s bestie, she IS the apple of her dad’s eye, but she USED TO tell her mom everything. Also, you don’t need three people with NPD; a person with NPD tends to be the wind that steers the family ship.

        And I take some exception to the ‘extremely degrading’ remark. I don’t think it’s extremely degrading to tell someone that the actions of a certain person are actions that are familiar to me, particularly when those actions are the exact kind of insidious, controlling crap that makes you feel crazy until someone on the outside compares notes.

        1. I’m with the letter writer because she hasn’t mentioned any allegations of abuse or infidelity. She’s also being pretty specific about her mother’s complaints, and I don’t see any reference to, “We just care about you so much and want the best for you,” or, “You know we want to support you but….” Her mom sounds like a piece of work–at best, like someone incapable of handling her disapproval maturely, and at worst like a controlling and unpleasant person.

    2. You’re right, we don’t know, which is why there are a lot of “listen to why your family doesn’t like him and seriously consider it just in case” and lots of IF’s, etc. I have had friends and family who dated people who I just plain did not like–they were not abusive or mean or anything like that, just were annoying as all hell. But the difference is, I gritted my teeth and dealt with it because this is the person my friend/family member chose, they were happy, and I didn’t want to poison their relationship. LW’s mother is almost crowing about how the family’s hatred will poison the relationship. That is really hurtful, and that is a big red flag. It’s not degrading to point that out.

  13. I may have a different perspective here, as the partner my in-laws cannot abide. The strange thing for me now is that I don’t think it’s personal anymore, the way it was when we first started dating and I was “that slut” he was seeing (they were uncomfortable with their son being in a poly relationship). In a weird way it would probably be easier if it were personal, but now it’s more that I am categorically a person they would not have wanted their son to marry – I’m not white, I’m not straight, I’m way more liberal than they’d prefer, and I’m still not monogamous. So to my knowledge, they don’t say stuff to him about me, but they still hold that Asian people are untrustworthy and that gay people are probably pedophiles, and that’s the stuff they’ll say whether I’m around or not.

    The result of all this is that I don’t see them. I refuse. He takes our two children over there once a week or so to visit, and I don’t go. My plans for the holidays are to spend them with my family (i.e., my partner and my kids) and my parents, and he can go spend time with his if he’d like, but I’m not going to go. I worry, a lot, whether this will eventually poison our relationship, but for now this is what works for us – I don’t spend time with people who are toxic to me, and he doesn’t have to hear me rag on his parents for saying shit about people who don’t speak English. If your family keeps behaving with active dislike and hostility toward your partner, you may want to sit down and chat with him first to see whether he’s even interested in being in enemy territory, so to speak. If he is, then I definitely recommend the Captain’s advice; if he’s not, though, you might only have to set up the boundary where they don’t get to talk shit about the person you love.

    One caveat, this may mean you have to decide how much it’s worth it, to you, to him, and to your relationship to do the United Front thing for your families. And by that I mean, you know, if it’s really important to you that you two attend family functions together, that’s something you’ll have to take into account in the event that you want him to go and he doesn’t want to go. I come from a divorced, blended, and divorced-again family so the concept of going separate places for family functions isn’t strange or scary to me: it’s what I know. I can totally see, though, how that might not be the case for people who’re used to attending family things as a unit, in which case take all this with a grain of salt.

  14. Hey, LW, I hear you. Hoboy do I hear you.

    My parents were incredibly thrilled when I told them about my lesbian interracial long-distance relationship! No, really, thrilled LOTS! As in my mom passed out and my dad flipped out in his own quiet batshit way. And then months and months of spew that included how she was going to Provide for me, how she was going to Leave Me, you can’t even have Real Sex(TM) blah blah. Today, a year and a half later, they’re writing to her and skyping with us, if cautiously. It gets better, I guess?


    Totally seconding the Captain: DO NOT talk about the shit your family says to your partner. It hurts your relationship and your partner.

    Since your mother’s made it a Priority and a Contest to destroy your relationship, seriously consider going zero-shared-contact with them. Is making everyone spend time together worth the stress on your boyfriend and you?

    Also, as the Captain said, have you actually sat the family down and asked them why they don’t like the boyfriend? Are their critiques of him, of how he treats you or how you are with him? Not only does that make them feel listened to, it gives you valuable insight into what you might have to present to them to change their minds. (Not that I think that’ll help in this case: see my paragraph above.)

  15. I don’t have enough info about the LW to say she has a narcissistic mother, but the commenters seem to. I got SO MUCH out of Karyl McBride’s book Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers! I would love to take this opportunity to recommend it to anyone who even thinks they MIGHT have that in their lives. Anyway. Jedi hugs.

  16. Oops, I forgot that you don’t believe in marriage.

    The bottom line, I might add, is that this is YOUR life now, not your family’s. You’re being pulled in both directions, and you’ll need to make a decision as to which way to go at some point in the future. Personally, I would find out exactly why your family doesn’t approve of your boyfriend, every single reason. I think that’s the first step toward finding some definitive answers here. If the reasons are surface-type issues, not anything to do with his heart, mind, and spirit, then I think I would take a long look at your family and maybe take some time away from them. There’s a lot of potential for emotional growth here, and unfortunately emotional growth is rarely easy.

  17. Hey, LW! My folks were in a situation maybe like the one in which you and your boyfriend find yourselves, although they knew that it was because of my grandparents’ racism (and classism and some religious bias). I really wish you the best of luck with this and hope it’s something relatively minor – I think the Captain has given you some great advice for how to tackle it.

    The only thing I really want to add is that you can get through this. I didn’t necessarily see a lot of my extended family growing up because my folks were enforcing boundaries (we skipped a lot of family gatherings), but where things could be better, they got better. My grandparents and other extended family clearly had a hard time being nice, but they did it, because they wanted to see us. The training worked. (And my parents have had that much less drama over their almost 40 years together.)

  18. Letter Writer-

    I have been in your partner’s shoes. My in-laws used to HAAAATE me. I was not allowed to come over and when I went with my partner to his grandmother’s funeral, half of his family was incredibly pissed at me. Because god forbid I support my partner in his grief. I probably would have been kicked out if they hadn’t wanted to Make a Scene.

    Part of it was because we were Living in Sin. I think part of it was that I was not that easy to manipulate. She started a fight between him an an ex when she gave the ex a list of porn sites he visited. That shit wouldn’t work on me even if I *did* care whether or not he watched porn. (I don’t.)

    Where his mother went the family went, and I was unwelcome. So Greg made it clear that if I wasn’t invited, he wasn’t coming over, and we spent a year or so not talking to them at all.

    Things got better, and I get along with his family fine now. But we had to spend a year making it clear that we came as a set.

    I’m going to nth the Captain’s recommendations that you NOT pass on the horrible shit your folks say about your partner, because having been in those shoes it really really sucks to hear all that crap.

  19. If I may highlight one specific bit of the Captain’s excellent advice:

    Can you tell me, as completely and honestly as you can, what your worries and objections are?“</em

    There are a lot of possible scenarios, and the LW didn’t include many details.

    It could be that the LW comes from a higher-class family, where there are concerns about marriage and social standing…

    It could be that the LW comes from a family with a strong religious tradition, and an “outsider” might not be welcomed by the family or the community…

    Setting aside possible forms of general bigotry, it could be that the LW’s mother is a narcissist. Or the lesser form of “he’s taking her away from us” separation anxiety that the LW avoided growing up.

    The problem is that without knowing those details (and the LW may not know them either) it’s hard to move forward.

  20. I could not relax into my role as “hated spouse” (my motto: “better to offend with my absence than with my presence”) until I understood why they hated me. There was an interval (which I found retrospectively humiliating) between the airing of grievances and me knowing there were details to be had, but once I knew there was something to ferret out, I did not rest until I found it, talked it over with my therapist, and generally digested the matter. I think I would have found it easier if I had been processing it in step with my husband, rather than long after the fact.

    Now, it does turn out for me that there’s nothing particularly ego bruising in their dislike for me; the truth is easier than the speculation. I think the soundness of the plan depends on whether the LW’s boyfriend is content with a very passive role. I wasn’t. Beware of acquiring a secret that you can’t keep.

    1. I think it definitely depends on LW’s relationship, the family’s concerns, and the partner.

      Here’s my take: When Friend (see above — his mom hated me) told me why his mom hated me, it seemed like it was an easily-resolved matter (she thought I said something I have no recollection of saying and wouldn’t say ever anyway). I apologized, but then all of a sudden, the goalposts moved. An apology wasn’t good enough, she had to have coffee to “discuss,” and then the story suddenly changed from something someone else heard me say to something *she* heard me say. After the goalposts moved enough I realized nothing I could do would change things, so I explained to Friend that we were Done Discussing It, and that I would not make further humiliating attempts to fix things with his mom, and we could all deal and move on. I run into her sometimes at the store, and we are polite and friendly, but I am not coming over to their house while Friend is in town anymore.

  21. LW,
    I am sorry you are going through this. I have never been in this situation, but my parents married without their families approval-my maternal Grandmother did not attend the wedding. This is where my perspective might be useful. I think what the Captain is saying is really sound advice and this is a problem/decision you should face sooner rather then later.

    I know you don’t believe in marriage but one thing to consider is whether you plan to have children with this person. As a person who went through this situation, I can tell you that it is hard on the children, very hard. It seems that, like my Mother’s family, your family has no qualms about making their dislike of your partner obvious and public. Children hear EVERYTHING, so on the family events, at which my Dad was not welcomed, I would hear my Mother’s family say horrible things about my Dad. This made me resent my Dad because he was not as awesome as all my cousins’ parents who went to all the activities AND it made me believe that my Dad was not that great for many years. Have you ever heard how kids defend themselves when bullied? They say ‘well my Dad/Mom is (somehow better) than your Dad/mom!’- that is the basis for a child’s self-esteem. My mother’s family took that away from me and it caused low self-esteem until I was old enough to realize they were wrong about my Dad and they were mean to my mother by constantly badgering her and cruel by saying those things in front of us. Needless to say that my siblings and I are not at all close to her family.
    My point is, that when you say “how it will feel for him the rest of his life”, if you actually allow this to continue, it is not just him that will be affected for the rest of his life, but it will also affect your future off-springs (again, if you want any). If like you say, he is your life partner, then you have to make him the core/nucleus/priority of your family life- that is why your spouse and children are called nuclear family and Grandparents, siblings, Aunts and Uncles are extended family.

  22. Letter Writer here – thanks for the great advice, and to everyone else for all the great comments.

    In my desperate haste to write the letter (I had just gotten in yet another terrible fight with my mom) I left some stuff out and worded my letter pretty badly. I know why they don’t like him – they acknowledge that he is a perfectly nice person but they just don’t think he’s “right” for me. Which, in WASP speak, boils down to “he’s fat and has tattoos and isn’t a doctor.” I’m not saying those are the only issues, but they’re the main ones. I talk about my mother more than the rest of the family because I’m closest with my mother, and because she’s sort of the de facto leader – she has a very strong personality and my father and sister tend to fall in line with her.

    I’ve tried establishing boundaries before, but always gave up when something important was coming around (Thanksgiving, Christmas, a birthday) that I didn’t want to miss. Sometimes I fly off the handle and don’t speak to them for a month, sometimes I’m so desperate for everything to be OK that I roll my eyes and ignore the comments. It’s difficult for me to “choose” my partner by not going to family events, because I end up miserable and missing them. It’s impossible not to feel upset about it, and then he feels bad, when it’s obviously not his fault.

    Anyway – I am going to try sitting down and talking to them one last time, and I’m going to follow the advice about not sharing the specifics with him – in the past, this is a mistake I’ve made, and I know it’s made things worse for him.

    Thank you again!

    1. Hi LW!

      Setting boundaries with family around holidays, visits, etc. is very painful and feels like you’re only punishing yourself, but I promise (I promise!) the world won’t end if you skip Christmas one year. I really encourage you to talk to some kind of counselor (to get someone else, as we say around here, on Team You), and second the recommendation upthread to check out “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” by Karyl McBride. A mom who will cause you nastiness and pain to get her way may love you but is pretty far out of line here.

      1. LW, if you do decide to skip Christmas with the family one year to make your point, be sure to do something really amazingly fun with your boyfriend that day so it’s not a sad substitute for your usual family Christmas but something wonderful and different.

        1. Yes, echoing this! I have a big, mostly very close family (both nuclear and extended) that I’ve had to be apart from for holidays and birthdays and such a number of times over the years, both because of practical school and work related reasons and because of some more fraught, “we hate your SO and are (temporarily) disowning you” reasons. Sometimes it was lovely and sometimes it was terrible, and it was almost universally terrible when I didn’t have anything fun and special and comforting to replace the usual festivities with and was lovely when I managed a balance of make-shift versions of family traditions and making new traditions of my own.

    2. Hi LW,

      Jedi hugs if you want them.
      Your family dynamic sounds similar to mine (dominant personality of the mother), and after a really bad conversation in college where I told my mom details and she disapproved of everything and I cried for two hours, I actually ended up not having a phone for about a year in order to only talk to my parents (mom) when I felt like it.

      It’s still hard sometimes, since she’ll act nice for a while, and then I’m lulled into a false sense of security and confide in her and it turns out bad. (She’s not being evil, it’s just that sometimes she feels one way, and sometimes another, and I have trouble remembering that)

      There shouldn’t be big holidays for a while, maybe you can make non-family-visit plans until X amount of time from now, during which you practice some separation from your family, giving less details about your life and thus less opportunities for them to criticize and disapprove of things. This is really hard if you’re used to telling them (her) everything. In my opinion, though, it’s necessary to do in order to be a separate person rather than continuing to be an appendage of your mother.

    3. I could have written your letter and this response in the past. My mother’s (and my father and brother followed along) dislike of my partner was poison and eventually it did assist in destroying our relationship. I had to go through years of therapy afterward to understand what happened and to be able to set real boundaries with my mother. It was super hard and I did have to spend one Christmas away from my family, but it did change once I did that. The Christmas was finally what made her realize that I was not going to put up with her stepping all over my boundaries (she threatened all kinds of dire things to try to get me to change my mind). I now don’t tell my mother much of what goes on in my personal life, I have limited how often we talk and that does make me sad, but her critical nature and over-investment in everything about my life was really damaging. I know she acts from a place of love, even though her version of love is not the same as mine. I think CA’s advice is great. I wish I’d had it in my situation and I second her recommendation to get a professional therapist in your corner. This is incredibly tough stuff but it is so important to deal with it before it destroys something important to you. My brother is going through the same thing with my mother now. She doesn’t like his live-in girlfriend and she was pretty successful at poisoning the rest of the family to her. I’ve tried to run some interference for them but it’s not been easy and I know it is taking a toll on them. I haven’t been in a serious relationship since I set up these boundaries but I hope once I am that things will be different for me and my partner. Good luck to you and your fantastic, fat, tattooed love! I hope your story ends differently than mine did.

  23. I don’t think anyone has said this yet: have you explicitly communicated to your family that you consider your boyfriend to be your life partner? Because you aren’t marrying, they could be holding out hope that this is a “just for now” relationship. They need to know that you are every bit as committed as if you were married. If your Mum thinks marrying him would be the biggest mistake you could make, she needs to know that, in your heart, you’ve already made that “mistake”.  It sounds like your family is locked in the “denial” phase of dealing with this. You’ll need to get them past that if they are ever to arrive at “acceptance”.

    1. There’s really a whole topic here. Would you marry him if gay marriage were available in your state? If you were diagnosed with a terminal illness, and needed to ensure that he could not be banned from your bedside? If you were pregnant with his child? Would an iron-clad prenup change the situation? Have you written a will, so that he will inherit from you? Is he fidgeting to get married? Why or why not?

      While there’s protections that can only be accomplished with civil marriage, there’s others that can be worked around with planning and lawyers. (You’ll find a coherent analysis among gay marriage advocates.) If you have really and truly managed everything except civil marriage by way of protections, then that should be on the table with your family, and your partner should be accepting the remaining risks knowingly.

  24. Yeah, I’m someone on the other side of the fence on this one too. My mother-in-law has a big issue with my weight. (It’s silly, I don’t think there’s anything else, but that’s definitely what she fixates on.) She’s actually perfectly polite to my face (she’s British, that’s what they do), and I haven’t been in the family long enough for her to be rude to my face. She is often rude to my partner to his face though. It gets really tedious. Tedious enough that my partner would be more than happy to cut her out forever. (So again, it’s a bit different, as he wasn’t close to his family as LW is). So finally he just told her, “Look, I understand what you’re saying, but if you want me to be a part of your life, you need to be civil and stop saying rude things when we’re visiting.”

    Surprisingly, she’s actually pleasant to be around these days. I’m hoping that she took what he said to heart and is actually trying harder because she wants us (or at least him) to be around more. So every few months we put in our family duties and visit them.

    Luckily, my family (who I am insanely close with) are totally in love with my British partner, so they are always quite excited to see us and have us visit. And he likes them, so he’s more than willing to spend every Christmas with them.

    Good luck LW, but definitely find out what it is that they dislike. I don’t have any knowledge about your relationship, but after my last relationship ended, I started learning a bit more about what my then partner was like, and I didn’t like it. It turns out, a lot of people had seen that side of him, and they didn’t like it either, but they were too nice in telling me. They didn’t think we were a perfect fit, but saw how happy I was that they didn’t want to say anything negative. I kind of wish they did, but I probably wouldn’t have been willing to listen either.

  25. My recent ex and I had this problem with my mom. My mom’s main complaint was that she was too old for me, so she would take me away from my proper college experience and pressure me into having kids before I was ready. I’ve always been the good child so while I stood up for my partner (whom I expected to marry) whenever I could, mediating between my mom and my partner was hugely stressful for me. Two strong women who each wanted me to do the exact opposite in most cases? Nightmare. I never said anything negative about my partner to my mother, but I did share some of the negative things my mom was saying with my partner, and the fact that my mom was polite to her face and nasty behind her back did upset my partner deeply. I don’t advocate hiding things from one’s partner generally but I do think not sharing specifics might have helped the situation.

    The horrible part now is that after we broke up for completely different reasons (not going to say this dynamic wasn’t a factor but it was low on the list), I went back to live with my parents. My relationship with my mom hasn’t really changed that I can see, but I worry she thinks that she “won” because she waited my partner out and now I’m back in the fold.

  26. My sister has taken up with a string of men whom we (my large and odd blended family) ALL thought were horrible ideas. But we loved her more than anything, and wanted to support her, so we helped throw the wedding, were in the bridal party, were polite to him and his family, invited them both to all the family functions. After she made it clear that he was her choice, we supported her down the line, and never said a thing against him. When it all came crashing down, we helped her move, babysat her little girl, helped her move again, and my mother helped pay for the divorce. Now she lives far away, and is on the 3rd or 4th bad idea guy, but we are always polite to them when it comes up.

    Contrast this to her father, who was awful about the whole thing, and basically cut his daughter out of his life for getting married. He hasn’t seen his granddaughter in years, and doesn’t talk to his daughter (his choice, not hers).

    So, something is up with LW’s family. Loving someone means, at the least, being polite to the people they love. Doing otherwise says more about who the family is than who the partner is, in this case.

    Just my 2 cents.

  27. I have a similar situation with my family although I’m a bit older than the letter writer and my family isn’t “insanely close”. No, my family consists of an extremely controlling and abusive father and an extremely co-dependent mother. They started out liking my husband (then boyfriend) and after about a year just up and decided that he was “rude” to them. My father has a history of alienating everyone in his life and then of course it is always the fault of the other person. Everyone always wrongs him in some way. My husband (BF at the time) actually tried to figure out what he could have possibly done to make my father so angry and even went so far as to call him and try to have an honest discussion with him…you know, air out grievances and move on. No go. Things got more and more tense and really blew up when we got engaged. My father basically looked at me like I was a piece of garbage and asked how I could possibly think he’d be happy about my getting married. So…..long story short, that was the last time I spoke with my father. That was a little over a year ago. I’ve since gotten married (without either of my parents attending) and we are now expecting our first child. And neither parent is welcome in this child’s life (not that they’ve expressed any interest in being in his/her life). This whole process was very painful, but also a big relief. The family I’ve created for myself is much happier and more supportive than the one I was born into ever was.

  28. Part of the boundary setting conversation can be: “You’re being awful to him and about him. I assume you’re doing that because you believe it will make me want to be with him less. Actually, what it does is make we want to be with YOU less. Because being with you is now stressful and unpleasant, since I’m just waiting for you to say or do something rotten and hurtful again. Being with HIM, on the other hand, is lovely, because he is good to me, and he has better things to do with me than talk trash about you. Stop trying to make me choose, because when I choose you lose.”

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