Dear Wendy: “I Can’t Stand My Boyfriend’s Parents”

My boyfriend and I have been dating for two years, and both just graduated from college. Although I love him dearly and very much want to be with him, I can’t stand his overbearing and controlling parents. They don’t view my boyfriend as an adult whatsoever, and he’s too scared to stand up and say anything because his family is very wealthy and he doesn’t want to be cut off. While his parents aren’t very nice to me, they’re even worse to their son. His dad is verbally and emotionally abusive to all of his brothers, as well as his mom. (My boyfriend has also shared stories of physical abuse, even in recent times!) I had plans to visit my boyfriend this summer, but after a bad experience with his family during his graduation, I’m having seconds thoughts. I don’t want to feel like I’m walking on eggshells and controlled by his family for a week or two — especially when a plane ticket would cost me $800. In fact, whenever I have visited in the past, his parents don’t let us go out by ourselves — not even for dinner or to the movies! When I told my boyfriend how I feel about this, he got mad and said I was asking too much. I’m worried that if I stick it out with him, this will always be a problem and he’ll never put his foot down and say “enough is enough” and set some boundaries. What do I do? — Family Ties

I know your boyfriend is 22 and just graduated from college and you — and probably he — would like to think of him as an adult, but the truth is if he’s living at home and is still financially dependent on his family, he’s not really living as a grown-up. For as many faults as his parents may have — and certainly, if they’re emotionally, verbally and physically abusive, they have a few — your boyfriend is the one to blame here. He’s not a kid anymore; he doesn’t have to put up with their crap. At this point, it’s a choice for him. He’s choosing to trade his independence for financial security. And from what you’ve said in your letter, it doesn’t sound like he’s interested in a different life. He’s resolved this is the way it’s going to be and he’s OK with that. The only person who isn’t is you.

So, if you have a problem with the situation and the situation isn’t going to change if the people in it aren’t interested in changing it, the best thing for you to do is distance yourself from it. In the short-term, that means not visiting a household where you’re going to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Maybe your boyfriend can come see you instead, but something tells me he probably doesn’t have his own money to buy a ticket and his parents aren’t going to be interested in footing the bill. If that’s the case, I’d definitely think long and hard about what sort of relationship you can maintain with someone who: A) lives far enough away that it costs $800 to see him, and B) can’t cut the apron strings from his controlling parents. If things are this bad now, you better believe they’re going to be a heck of a lot worse if you marry into that family and mother grandchildren to your boyfriend’s crazy parents. I say run.

Three years ago, my boyfriend and I got engaged after having been together for only three months. We broke up not long after, as my boyfriend had recently been diagnosed with clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after living in Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein, until coming to the U.S. in 2005. He felt that he needed some time and space to move forward with his treatment and focus on himself, but made it very clear he still loved me and always would. About four months later, once he was in treatment that seemed to be helping, he told me that he was interested in being a couple again, if I was willing to take him back. I was, as I love him very much, and we have been back together for over a year. We have discussed our future extensively, and we fully intend to marry, but haven’t set a date yet. We realized how fast we moved at first, and are trying to spend this time just enjoying our relationship and really getting to know each other. My problem is with my family’s reaction to this. Since my boyfriend was the one who initiated the breakup, they think I’ve pressured him into getting back together with me. They don’t believe me when I say that it turns out I’m not in as big a hurry as I thought to be married (my boyfriend is 32, but I’m only 25). Because my boyfriend is an Iraqi Muslim, he is very different from my white, Christian family, and he was very skeptically received by them for a long time. I feel that this colors their view of our current decision to put off marrying for awhile — they are a little prejudiced to begin with, and now they think he is using me. I don’t mind what they think, except for when they lecture me about how they feel I’m wasting my life on someone who doesn’t really want to be with me. I am in a good career, am debt-free, and am happy with my life, so I resent the idea that I am wasting anything. Is there anything I can do to shut off this constant stream of criticism? — Exasperated

Until you and your boyfriend are happily married and your parents are finally convinced his love for you in genuine, there probably isn’t much you can do to shut off their “constant stream of criticism.” The good news is you don’t have to listen to it. The next time you’re talking with your parents and they start their complaining, tell them, “You’ve made your opinion of X known and while I respect your right to feel what you want about him, it’s not going to affect how I feel about him. I love this man and he loves me. We’re happy, and I’m not going to listen to you put him down anymore. When you say those things about him, it hurts me deeply and makes me not want to be around you.” And then tell them firmly that in the future, anytime they start saying negative things about your boyfriend, you’re going to hang up the phone/go home/ask them to leave. Explain that it isn’t because you don’t love them, but because you love your boyfriend enough to not listen to put-downs about him anymore. I imagine you’d feel the same if it were your boyfriend always criticizing your parents.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at {encode=”[email protected]” title=”[email protected]”}.