Q. I’ve been with my boyfriend for nine months and we’re in our mid-20s. He is fantastic, we have so much fun, and I love him very much. From the beginning, I knew his family was extremely important to him. He lost a close relative a few years ago, and his family has struggled a lot since then. It also brought them all closer together, including his more distant family, like aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.
He lives with his sister and they are VERY close. Like closer than any siblings I know. They live together, are best friends, and inseparable. I also love his sister, but have had run-ins with her about the time he spends with me cutting into their family time together. I try very hard to be conscious of the time he wants/needs with family, but recently it has felt threatening. His sister said to me that I shouldn’t speak up against his extended family when they said controversial things because I haven’t been around long enough yet.
It didn’t feel so harsh in the moment, but when I got home and thought about it, that hurt me. I know that he loves me, but sometimes I feel like I have to stifle my thoughts or comments because of his family, out of fear that their opinion of me could have negative consequences for our relationship. I’m not sure how to address this with my boyfriend or whether this is something I should brush off and see as something I have to deal with. Thank you!
A. Have you talked to your boyfriend about any of this?
Ask him if he’s happy with the balance between you and family. Then ask how he feels about you speaking up.
Assuming he can be real with you, his answers will reveal whether this is his problem or his sister’s. If he says, “Speak up, be yourself,” you’ll know he’s not concerned. If he says, “I see my family a ton; I love time alone with you too,” you’ll know you’re on the same page.
At that point, though, you’ll have to consider how best to communicate with his sister — because this is her problem. Or maybe she speaks on behalf of the rest of the family. When she complains about time, it might be best to say, “Maybe this is something to talk to [boyfriend] about.” Because it is.
This family has been through a lot, so it’s complicated. If his sister gives you unsolicited advice, you can always say a polite “thank you” and move on.
I do think his sister might get used to a new normal over time. The comment she made about you not being around long enough yet … that might represent her own feelings. After a year, things might change.
As you continue this relationship, consider whether you’re getting what you need. You want your own life with your boyfriend, where alone time isn’t judged, and you’re the center of attention, without an audience. If that’s not how things work, especially after a year or so, this might not be a great fit.
“He lives with his sister and they are VERY close. Like closer than any siblings I know.” That’s a deal-breaker for most people. Can’t you find someone able to function independently, who isn’t thrown for a loop at the loss of a close relative?
^Yes, for the entire clan to be such a mess a few years after the relative passed is unfortunate and also strange, in my opinion. Life has to go on after a loss and should. That is not disrespectful to the person who passed.
Part of the reason I got divorced was this — my ex and I were fine in the beginning, I thought, but when we got married suddenly everything was about and with his family. He never wanted to do anything with me and our daughter alone. Couple that with money issues and our relationship completely tanked.
While their grief may be a factor in their behavior, there’s an underlying dynamic that must have been present before that. We lost a family member under terrible circumstances a few years ago, and it brought us closer, but it also caused us to appreciate all relationships in our lives and let more people in. I guess another reaction to incredible grief is becoming completely insular, but that depends on the preexisting temperament of the whole family I think. You’re young and only nine months in. I think this is the point where you decide whether you can tolerate this dynamic or if you’d like to find a partner whose family is more open and welcoming.
You can absolutely let your boyfriend know how you feel, but if he sees no problem with their behavior, I’d suggest you walk away. This dynamic isn’t going to change.
So, you’ve happened upon a family of tomcats, marking their territory against all foreign enemies. This won’t change unless your boyfriend stands up for you. That’s unlikely in your mid-20s. Take care of #1.
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