Carolyn Hax: Keeping the peace with her parents over boyfriend

Carolyn Hax
Columnist September 5, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My boyfriend and I have a running disagreement over how I handle my parents. They don’t like him and take out all their dislike on me. My boyfriend thinks the situation will get better if I only talk about him more. To me, their dislike ties into some deep-seated prejudices, and nothing I say or do will change that, so I severely limit what I say about him, so I can at least keep up a reasonably good relationship with them otherwise.

But this upsets my boyfriend, because he thinks I’m not standing up for him and sticking my head in the sand. What can I do? I feel like I’m stuck between two people, neither of whom trusts my judgment about how to handle relationships.

Parents vs. Boyfriend


So, what about that — why are you trying so hard to remain close to people who don’t respect your judgment?

I realize I don’t have much information, but it does seem possible you’ve re-created your family’s emotional comfort zone (a.k.a. rut) in your relationship. And that it might be time to try to create a new one.

Re: Parents vs. Boyfriend:

I think the boyfriend has a point. There is no way to break down prejudices if people are never exposed to the good stuff about those they arbitrarily dislike. Let your parents get to know him better. There’s no guarantee they will see him for the human being he is. But if they never are allowed to get to know him, nothing will ever change.

Anonymous

The boyfriend has a point, and you defend it well.

Not even being right, however, is grounds to keep pressuring someone to behave your way. The “running disagreement” is problematic; why doesn’t the boyfriend in this scenario just say to his girlfriend, “You know what? I’m tired of your not standing up for me” and break up.

In other words, it still appears that the letter writer is trying to appease two sets of people who think it’s okay to try to change her. Her true self needs to stand up.

Carolyn:

It just killed me the last time we had an open fight about this. Killed me. I was quite literally depressed for months. Much as I would like to shrug off my parents’ crazy, I can’t; I’m very sensitive to things (not just this, not just them). But I love them very much, and I like them a lot other than this, and they’ve been my best friends for the better part of 25 years, and I’d rather keep up the boundaries than lose everything.

Parents vs. Boyfriend again

Am I reading this correctly — depressed for months because you fought with your parents?

If so, then I am going to recommend therapy, not because you want “to keep up the boundaries” with your parents, but because there don’t seem to be enough boundaries among you all — or enough understanding of them.

Which is a surprisingly common situation. Boundaries are generally learned at home, in your most formative relationships, and if your parents don’t understand them (which seems to be the case), then how can they teach them? It makes sense to enlist a “tutor” to fill in gaps.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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