Potential in-laws with a controlling bent

Columnist December 7, 2011

Hi, Carolyn!

So, my boyfriend of three years and I have discussed engagement, but now I am struggling with a recent family mess. My boyfriend’s car was totaled, and instantly his parents — who live several hours away — were heavily involved. They wanted him to buy his car back from insurance, take the money and fix it up.

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

While I disagreed, I worked really hard to express my thoughts respectfully and not pressure anyone. My boyfriend said he was going to buy the car back and that despite his parents’ pressure, which he complained about, it was his idea.

His family suddenly said buying the car back was a bad idea. Then, suddenly, he changed his mind.

The car is his deal. But it makes me worry how they might influence his big life decisions in the future, when they are our decisions. The near-constant calls and texts pushing his parents’ opinions are too much. His family barely communicates without yelling, and his relationship with them bleeds into our home life. How do I learn to manage it? It isn’t like I can make them change.

Car Clash

Nope, you can’t.

But you can ask your boyfriend how he perceives his parents’ involvement.

And, you can listen carefully for accountability vs. dismissiveness.

And, if his response doesn’t inspire confidence, or if he asks your opinion — so simple yet so important — you can explain how you see it: as bullying by them, as disrespectful of him, as stressful for you, as a problem in your (possible) future together.

And, you can gently challenge any rationalizations.

And, from this exchange, you can project his maturity, his willingness to face tough challenges.

And, you can use these projections to inform your decision on marriage.

These don’t add up to the perfect parental remedy — a Butt-Out Fogger has yet to be invented — but it does give you all the resources you need to keep your boyfriend’s parents from ever holding your strings.

Hi, Carolyn:

I have a friend who expressed his affections a few months ago. I revealed to him that I’m lesbian and have a girlfriend, but would still like to hang out with him and our common work friends. Since then we’ve had a good time at happy hours, karaoke and office outings.

He is a devout Catholic, and he has been talking to me (in private) about how my homosexuality is a sin. I’m not hard-core, but I’m not casual about my faith, either. I engaged him at first, told him both my faith and my relationship matter, and that I’m trying to reconcile both. But I have been feeling burned out with the topic after a few rounds of it. What is a good way to say “enough”? Should I unfriend him?

V.

Many would “unfriend” without asking me first, or him.

But, then, that’s not you. You chose to engage, to try, to ask. So, your “good way to say ‘enough’ ” will likewise reflect who you are. Before you quit, offer a last chance: “You’ve made your point, thanks. Here’s mine: If you can’t accept me as I am, then please tell me now so we can both stop trying to change each other.” If that fails, then part ways using your own word. “Enough” says it all.

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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