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Carolyn Hax: Feeling lost while living with girlfriend’s parents

(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend and I are in our mid-20s and have lived together for almost three years. Her parents used to live hours away and we only saw them on holidays. They retired last year, sold their house and had been spending this year traveling. They had nowhere to go in the pandemic, so they moved in with us in our small two-bedroom house.

I feel this has given me insight into what my future will look like if I marry my girlfriend. My girlfriend is an only child and her parents are so overbearing. They think we know nothing and should consult them on everything. Our life used to be so happy, but her parents have made me miserable. I've been shut out of any say in my own home, about groceries, cleaning, laundry, etc.

They think they're being so helpful, and so does my girlfriend, while we're both working from home. But my life has been put under a microscope, they treat me like a child, and I hate it. I'm starting to think my girlfriend and I should go our separate ways when this is all over.

I haven't told anyone because my family and friends love her so much. Am I overreacting? I don't have the money to move out. I feel lost.

— Lost

Lost: You have my sincerest condolences on the loss of your comfortable home and happy equilibrium.

Your welcoming your girlfriend’s parents was an act of generosity, and they thanked you with a household takeover involving about four different boundary violations.

I hope you can see this collapse, though, as the gift it is.

For a happy partnership, you and your girlfriend must be able to talk about difficult things.

And to find agreement on basic principles.

And to find peace when you disagree on important things — or, of course, to break up civilly when those things are too important to disagree on.

And you need to be able to form a healthy enough unit together to withstand unhealthy pressure from the outside, be it from loved ones, your environment, your jobs, whatever else.

So here’s your test of your own boundaries and of your relationship’s long-term viability, both in the form of these houseguests from your own personal hell.

First, your boundaries: As was your prerogative and responsibility from the beginning, kindly refuse or stand up to treatment that annoys you. Be the adult you want them to acknowledge and respect.

Alternately, in the interest of being thorough: Recall they’ve spent three years not intruding, and know if they were truly overbearing, they’d have smothered you from anywhere and everywhere. Then, embrace this cramped coexistence as exceptional and temporary, and release all judgments, expectations and resentments of them.

Do this only if you can do so genuinely and kindly, though.

Second, your relationship: Tell your girlfriend how frustrated you feel.

This line-drawing will either be the end you’re prepared for it to be, or the beginning of a stronger, more evolved partnership. If you and she can come up with and present a kindly unified front, then you, not they, will determine “what my future will look like” — as long as her folks don’t send you Wile E. Coyote-ing through the nearest exterior wall.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.

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