Sep 2, 2021, 10:30:39 PM9/2/21
For The Washington Post)
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By Carolyn Hax
Yesterday at 12:00 a.m. EDT
Carolyn Hax is away. The following first appeared June 17, 2007.
Dear Carolyn: What do you do when your father and stepmother adamantly
refuse any acknowledgment of, or contact with, your significant other,
because in their paraphrased words, they think she is wrong for you and
therefore refuse to show approval of the relationship?
My girlfriend is wonderful; she is a partner in every way, and I
respect, admire and am in love with her. Even if my father and
stepmother's objections were what I'd call reasonable — my girlfriend
was unkind to them or to me, prone to fits of psychotic rage, into Kenny
G — I'd find their boycott to be a far less than mature and reasoned way
to handle the situation.
Their objections, however, are that my girlfriend is “heavy” and this
somehow means problems in later life, that she is overbearing, and that
when my stepmother sent her a Christmas decoration last year, my
girlfriend thanked her in a subsequent card rather than sending a
specific thank-you note. I am not making this up.
My gut is that the core issue is my stepmother's tendency to try to
control situations and relationships — which I've seen over the years in
other contexts, including her own family, from which she has been
essentially estranged for the past three years.
To my 38-year-old self, this is insane and unacceptable. How do you
proceed in a case like this, lovingly yet firmly, when your father
asserts nothing but unconditional acceptance of his wife’s absurd demands?
— Within the Beltway
Within the Beltway: You assert nothing but unconditional support for
your freedom to think for yourself. And for your girlfriend’s dignity,
but in a way that’s secondary.
You need to establish your independence from their approval. When your
dad and stepmother invite you sans mate, explain to them that it will be
your pleasure to spend time with them, but you won't insult your
girlfriend to do it. They can then choose to include her or exclude you
And when you'd like them to visit you and your girlfriend, invite them
to visit you and your girlfriend. They can then choose to accept or decline.
In other words, you proceed in such a manner that puts the
responsibility for their next familial estrangement precisely where it
belongs. If you were to choose, lovingly but firmly, to stop seeing them
until they accept your girlfriend, then you'd grant them the right to
say that you severed ties with your dad.
This will make it tougher on you. It's for a good cause, though, because
if you choose to welcome them into your life on your terms, then it
forces them either to accept your terms or own their cruelty, again and
again, every time they say no.
Maybe even more important, it will leave open the possibility of dad
coming alone. Wishful thinking, but still. Principles may be all we
have, but it should remain a last resort to lose a father to one.
If they mistreat your girlfriend to her face, though? You’re gone. No
cause is worth putting her through that.
This story has been updated.
Updated June 28, 2021
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