Family tension

My parents hate my boyfriend. We'll call him "B." Just to give you an idea where I stand on the issue: he and I have been together for several years now (since I was about 19), and I'm really happy with our relationship. He's easy to talk to, interesting, thoughtful, smart, attractive, can make me laugh about anything, and he values the same things in life that I do. His degree will be in an engineering field that will make it easy enough for him to find work. I have no desire to "get out there" and date other people even though this is only my third relationship. We've lived together in the past, and we're moving in together again in a few months. Until then, though, I'm living with my parents in a different city. (I've considered moving in with him now, but I do actually like my parents, and my dad has a chronic illness that could significantly shorten his lifespan, so I want to spend this time with them before I move away for medical school. Also, my job is here, and it's easier for me to save up money for a few things when I'm living with them.)

My dad's position: he thinks I only like B because I'm so used to being with him that it's "comfortable." Basically, he doesn't know B very well and thinks I deserve better. He's willing to keep that to himself unless asked.

My mom, however, is like a fountain of hatred. I don't think she even knows why she hates him so much. Occasionally she'll say something like, "You know, if he had a job while he was finishing his degree, I don't think I'd have a problem with him," or, "you know, my only problem is that he doesn't talk very much," or "I think I was just taking out my anger at ____ on B." But then, if we keep talking, and if I explain anything about why I like him or how he's already got plans to start working soon, she eventually blows up and starts saying things like, "This is a nightmare! I can't believe you're still with him after this long! He's the worst thing that's ever happened to you! Oh, he's got you fooled all right; he's USING you, his PARENTS are using you! I hate him! Asshole!" (He borrowed a spare mattress from me and hasn't gotten it back to me yet. That's the "using" part.) And occasionally, when I offer his perspective (which I generally agree with) on some issue, she says things like, "Oh, of COURSE he's right because he has the penis. He's a penis-brain, and he's going to ride you like a B**CH!" These are not logical arguments. They have NO foundation that I can think of; she's spent MAYBE ten hours around B, and the most they ever engage in is small-talk.

For the record, my dad is very non-sexist. He cooks, does laundry, treats everyone with respect... so I don't think she's taking out sexism-anger on B.

Normally (unless my mom gets really bad with the insults) I tell her that I'm glad she's concerned for my well-being, but I can look out for myself, and if I ever find myself unhappy with my relationships, I can get myself out of them just fine. After that, once we cool down, I usually spend some time in the evenings with my family to show that I love them and that no one's "coming between us," but tonight I just couldn't do it. I warmly thanked them for dinner, and told them that I felt like eating in my room tonight.

I still want to spend these last few months with my parents -- medical school and residency will keep me really busy for at least 7 years, and I don't even know if my dad will live longer than that -- but the tension is really bad. I can deal with the fact that my parents probably won't come to my hypothetical-future-wedding. I can deal with the fact that, 10 years from now, B probably won't be invited to the family Christmas dinner. I can deal with the current issues when things are peaceful between arguments. But it's hard living in this poisonous atmosphere, and I'm actually getting worried that my mom has some sort of medical issue causing all of this rage. (She gets mad at everyone when she drinks even a little bit, but she seems to get mad at B even when she's completely sober.)

Anyone have any advice? I'm mostly just looking for comfort/normal perspectives to help tide me over for the next few months.

Gudy's picture


... like it sucks a great deal. Sad

I can kinda, sorta understand where your dad is coming from, although it would be nice if he gave any indication of being willing to revise his opinion after getting to know your boyfriend better.

Your mother, though, sounds... irrational about the whole thing. Which means there is really only one way this can continue without driving you insane: you and your mother need to stop getting into fights about your boyfriend. The way I see it, your only bargaining angle is your continued presence in their lives, so give her, give them, an ultimatum - they stop bitching about B or you move out. And be ready to enforce it.

Is it possible there is a medical issue causing all that anger/temper in your mother? Yes, absolutely. But given the current situation you should probably not be the person bringing up that possibility with her, although recruiting your dad, or at least seeing what he thinks about this, might be a way to go.

One other thing: what do your friends think about B? Especially friends who've known you before you were together with B, or friends who don't run in the same social circles as B.

Andrea's picture


my dad's position is reasonable, even if I disagree with it. He might revise his opinion when B gets a full-time job, especially if he stops hearing my mom complain all the time. Then again, my dad will say anything to "keep the peace," so it's hard to know what he really thinks.

The friend thing is a good question.

I've had friends tell me that he's nit-picky, because he sometimes likes to clarify things and get the facts straight at times when other people would choose to keep things vague for the sake of smoother conversation. (I prefer to have non-vague conversations, and it's nice to have someone similar to talk to, but I understand my friends' POV.) A few people have made comments about his looks, saying that I could "do better," but I like the way he looks.

Finally, when B and I lived together before, an old friend thought that B should have tidier living habits, and she worried because whenever I talked to him about it, I always ended up apologizing and thinking he was right. I'm not worried about that because 1) we only lived together for a short time so there wasn't much time to change habits, 2) I was pretty messy too, 3) we're planning on making a chore-list when we live together again so that we know which types of cleaning we're each responsible for, and 4) he's living by himself right now and keeps the place tidy.

On the positive side, I've had friends tell me he's "a pretty cool guy," and my roommate of several years (met me after we started dating but from different social circle) got along very well with him and thought we were good for each other. Most of my friends don't have strong opinions, but they're glad that I'm in a relationship that I like.

In other words, I haven't heard anything major other than the concern about myself "folding" too easily. That's something I'm working on, and it's something that I'm keeping an eye on in the relationship, but I don't think it warrants my mom's level of animosity.

I think you're right -- my only leverage is my presence in their lives. I can probably put up with the drama for a few more months, though, until I can more easily move out and control when I come back. I've made a commitment to continue working for another month in my current city... maybe afterward I could move out if things got bad. I'd still feel guilty about punishing my dad for my mom's anger.

Thanks for the reply; it helps to hear someone else's thoughts on this stuff Smile

gossamerblade's picture

My suggestion: Tell mom that you absolutely will not listen to her put-downs about B. As soon as she says anything about him, even a little snark, walk out of the room. Leave her hanging, leave anything you're doing hanging (or pick up & take it with). If she wants your company, she has to zip it about B, period.

If she still makes no effort to control her spewing of poison, maybe moving out is the best way to go.

Andrea's picture


That sounds like it would be effective. I might try it for a week and see what happens. I feel like I should stand up for B, but this would still make it obvious that I disagree, and that's something.

Amy's picture


Is your mom only like this about B?? or are there other places where she is like this too??? Has she always been like this about things?? or is this a rather new development in her personality???

If this is normal behavior from her... there is little you can do but stand your ground and refuse to listen...

If this is an escalated behavior pattern for her... it might be the stress of dealing with your father's illness and your plans to move on with your life. Again stand your ground but suggest she join a support group or two

If this is totally new behavior from her.... tell her you do not like this new person she is becoming... it is unlike and unworthy of her... insist she both stop bitching about B and get a full check up... there are diseases that effect the personalities of older adults...

No matter what standing your ground and not trying to placate her irrational behavior is important here.

Good Luck,

(((( HUGS )))

Andrea's picture


She's like this about other things too, but generally only when she drinks (most nights). When she gets upset with my dad about something, he responds passively, and she angrily does chores for a while and goes to bed. When she gets upset with my sister (usually about my sister spending too much time with friends), they get into pretty big fights, but my sister gets her way a lot more often than I did growing up. (I took the passive approach when I was younger. Then I left for college, and now I'm back home.) My sister recently moved out to go to college, but she and I agree that Mom has some anger issues and abandonment issues. (I don't remember her being like this before menopause, but she could have been directing her anger elsewhere.)

My mom disliked B before my dad's diagnosis. I remember her calling me last summer and insulting him, lecturing me about why I should break up with him, etc. Before I moved back home, I told her and my dad that I wanted to spend this time with them, but that I wouldn't do it unless they promised to stop trash-talking B. They agreed, and things were great for the first few months. The trash-talk came back after my dad's diagnosis.

I worry that I'm placating her. I want people to get along, and my natural reaction is to say something nice that will end arguments: "I'm sorry," or "you're right, that's something to think about," etc. That's partly why this is so stressful for me -- I can't say those things because they're completely false. The alternatives are problematic too: if I ignore her and refuse to listen, I feel like I'm not standing up for B like I should; I'm taking the easy way out, which means that she'll never hear anyone else's perspective or realize how wrong she is. If I listen and respond rationally, I feel like I'm encouraging her behavior by responding.

The support group thing is a good idea. I'll talk to her about that.

Thanks Smile *hug*

Capriox's picture


Andrea wrote:
She's like this about other things too, but generally only when she drinks (most nights).

This concerns me. Clearly she has some particular issue with B (and I agree that her issue with B seems very much irrational/some-other-issue-in-disguise), but if she's drinking most nights and getting angry as a result... it strikes me as an unhealthy pattern, especially if this is also new post-menopause/post-dad's diagnosis.

Andrea's picture


I didn't pay much attention until recently, but I think the drinking (ie more than one or two glasses of wine every now and then) started around menopause, about 6 years ago. She's able to abstain from drinking when she has to, though, so I'm not sure how much of it is a problem and how much of it is based off of personal decisions.

MeiLin's picture

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Do they dance around the issue? Do they avoid him? This is critical. My friends and family HATED Husband No1, but they loved Velvet Ackbar. Hard not to love him, he's a charming, caring person and won my very skeptical mom over when she saw what a good husband and father he is. Unless your family is so wildly estranged or dysfunctional that you can't take their concern and love for you seriously, their reactions are usually a good indicator.

That said, there's something about you in a relationship that triggers something in your mom. Because it sounds like *any* guy would face the Wrath of Mom. Unless there's stuff you're not telling us (you're supporting B financially, he's verbally or physically abusive, he's just generally a bum--I'm describing Husband No1 here*), she's being irrational.

*Side note in defense of Husband No1: Apparently I brought out the worst in him. He's been married for many years now to a woman who appears to be perfectly nice--and who looks a lot like me--they've got a bunch of kids, and he seems to be a responsible, contributing member of society. Exact opposite of how he was when we were married. I haven't spoken to him in nearly 25 years, but I google him now and again to make sure he's staying on his side of the Rockies. We were spectacularly bad together.

ETA after reading your post: Just as I thought, abandonment issues. She's jealous of your relationship and would be no matter who you're involved with. The trash talk is going to continue no matter how successful you and B are as a couple, and would go on to the next guy were you to break up. And while anecdotes are not data, I will say that my anxiety levels have skyrocketed during menopause. Poor gal, your mom sounds miserable.

My recommendation to you is to let it go. Make one last statement: "I understand you don't like B. I'm not going to engage you on the subject any further." And then, don't. Nothing you say will change her behavior; you can't change her behavior. You can only change your reactions to it.


Stormy's picture


MeiLin wrote:
My recommendation to you is to let it go. Make one last statement: "I understand you don't like B. I'm not going to engage you on the subject any further." And then, don't. Nothing you say will change her behavior; you can't change her behavior. You can only change your reactions to it.

By walking away from your mom when she starts her anti-B behavior, you aren't doing anything negative to *him* but you are doing something positive for *you*.

Andrea's picture


Stormy wrote:
MeiLin wrote:
My recommendation to you is to let it go. Make one last statement: "I understand you don't like B. I'm not going to engage you on the subject any further." And then, don't. Nothing you say will change her behavior; you can't change her behavior. You can only change your reactions to it.

By walking away from your mom when she starts her anti-B behavior, you aren't doing anything negative to *him* but you are doing something positive for *you*.

I like this. It makes sense, and I think it'll work. I've already made my position pretty clear, too. It feels wrong to sit and listen to her say bad things without responding myself, but if I refuse to listen, that's not a problem anymore.

My only concern: There are a lot of bad feelings floating in the air between my mom and B (B has trouble respecting someone who thinks such extreme things about him without knowing him), but they've never actually TALKED to each other about any of them. Sometimes I think that if I sat my parents, B, and myself down and tried to address this calmly, things would get better. My mom sometimes says specific things (ie "When's he going to get a job?"), and I think that hearing B explain would be a lot better than hearing me say that he's going to get a job soon. I'd feel bad putting B in a position to be attacked by my parents, but B says he'd actually like to talk to them.

Do you think that a discussion would be beneficial in any way? In my experience, most situations get better with direct, honest communication, but I don't know if this is one of those situations, especially because my mom's feelings aren't necessarily based on something concrete and changeable.

I can definitely see how Mei's idea would help, though. I don't think it's compatible with the "sit down and talk it out" plan (at least in the short term), and the "sit down and talk it out" plan is iffy at best, so right now I'm leaning toward Mei's idea. Meanwhile, hopefully my mom will get comfortable with me leaving the house, and B's actions will speak for him whether my parents listen or not.

Andrea's picture


He's definitely not abusive or financially-supported-by-me. Do you consider someone who needs an extra year to graduate from college and who doesn't have a car yet a bum? B's classes are too intense and irregular to have anything more than part-time work, and he'll be able to make more money faster once he graduates, so he's waiting on the car, which makes sense to me. I only have a car because of my grandmother's generosity, so I can't point fingers.

My parents think he should spend a lot of time working to pay for a car in order to drive me on dates. I might like to be picked up occasionally, but not enough that I'd want someone to work that hard for something they can buy more easily later.

I've never valued the whole "chivalry" thing; I had a boyfriend who opened doors for me, got me chocolates, took me out to dinners, etc, but I didn't like it. I wanted to go hiking, or sit on the roof of my car and look at the stars, or stay up until three in the morning talking about some new and interesting worldview. B is the same way. My parents see my sister being treated chivalrously, though, and think, "Andrea deserves that. She needs to break up with B and see the light." I understand that sentiment -- it's reasonable -- but not when it comes with the hatred I've described in other posts.

About my friends: one friend gets really annoyed by the nit-picking thing, but she still invites him to small social events. I'm friends with one of his ex's, and they both get annoyed at each other's idiosyncrasies, but they get along pretty well. That, along with what I said in reply to Gudy's post, is pretty much all I've noticed or heard from my friends.

MeiLin's picture

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Andrea wrote:
Do you consider someone who needs an extra year to graduate from college and who doesn't have a car yet a bum? B's classes are too intense and irregular to have anything more than part-time work, and he'll be able to make more money faster once he graduates, so he's waiting on the car, which makes sense to me. I only have a car because of my grandmother's generosity, so I can't point fingers.

Absolutely not a bum. Not owning a car at this point in his life is not only not being a bum, it's the sign of a very smart, responsible young man.

My parents think he should spend a lot of time working to pay for a car in order to drive me on dates.

To put it bluntly: That is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard.

Andrea's picture


Yay, I'm not crazy! Thank you. I feel very validated right now.

GreenGlass's picture


Ouch. Painful, absolutely irrational and difficult. I'm very sorry. Sad I don't know what her trigger is, but you might be right about there being something else going on with her after all!

After reading the responses I must say I am a bit worried. While B definitely has his strengths... difficulty getting long with others or avoiding interacting with others, or being too easily annoyed by others... these are not good signs and not qualities of someone fun to live with overall.

And I was really good at describing the positive to other people and explaining why I liked him and his quirks just the way he was. But you know... I STILL don't regret the experience. I don't think anyone could have talked me out of it.

Whatever happens, whatever practical boundaries you have to set, whatever ways this makes you stronger, well and good. Just don't bend yourself until you break. Just in case what he wants (more than what you "want") sounds really persuasive to you... like it did to me... just don't give up your self.

Andrea's picture


Hopefully I won't need this advice -- hopefully I won't be in a position where I might betray myself -- but.. thank you. For the record, I don't think B's ever asked me to do something I didn't want to do, but I am susceptible to peer pressure, so it's definitely something to watch out for.

Moo's picture

...but I could be in your position. I've been with E for almost 7 years, and my father just now can hear E's name without cringing and being negative and poisonous.

I would just literally not talk about my boy. It was irrational, E's actually in a better place, career-wise, than I am, but I'm no slouch (just took longer figuring out what I wanted my MA in, and I am working while in school, while he went to school then got a job). He's always been sweet to me, tried very hard to get in good with the family, and everyone loves him EXCEPT my father.

So... everyone stopped mentioning him. He's getting much better lately. I honestly don't know what changed, and have no advice to offer (as no one should have to basically ignore the existence of their SO), but I extend sympathy.

Much, much sympathy. *hugs*

Someone's picture


Well, it sounds like you've gotten a bunch of good advice, so all I have to offer is sympathy. *hug*

Pikachu42's picture


what Someone said. I've got plenty of hugs to offer if you need them. Smile

blwinteler's picture


I haven't had this happen in romantic relationships, but it has certainly happened with each of my sisters-in-law. Both have just viciously hated me at different times. With each, it always happened when I would get close to their kids just as they were losing/had recently lost their husbands (one husband died, the other was divorce). It really upset me for a while. Then I realized they were just really afraid that they'd lose their kids too, so tried to alienate the person they perceived was taking their kids away. One has accepted that her daughter and I are great friends and now sees it as a good thing. The other I haven't seen in years (that is a different, unrelated story), so I don't know if she has changed or not, but at least she isn't yelling and swearing at me anymore.
Point is, I think your mom is afraid of losing you when she sees that she is losing your dad. Menopause makes it even harder (I've learned this, too, in the last few weeks). For some women, menopause is a loss as well. For many, whether seen as a loss or not, emotions get heightened. Drinking doesn't help.
I don't really have any advice. I hope that my experience lends some insight, anyway (though it really just reiterates what others have said). I know it is very hard, and I agree with the tactic of walking away. She won't listen to any discussion rationally right now. Walking away will have the most impact (fyi - walking away from my dad when he was drinking and getting violent eventually hit him and he has been sober for 3 years now).
~~hugs~~ I'm here for you too.

Andrea's picture


Thanks -- it's reassuring to hear from someone who's actually had the "walk away" approach work. I know this is hard on my mom, too, what with my dad's illness and me moving out soon.

Davik's picture


Honestly I've skipped lots of this discussion, but let me give a brief view on this through my own fucked up lens:

1) my dad recently died from cancer, and as many issues as I may have had with my mother and her raging anger issues, I will never forgive my sister for cutting off ties with them in the middle of it all. Make sure you keep in contact with your father, and even your mother if necessary, even if it is a shitty situation.

2) KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FATHER. I don't care how much the side issues suck, be there for the one you actually care about, and spend as much time as you can with him. I wish I'd had more time to spend with my father.

3) make damned sure that it's really her irrational issues causing the disconnect, and not someone else being an asshat. I won't posit anything one way or the other, but it's quite possible for the guy (or someone else in the equation) to be a leaching asshole who you need to get rid of. My mom qualifies as a raging bitch, and I came damned close to sending her to the hospital at one point, but I've managed to accept if not forgive and forget. My sister holds far more of a grudge for far less reason because of her husband's influence, which led her to not only not be there when dad died, but to even cut ties with me because I was trying to be neutral in the whole mess.

MeiLin's picture

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How horrible for you, Davik. Sad

Let me be clear: When I say "walk away," I mean just that. Turn and walk in the other direction. I don't mean cut ties. Just makin' sure that's understood. You can disengage and still be connected.

Cheez-It's picture

...but family is family-ive had experience from cutting off family members (no matter how bad theyve been to me)-and i've always regretted it. If anything, just put up with your moms shit. After all, she IS your mom. Sure, you shouldn't have to deal with her crap-but she has probably helped you through a lot in your life and I personally think that us offspring owe it to our parents to deal with it (i mean they dealt with a lot of our crap, right?). So don't do anything like moving out on your parents-i don't think it's something your family needs right now, esp if your dad is in the condition that you said he's in. I'm not sure if you'll like what I just shared-but I think it's a point that had to be put out there.

In a way, I still agree with some of the other people above: just ignore the topic as much as you can. Honestly, you don't need to 'defend' or 'stick up' for your bf. He's a big boy and can take it-personally, the fact that you are still with him and arent treating him differently because of it, pretty much demonstrates that you are sticking up for him-and if you really feel that your mom is being irrational then there isnt much arguing u can do with her to help your bf. It will probably just make the situation worse?

just sharing a different POV! there's lots of support here if u need it though *hugs*

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