Advice – Is a narcissistic in-law a dealbreaker?

“I [28F] have been with my boyfriend [34M] for 7 years. I always assumed his mother was a bored housewife. She and I have had problems getting along because we each come from such different socioeconomic backgrounds. His parents lived on the west coast while we have been living in Washington DC. I am seeing a new side to his mother which is really upsetting me after they moved closer to us this past fall. It came to a head over Christmas where she gas lit me a few times. In addition, my bf’s father spent all of Christmas dinner talking about how his brother-in-law wasn’t really family; he is just his sister’s husband. As their son’s girlfriend, that didn’t sit well with me.

It has been a whole month, and I’m still really bothered by everything that happened at Christmas. I know none of this is my bf’s fault, and every family has their problems. But I don’t want people like that in my life. I’m thinking the only option I have here is to leave, because its not right for me to give him an ultimatum. He is an only child and his mother is estranged from her entire family, so he really feels like he has to take care of her.”

Squatchopotamus, /r/relationship_advice.

Dear Squatchopotamus,

You mentioned in a follow up message that his mother is 75. So your boyfriend could be right that this could be a memory issue as well as a manipulative issue. But more importantly, I don’t think there is enough information here that your boyfriend has a healthy relationship with his parents either.

Almost all of this falls upon your boyfriend’s shoulders, especially in managing his parental relationships as it pertains to you. If it really feels uncomfortable to be around your boyfriend’s parents, then consider establishing a boundary to not be around his parents when you can avoid it. You said you live in DC while they reside in Philadelphia, which is a solid two hours drive away. So try to make yourself scarce when they’re around outside of explicit family gatherings.

What is more concerning is in the way your boyfriend seems disinterested in establishing healthy boundaries with his parents. You said in a follow up comment that this dynamic is not one you’d like to have in your life if you could avoid it. So what if you can’t avoid it? Is this set of knucklehead parents a worthwhile price of admission for you to pay in order to continue to be with your partner of seven years?

Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on

Stacy Hubbard from the Gottman Institute talks a bit about the concept of relationship aptitude. In short, Stacy theorizes that agreeable character traits along with the ability to securely attach to their partners makes someone have higher relationship aptitude to weather the necessary and inevitable storms in any relationship.

To that, I ask you what are the biggest dealbreakers that you see in this particular arrangement with your boyfriend’s parents? What specifically do you notice in their relationship that reflects directly onto the relationship that you have with your boyfriend? Instead of looking at the relationship your boyfriend’s mother has with her husband, why not look at the characteristics your boyfriend is presenting through his parental relationships? You aren’t dating his parents. You’re only dating him.

For many, having a narcissistic person in relation can be a dealbreaker, especially if there are personal trauma tied to narcissistic abuse in the past. But you are also completely within your own rights to determine for yourself that the emotional labor of being around draining people isn’t a cost of admission you’re willing to pay to be with your boyfriend.

After all, your dealbreakers and red flags are only for you to determine. Not your boyfriend, not his overbearing parents, and certainly not an anonymous online advice provider.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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