Advice – Issues with partner’s parents.

Photo by Jill Wellington on

/u/Chansine writes on /r/relationship_advice…

“My boyfriend [23M] and I [26F] have been dating ‘officially’ for nearly 3 months, but prior to that we have been talking/firting for 6ish months give or take. We love each other a lot but his parents get in the way. I am Australian, mostly white and was raised with acceptance and being open minded. My boyfriend was raised here as well since 3 years old, but has strict Kurdish parents. (He is also of Kurdish decent.)

I met his parents for the first time and his mother was nice, his father didn’t speak to me at all just spoke in Kurdish the whole time and practically ignored me. Which I expected, but his mother was nice to my face more or less.

I called my boyfriend today – as I usually do – and the topic of his parents came up. He said he didn’t want to say horrible things his parents had said about me. I am yes, a larger woman, my boyfriend is skinny/in shape. (I have struggled with eating disorders since I was 11, have had depression and anxiety diagnosed since I was 10 and have struggled with my weight. I have lost 10 kilos just by changing my eating, but do have thyroid issues and poly-cystic ovaries which doesn’t help my weight and it fluctuates constantly.) Basically, they said they would prefer a ‘skinny Kurdish girl’ and didn’t like the fact that he was dating me which yes, I expected, but still hurts. This stuff normally doesn’t offend me at all, but when it’s the parents of someone you love (he still lives with them too) it’s harder.

But within us speaking about it, he basically pointed out that his parents would always come first. Now, I get it, family is important to some people, but am I wrong for wanting him to stand up for me more than he did? He is introverted and yes usually shy, but if you love someone I’m sure you’d want to stand up for them. He told me he said his piece about how he loved me, which was great but then went on to say if I gave him an ultimatum he would choose his parents. The fact that he even said that just hurt me. At least he was honest, but it’s kind of obvious now that I am not a priority to him as much as he is for me.

He is a kind, giving and loving person and treats me well, but I can’t help but feel upset by this and I’ve been through this before with an ex, and it’s fucking tiring and exhausting. I haven’t had the best experience with dating men or women but the fact that he was so ready to drop me for his family who he feels obligated to and who guilts him into doing things, he submits and says things in a way that just make me feel like utter shit. He even said I was like number 5 on his priority scale. He literally numbered me and thought it was okay. He is very inexperienced with women, as I am the second girl he’s dated/been with sexually. Which I understand relationships are hard to navigate sometimes.

Am I wrong for feeling this way or am I being selfish? This situation really sucks and I’m not sure what to do. I do love him, but it is emotionally damn draining and it’s a lot to handle. I don’t think anyone is the ‘bad’ person here. I’m just exhausted from it.”

Photo by Julia Zolotova on

Dear Chansine,

I am so sorry to hear you are experiencing so much pain. Your feelings are completely justified. It does sound like there is a major disconnect here and a breakdown in communication of needs.

Your pain is understandable; you want to be considered a high priority as a romantic partner in your partner’s life. To hear that your relationship was number five on his list of priorities was unnecessary and painful. As you added, I wonder how much of that mistake is due to his inexperience in relationships. I’m also concerned with the conflict between the role of his family and your relationship with him. It is already difficult enough to make relationships work without the externalized pressures and racial prejudices against your skin color. It feels slightly unfair that while you’ve accepted his identity and being entirely, that he is only choosing to accept small snippets and parts of you.

I also disagree that introversion is related to inability to stand up for oneself. Introversion has a lot more to do with direction of energy in social circumstances whereas his inability to stand up for himself with his family is a mixture of poor boundary setting and the influence of his culture. As a Korean man in his twenties, I was taught from a very early age that elders were always right. So I too have had to balance fighting subservient parts of my cultural background against the western ideals I ended up actually assimilating with. There will be a point in your boyfriend’s future where he will have to determine how much of his Kurdish heritage means to him. That however is not your responsibility. It is his to assess, his to decide whe enough is enough, and his to enact change if he is unhappy. I understand where your pain comes from, but recognize that his reality of accepting his parents and their role in his life is just as valid and real as your pain.

I think the bigger part of the problem is in how much your boyfriend shares about his parents’ discontentment. His relationship with his parents is not a necessary part of your relationship with him. You’ve only been dating for three months. Both you and he are still trying to figure out if this relationship has legs to make it work long term. And his parents’ pre-judgment of you is completely interfaced by their history and not actually who you are as a person. They have no idea what kind of person you actually are. So don’t take their misconceptions too personally. You’ll have plenty of opportunities in the future to prove them wrong and show what an incredibly perceptive and sensitive person you are, and what a great match you are for their son. What you might need to do is to communicate with your boyfriend how hurtful it is when he relays hurtful comments from his parents directly onto you. And he needs to do his emotional labor on what he should and shouldn’t say in front of you, while he himself sorts out what he is actually willing to stand up for in his relationships.

I agree with you that no one is a bad person here. They are all humans, each with our respective histories and personalities. We are all flawed, and some of us do a better job of recognizing and decorating our flaws.

You do have a decision you need to make. Assuming this continues as it is, is his cultural heritage and his relationship with his family a worth price of admission to continue in this romantic relationship with him?

Good luck!

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