Sunday, May 28

I fear my parents will disapprove of my new partner | relationships

the question I am 34, have work I love and I own my own flat. I am having the first serious relationship since a break-up two years ago, and I am full of anxiety about it.

I have been with my partner for seven months. We get along well and I have felt connected and comfortable with him from the beginning. We have been inseparable until he got a new two-year contract to work abroad.

But I care too much about what my family thinks. They are religious and when, at 26, I moved to live with my now ex, my father said I should never set foot in my parents’ house again and stopped talking to me. After a couple of years, things were mended. My parents are loving and were supportive during the break-up, but I am wary of introducing another partner. I know he won’t come up to their standards. He dresses shabby, this is not a problem for me, but I worry what they will think. My parents will dislike his politics, even though I share them (my parents believe that my politics are merely a phase). My partner has not done particularly well economically and my parents are always contemplative about things like that. I love that he is fun. We both tend to prioritize personal over professional, pleasure over duties, but sometimes I worry that might be a recipe for disaster if we have a family.

The move I have made for work has left us in a long-distance relationship after only six months’ dating. I miss him. It’s not ideal.

I got pregnant accidentally and had an abortion right after I moved. Despite not being able to afford the flight and having just started his new job, he flew to be with me, which I really value. When I am with him I feel great, but when I am not, I’m anxious he isn’t right for me and I should end it.

Philippa’s answer I have a hunch that I like your boyfriend. I also feel he isn’t so much the problem, rather, I think your family is the root of your anxiety. You love them, you are attached to them, they are a source of stability and strength and yet you sound so enmeshed with them it is as though it is difficult to think and feel for yourself. Every child needs unconditional love from their parents, but your father withheld his love from him, threatened to throw you off when he did not approve of your living arrangements with your ex-partner. That might have traumatized you. Don’t wonder you feel anxious; you don’t want to be rejected by your father again.

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In the first line of your email I think you are telling me you are an adult, but I wonder if you find yourself reverting to being in a childlike state when you are around your parents.

When you are in the present with your boyfriend, everything is fine. When you are apart from him and imagining the future, or what other people will think of him you tell yourself things that make you anxious. The future remains a mystery. However, the information you do have is: how you feel when you are with him; how he behaves when he is with you; and what he does if he thinks you need support. That’s real. Your catastrophising about the future is based on negative fantasies – that’s not real.

Don’t let your father scare you away from what sounds like a well-matched relationship. Prioritizing fun is a recipe for happiness rather than disaster for family life. Your future children, if you have any, are going to need fun and it isn’t as though your boyfriend is pursuing fun to the detriment of everyone else. He is after all, furthering his career from him too, so he does not sound frivolous, merely well balanced.

Your family want the best for you (or maybe want what looks the best for them), but that doesn’t make them the wisest people to make choices for you. What sounds best right now is this kind of man who crosses oceans to be with you when it really matters – that he also sounds responsible.

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If your parents disapprove, stay adult, tell them that you know they mean well, but when it comes to spending your life with someone you must make that decision for yourself. Separate from them a little – this doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it’s just that you own yourself fully, rather than unconsciously believing that they own you. You might find it helpful to read about transactional analysis (TA) – a form of therapy that helps you develop your adult self, or even try some TA therapyit can help you be less reliant on and anxious about, parental approval.

You don’t have to make any immediate decisions about whether your boyfriend is “the one”. Your relationship is relatively new – stay in the present and enjoy it. I hope you two can get together again soon.

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