The dilemma My boyfriend and soon-to-be husband doesn’t like my parents. He is not rude to them. In fact, he can be very welcoming. However, each time I bring up a conversation about my parents he criticises their parenting method in raising me and my siblings. He feels they didn’t do a good job with us. For example, my parents encouraged us to come home with our boyfriends. But from his upbringing that is a taboo, unless you are ready to get married. He feels my parents spoilt us and didn’t instil any moral values.
When I try talking about how often we will visit my parents after we get married, his response is not encouraging. This really bothers me. I do not like to think that he sees my family like this. And when I confront him about it, he boldly tells me that he had a better upbringing than me so there is nothing to argue about. I feel not visiting would affect our parental roles when we have children. He might start to act as if I’m a cancer that needs to be removed.
Mariella replies That’s quite a strong metaphor. But, like you, I’m afraid I see this as a pretty serious issue. It’s never pleasurable to be the bearer of bad tidings. My ethos in this column over many years has been to try to find a path to positive action rather than shriek mayday and abandon ship. But in your situation I’d seriously be thinking about alternative coupling plans. Clues that our future happiness could be under threat can range from a subtle chime to near-deafening alarm bells and this, I’m afraid, falls into the latter category. As is so often the case you’ve already spotted the warning signals or you wouldn’t have written – and it gives me no pleasure to confirm that your instincts are right. Your future husband’s sense that he holds the moral high ground is so misplaced that it feels slightly menacing. I believe you are right to be concerned.
This isn’t about your parents, although his judgmental pronouncements are, at the moment, mainly focused in their direction. As your relationship progresses my fear is that he might seek to expand his self-appointed and unwelcome position of moral authority. In short, this feels far more like a land-grab for control and entering into a long-term union with someone who has no respect for the person you are, the people who raised you, or your values, and who seeks to play judge and jury on your life choices, is a recipe for disaster. I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but while you still have alternatives, I’d recommend that you employ your clearly already tingling sense of disquiet and seriously contemplate a change.
As you observe, this isn’t a topic that will go away or diminish in importance once you are married. Instead, it’s a troubling indication of your fiancé’s emotional impulses and inability to see you as a responsible person in your own right.
The suggestion he’s making when commenting on your upbringing and parents’ values is that you need to be re-educated in the true path of moral righteousness and replace your understanding of the world and what you feel to be correct, with his. This shouldn’t be ignored.
The good news about being a woman in the UK today is that you do have choices. Marrying a man who suggests there’s an area of your life he’d be better placed to preside over is an act of self-harm that should be avoided at all costs. Naturally, you should give your boyfriend the opportunity to come to his senses and understand that his ill-advised pronouncements about your parents and his undermining of your ability to make reasoned decisions are a stop-signal as far as your future together goes.
Perhaps his unacceptable statements are the result of indoctrination during his own childhood and a reasoned discussion might illuminate him as to how the world has moved on – and that he also now needs to.
I presume that he has many positive qualities that drew you to him and that this may just be a case of previously unexplored behavioural tendencies that he really must address. But your fiancé needs to understand why his assertions about your upbringing are, in reality, a judgment of you and a declaration of his intent to replace your parents as your moral arbiter. As you’ve intuitively observed, forging ahead with the relationship, let alone having children together, would place you in vulnerable position and needs careful consideration.
Talk to those whom you trust and ensure that they have your back before you attempt to explain your position to him. You may also want to consider talking in confidence to an organisation such as Women’s Aid (womensaid.org.uk) about coercive control. Respecting your partner and sharing their values come at the top of any list of relationship priorities, or certainly should do. Don’t compromise on what you believe to be right, especially when it comes to your future.