Grow up or build a time machine?
November 14, 2009 10:19 AM   Subscribe

How do I make it feel like home?

Is it possible to develop a sense of family with your partner eventually, or should it have been there already when you were dating?

I've been with my partner for a long time, and, I confess, I only got into the relationship in the first place because of all the magic and romance I felt at the time. I didn't think it would get serious, but I was very much in love and fantasized about marriage. We got married, it's been awhile. I still love him very much, but for lack of a better term, I find myself feeling homesick. His family is nice, not quite warm and fuzzy, but nice, and kind. WASPy types. They don't live near us, which is fine, and exactly what I thought I wanted when I used to dream of having my own family. We're in our thirties, don't have kids, no house, and we've kept our money and finances totally separate with no desire to combine our assets into one account or pool.

Maybe I'm being stupid, but I don't feel like a family unit with my partner. I don't care about the the accounts, it feels more like a symptom of whatever is wrong with me. I feel like we're in a long-term dating relationship rather than a marriage. I don't think I want kids with him (he's a little high strung and anxious, a lot of the time now as he nears his forties, qualities that I don't think go away when you deal with children), we've had two abortions already (which possibly started this feeling I had that we weren't a real family or he didn't want to be a real family).

My own family is overseas and far away. I miss them and can't see them regularly due to distance and work. The way I felt growing up was so lovely and warm. Here, no matter how much my partner says he loves me, it feels like there's some isolation and underlying tension between us. He says it's not supposed to feel warm and and nurturing and unconditional the way it was when I was growing up because we're not children anymore. I don't know if my expectation that we should feel like a little family instead of people who are cohabitating are off or if this is a sign that this isn't a good fit, or if there are ways I can make it feel like a family.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
He says it's not supposed to feel warm and and nurturing and unconditional the way it was when I was growing up because we're not children anymore.

I don't know if I agree with this. I actually feel that my marriage and life now is MORE warm and nurturing and unconditional than my childhood was. It's not sunshine and roses ALL of the time, and we still have to work to make things come together like they have. But I enjoy the comfort and sweetness and sweet security of my relationship with my husband very much. We have fun, we plan things to enjoy and work on together. If it didn't feel that way, I'd rather be lonely alone and not with someone else in the bed.

I can only suggest therapy, for you alone if your partner won't go with you, to sort out your feelings and priorities at this point in your life. Maybe it's a phase in the marriage (it happens) or maybe it's an indicator of something more long lasting. I'm not going to tell you what to do, or who to be with. But, life is too short, you know?
posted by jeanmari at 10:28 AM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know, I am in roughly the same situation (mid 30's, no nearby family, no children with no plans for any, married for many years) and I do have the feeling of a family unit with my husband. It may be that the two of you just have different expectations for what you need emotionally; "warm and nurturing and unconditional" are not things only children have access to, at least not in my world. You say that you don't want children with him; do you think part of the issue might be that you do want them in a general sense?

Do you have pets? It may sound silly, but having something to take care of together might bring you closer together and create more of that "family unit" feeling. I know I get a special little thrill when my husband and I are in bed on a Saturday morning with the cat purring between us.
posted by something something at 10:29 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

He says it's not supposed to feel warm and and nurturing and unconditional the way it was when I was growing up because we're not children anymore.

I don't have an answer to your larger question, but I wanted to highlight this. I think it's a really shitty thing to say to your partner. I'm a cynical/pessimistic type by nature, and I think there's something to the idea that adulthood is not unalloyed happiness and that relationships with even people you're very close to become complex and that's not always for the best. Nonetheless, I wouldn't say this to a woman with whom I was in a serious relationship. For one thing, I think the whole point of marrying/cohabiting/whatever with someone you love is an attempt to increase stability and familial warmth. For another, while I think unconditional love is ridiculous, I think it's a good ideal: to the extent that your partner doesn't betray your trust or otherwise develop bad personal qualities, unconditional love that gets past your partner's quirks, minor annoyances, and temporary problems is what people should aim for.

Anyway, I wanted to mention how weird this sounds to me. Just because I don't believe in a world that is or ought to be "good" by a wide margin doesn't mean I need to convert my partner into a pessimist or shoot down their hopes for being close and having the pleasurable trappings of family life. This really sticks out, and I think your partner is having some sort of internal conflict that he isn't talking about explicitly. I don't think this is a "dealbreaker": I do think being unreceptive to your partner's desire to seek a certain kind of emotional security is unacceptable.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:34 AM on November 14, 2009 [11 favorites]

Do you have something you are working together on? For some people this would be children, a house, travel plans... Or do you feel more like you are on parallel paths? The emotional/hormonal effects of abortion can be hard, I hope he is being supportive
of your feelings and not just dismissive of them. Keeping finances seperate
can work in some relationships, as long as it isn't indicative of some power imbalance where the one person ends up with more money, especially if non-financial chores aren't equal either.

He says it's not supposed to feel warm and and nurturing and unconditional the way it was when I was growing up because we're not children anymore.

I've been married a decade and wouldn't stay in my marriage if it wasn't those three things. Does he not feel those from you?
posted by saucysault at 10:44 AM on November 14, 2009

I'm going to steal a page from Nathaniel Brandon and suggest an exercise. Finish this sentence 25 times a day for a week (in one sitting):

A quality of a family that is important to me is:

Then do this one for a week:

I could bring a sense of family to my marriage by:

If you do these two sentence completion exercises, you'll discover alot about your yourself and what family means to you. You can make these up yourself, the keys to making good sentences to complete are making the sentence completion exercises about you. By that, I mean it shouldn't be about "what if's" of another person's qualities / actions - it should be about discovering what's important to you. Only you know what is important about being a family to you, talk to yourself about it for awhile. Once you know what it is exactly you want, you'll feel 100% better.
posted by bigmusic at 10:46 AM on November 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

He says it's not supposed to feel warm and and nurturing and unconditional

He's wrong. It should feel like all those things. Maybe not all the time, and maybe not all at once. But they should definitely be strong features of your family unit.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:58 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to develop a sense of family with your partner eventually, or should it have been there already when you were dating?

In my own experience, it's entirely possible to develop that sense of family with a partner, the same way you might develop a sense of family with your closest friends, but it takes time and patience and openness.

jean-marie says: I actually feel that my marriage and life now is MORE warm and nurturing and unconditional than my childhood was.

This is the case for me, too, and that more than anything is what make home feel like home. Home is where I can reliably find comfort and peace and understanding. My partner makes it home for me by accepting me, and I make it home for him by accepting him. We both have our faults, and we both struggle to overcome them, but we each trust our partner to meet these foibles with kindness.

In a more practical vein, home is also the place where we have our habits, our private ways, our traditions. These take time to establish, and build up gradually. If you have shared interests, these should arise naturally enough in the course of daily events, but there's nothing wrong with consciously constructing them together. Do you two do things together? Do you play board games or hike or go on picnics or ....

... or whatever. It doesn't much matter what you're doing, so long as you do it together. Your shared habits don't have to be wholesome storybook couple-y stuff, either: my partner (now husband) and I spend a lot of time together watching movies, marketing and then cooking, in junk shops. It's family time because we make it feel like family; we demonstrate over and over to each other that we accept and care for each other during these mostly mundane moments.

It's worth trying to establish these moments in your daily life, and in your more celebratory moments, too. There's a thread here that may be useful to you if you and your partner decide to establish some holiday traditions of your own. Creating your own traditions is a strong signal (to yourselves and others) that you are a family.

(For what it's worth, I don't think the separated finances have anything to do with it: my partner and I keep separate accounts, and it's just a habit and a convenience, not a remark on the relationship. We share household expenses, sometimes by splitting them down the middle, sometimes by taking turns paying a recurring expense. That works for some families; some families prefer to have shared accounts. It's just a preference.)
posted by Elsa at 11:06 AM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Suggestions that really make my partner and I feel like we're at home though we're both far away from our family:

1. Cook at home, with fresh ingredients: nothing makes me feel at home more than having homemade food, Like when I come home and I smell brown rice and braised carrots and ginger. Bonus if you shop together too.

2. Eat together: breakfast, and dinner at home, and no TV, newspaper, etc. Just have food together and talk.

3. Don't pull your resources together, but make a joint account that you each contribute a bit to (say, 300 bucks/month?). Nothing kills the mood more than having to pay for your own dinner when you go out, or having to hear, "you owe me $20 for the groceries".

4. Try to add things to your home together. Go to flea markets, second hand stores, etc. It's wonderful looking at something cool in your home and remember that lovely day you bought it together. Also, your place will look a combination of both your tastes.

5. Get a pet.

6. No work allowed at home. If you're home, you must be doing homey stuff. We found early on that blurring the work/home line didn't work for us, at all.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:17 AM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't think I want kids with him

Does this mean you'd consider having kids with someone who was better father material than your husband? That is to say, all other things aside, would you like to have children?

My husband and I also have no children and have no plans to in the near future and my relationship with my in-laws is very much like how you describe yours. They are close by and my family is far away. I definitely don't feel like a part of their family even though they are nice people. However, when it comes to me and my husband and our pets in our little apartment, we are very much a family, and it is a cozy, lovely feeling coming home each night. I can have the shittiest day at work but when I come home everything is suddenly a lot better. Which is almost kind of the point of being married to me, but others may disagree.

Your longing for home and distance from your family might be coloring things a bit darker than they really are. All the same, I'd say you need to do some honest soul searching here, perhaps with the help of friend or therapist, before you get in any deeper (financially or otherwise). It sounds like if you keep things the way they they are and you decide you need to make a break for it, it would be relatively easy (emphasis on relatively - I know divorce is never easy).

I wish you the best.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:19 AM on November 14, 2009

Create your own traditions with each other. Whether it is the nightly meal or the "every year we go to the parade no matter what" or Tuesday taco night. Change them if they get onerous, but try it.

And maybe your husband is having the same sorts of feelings, but manifested in different ways, or he reacts to them based on his upbringing. Maybe he wants the same thing, but is conditioned to believe it's just not what's done.
posted by gjc at 11:40 AM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

You don't (or can't) depend on him. Is that OK with you?
posted by kathrineg at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2009

...we're not children anymore

It's not the 19th century any more. I'm going to take a different angle: you feel like your own family life growing up, which ought to be the foundation for what you bring to a home of your own, is being marginalised and even ridiculed.

Business-like marriages can and do work when both partners are comfortable with that dynamic. When just one person's doing it, then it's a recipe for misery, and what I get from the post is that you're not just homesick for your family and your earlier life, but also for yourself. You bring things to this relationship that make you who you are, and if you feel unable to bring them out of long-term storage, then you need to talk out why that is, and why those things are important to you, or look for a relationship where you can retrieve them.
posted by holgate at 12:08 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

i guess i'm going to be the dissenter here...

you're not a family. you're two people. you're a partnership. you're partners. sure, your relationship should be warm and nurturing, but a marriage between two people is much, much different than a family dynamic.

since you say your partner's family is WASPy, i'm going to assume that both he and they are american, and that you're in the us. you say that your family is overseas. were you born and raised overseas? i know i'm assuming a lot and that you can't follow up, but family dynamics are different in a lot of of foreign countries than they are in america (yes, yes, a generalization to be sure, don't harsh on me). so perhaps this is a cultural difference that you're experiencing. if you grew up with grandparents living with you, or aunts and uncles, or even siblings who didn't immediately move away when they were 18 or 20, that's a much different experience of family than your husband might have had. he obviously has a different idea of "family" than you do.

both of your blood familys are far away. but you don't mention anything about friends. a lot of us isolated folks subscribe to the idea of family of choice. family is what you make it. it doesn't always have to involve children and blood relatives.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:57 PM on November 14, 2009

What does family mean to you? I think "warm and and nurturing and unconditional" are wonderful places to start. I think you already know this, but it's worth saying just in case: It's a great foundation as long as you both know unconditional doesn't mean that you never fight, rather it just means when you do argue, there is no question that you still love each other and will be there tomorrow. Along the same lines, nurturing means supportive and kind, and not that you never question one another. Sometimes our partner is in the best position to make us reflect and reconsider. I must confess, I really don't see what his issue with "warm" could really be, if you both recognize that there will be some tough spots where you might not feel full of warm fuzzy feelings of love for each other, but even then, underneath it all, you still love each other.

I guess those are things people might associate with childhood, but mostly I associate those things with loving someone and being loved right back, whether you are 5, 15, or 50. Those are things I associate with commitment, marriage, and yes, family. What does family mean to him? I think that's a question worth asking him. It may be that you have the same concepts but are using different vocabularies to describe them, or you may have highly incompatible views of what family and marriage means. It's for you to decide if those views can be reconciled or if you should part ways and find where your true family is.

I'm also wondering what your view on having and raising children is. You say you wouldn't want to do so with him, but in the grand scheme of things, is that something you would want to do under slightly different circumstances? Does he want kids? While the reasons for your abortions are none of our business, you might want to look at what led to those decisions, if that is what you really wanted then, and if that's what you would still want. I'm not attaching any judgment to those choices, but if there were or are differing views on this between you and your partner, then yes, that could be undermining your feelings of family with him. Again, only you can figure out if that's something you can actually work past.

In my mind, your partner should feel like home regardless of where you are or who else is with you. That's not the relationship you are describing here, but maybe it once was, and maybe it could be again. On the other hand, maybe your home and family is still out there, and it's time to learn from this relationship what you can, and then go find what you want and need. I do think you, and anyone in a committed relationship, deserves "warm and and nurturing and unconditional," and to settle for less would be a huge disservice to you and your partner. Best of luck to you both.
posted by katemcd at 2:14 PM on November 14, 2009

Just want to pipe up here about Myers-Briggs Personality Types. If you and your partner answer the simple questions to figure out your personality types, you can then read about your own and your partner's types. It will bring into focus the differences between you (which I see when I read between the lines of your post) and help each of you understand where the other is coming from. (At least it did for me.)
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:10 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want a relationship that is warm, nurturing, and unconditional, you are entitled to have one, full stop, no justification required.

However, it sounds like this is something your husband isn't into, or believes is inappropriate at his age, or has been conditioned by his own experiences to reject out of hand. More than that, he seems to think that because he believes it to be a childish thing, you should too...

...and that, OP, is the kernel of a discussion that ends up in a lot of long, uncomfortable talks, sometimes in the office of a professional. How do you define a "real family?" From the sounds of your post, it means having a warm, nurturing, unconditional love that involves children when you're ready to have them. In your current setup, there's no kids, you've had some undoubtedly stressful situations around getting pregnant/ raising kids, and the overall vibe is very tense, isolated, and not at all what you initially expected. Your partner, OTOH, keeps telling you that this tense, isolated, somewhat chilly setup is how grownups have marriages (which, in my experience, isn't how Mr. F and I have been having ours, not that we're the authority on maturity).

I think you've probably got a bad fit here, but I think none of us are expert enough at unraveling the cross-cultural issues and the parenting problem with the data you've given us. It sounds like a job for a pro.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:26 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

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