parents hated my boyfriend, but love my sister's boyfriend
June 29, 2015 7:00 PM   Subscribe

My parents didn't accept my boyfriend for about six of the seven years that we've been dating due to his physical disability. Now my younger sister has a new boyfriend whom my parents wholly and happily accept, and as childish as this is, this is bringing up all sorts of unpleasant feelings.

My boyfriend has a physically debilitating illness (similar to MS). Because of that, my parents vigorously opposed me dating him, citing concerns that I would end up marrying him and unwittingly commit myself to a difficult future due to said illness. By "vigorously opposed," I mean that every time I visited home, they would yell at me for (literally) hours on end about him. I cried every time.

Now my younger sister has a new boyfriend. I know nothing about him, and neither does the rest of my family. They don't even know his name-- they just know that he's male, educated, and ostensibly healthy. But they are thrilled that she has this (I must add, non-debilitated) boyfriend and are happy to support her were she to marry him in the coming months. THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW HIS NAME.

I am super upset about this perceived inequality of treatment and I feel like I am partially taking it out on my sister. This is not fair to her, but I don't really know where else to channel this upset. I just feel like, "jeez, mom and dad, you had to yell at me for SIX YEARS and suddenly my sister finds a guy who is educated and has all his limbs intact and that meets your standards?" To be fair, they never criticized my boyfriend's personality. This was solely about his disability, not about his character; my parents completely agree that my boyfriend is a wonderful, kind, and intelligent person. They treat him very nicely when he visits, admire and respect his character, invite him to family functions, and have, in the past year or so, started to accept that he is my boyfriend. They haven't yelled at me for about a year now. In some sense, they've "given up" on trying to convince me to break up with him.

But I'm obviously still not over this. I have expressed myself to my parents, but they are maintaining that they are/were totally justified in being so concerned and the manner in which they expressed their concern, and I don't think they're going to budge. And yes, I know that my parents had a legitimate reason to be concerned for my future, and it is a parent's job to worry... but I also feel like six years was an awfully long time for them to so vigorously oppose my relationship with my boyfriend. Plus, I never even mentioned to my parents the possibility of marriage (we started dating in high school, and I'm from a region of the country where people regularly marry in their late twenties or early thirties), so I felt like they were totally jumping to conclusions whilst voicing their concerns anyway. Secondly, it made my relationship with my boyfriend much more difficult, because we were long-distance and the only time I would see him was when I was visiting home to begin with-- being yelled at by my parents for seeing my boyfriend precisely during the few times I was able to hang out with him put a damper on things. As a result of their disapproval, I found myself constantly downplaying the importance of my relationship, tip-toeing around them and strategically spacing out the times I would leave the house to hang out with him. It was exhausting to be yelled at for hours and hours like that every time I visited home, not to mention that this made my boyfriend feel terrible about his disability and has understandably caused him to feel very ambivalent about my parents' displays of kindness towards him.

So, now I'm at a point where I feel like I have no real venue to express my frustration beyond childishly taking it out on my sister and projecting my emotions such that I am very hung up about all the reasons why this new guy probably isn't good for her, blah blah blah. I have no real grounds to feel this way, because like I said, I know nothing about the guy. I don't know where to turn to process this and it's unfortunate that my relationship with my sister is bearing the brunt of the emotional anguish from six years parental disapproval. I am leaning towards being open with my sister and telling her the full story so that if I act in a ridiculous manner towards her dating situation, she can cut me some slack, but I don't know if I have it in me to do so right now, as I'm still in pain and I want it to be acknowledged. Additionally, this isn't something I can easily talk about with my boyfriend as he was the very subject of contention.

I am looking for healthy ways to go about dealing with this. I want my sister to be happy, and if her new boyfriend is good to her, then I'm happy, too. But this past history is getting in the way and seriously messing with me! I won't have the means to go to therapy for another two years, so please don't say therapy. Are there any questions I should be asking myself? Any anecdotes? Perspective? Things for me to read?

Also, my parents come from a traditional country, so please, please take into account that the way they were behaving was likely culturally appropriate, even if it was difficult for me to swallow because I was raised in a different culture than they were. Please don't call my parents jerks; they're not jerks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't something I think you'll ever be able to work out with your parents, so you're going to have to work it out with yourself. If there are ways you can turn your attention away from the hurt they caused and forgive them for it, it will help you quite a bit. It sounds like you love your parents and your sister, which is why this causes you such hurt, and they've changed their behavior, so it's more resentment that's lingering.

If you need help doing that, then talking to someone who is experienced in letting go of past hurts (as you don't have the means for a therapist, perhaps a counselor or some resources online?) might be a way to go about it.

It seems you already are checking yourself in your behavior toward your sister, and I would strongly encourage you to continue to do that, as I'm sure you don't want her to feel the same resentment towards you as you have towards your parents.
posted by xingcat at 7:05 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds tough. :(

You should write a letter. A long, detailed letter in which you really explore all of your resentment with your parents -- don't worry while you're writing whether it feels "fair" or not to them, just concentrate on accurately and fully expressing your own feelings. Don't edit yourself, don't tell yourself what you are justified in feeling; concentrate on feeling it and putting it to words.

Then rip that letter up.

If you still feel those feelings coming up, write another one, and rip it up. Again and again till the main thing you feel is damn sick of the entire thing.

It's not a full solution because you'll still have some resentment. I think you deserve to feel upset and it will just take a lot of time and lots of positive interactions with your parents and boyfriend for this to go away. But having some way of expressing your feelings will hopefully give you enough of an outlet that you don't accidentally take it out on your sister.
posted by forza at 8:34 PM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a person whose parent has held some really ridiculous positions with regard to my and my sibling's lives, I'm guessing your sister is not unaware of how they feel/felt about your boyfriend. After all, if they were pouring so much effort into "saving" you, wouldn't they have at least cautioned her against following a similar path? Talking to her about it might not be the fraught experience you fear so much as, "Ugh, it's crazy how mom and dad were so upset about my boyfriend for so long, huh?" and then just taking it from there.
posted by teremala at 8:54 PM on June 29, 2015

So just checking: you're still with the boyfriend and it's only been within the last year that they've started to be nicer to him?

Sometimes it takes a long time for parents (especially "traditional" ones, from what I hear) to come around to accepting or at least tolerating SO's that they don't approve of. A lot of times they never get accepted, or don't until you've married and had kids and they have to in order to see the grandchildren. So even if they took six damn years to get around to caving in or whatever, they still did it eventually without you having to go to those extremes. That's something.

Yeah, it sucks that your sister's boyfriend is accepted immediately for being temporarily able-bodied and you went through six years of screaming to get them to the point of tolerance. There's nothing you, your sister, or her boyfriend can do about that. That's them and technically those two have nothing to do with it.

" I am leaning towards being open with my sister and telling her the full story so that if I act in a ridiculous manner towards her dating situation, she can cut me some slack, but I don't know if I have it in me to do so right now, as I'm still in pain and I want it to be acknowledged. Additionally, this isn't something I can easily talk about with my boyfriend as he was the very subject of contention."

1. Yes, tell her. It beats you snapping at her and/or him for "no reason." Hell, for all I know she might have figured it out on her own after six years of yelling.
2. To quote you: "I'm still in pain and I want it to be acknowledged." Okay, by who? By your parents? That...may not be worth trying, or at least it may only make things worse and they probably won't react in the way that you want anyway. By your sister? Maybe. By your boyfriend--well, yeah, I concur that isn't something you can talk about because it only makes him feel shittier. I think in your case the best you can do is to get people outside of the family/situation to acknowledge it. Like, say, us saying that yes, that really sucks and we're sorry that happened to you.

Hell, my parents weren't super thrilled themselves at my ex with an illness either (especially since my dad was already ill and I am obviously a shitty caregiver). They tried to be polite, but it was obvious they did not approve and at one point, hysterical public sobbing in a restaurant ensued. I couldn't really come up with any way to alleviate their fears either since all of them were justified. So you have my sympathy, at least, for what's that's worth.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:56 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wonder how long / how often your parents yelled at your sister that she'd better not come home with someone disabled like you did. If your traditional culture is anything like my family's, it probably happened to her often, so you might actually have some common ground with her here.

I say tell her what you're slogging through and let her know that it's absolutely not about her or her boyfriend, and that you're doing your best to get yourself sorted out. Hopefully she'll turn out to he your ally as both of your relationships move forward.
posted by vignettist at 9:21 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

So, now I'm at a point where I feel like I have no real venue to express my frustration beyond childishly taking it out on my sister

Just talk to her! Siblings are often the only people who will ever truly understand what it's like to be in your family. She could be your ally and confidante instead of an unwitting punching bag. Start with an acknowledgment of how you've been treating her and go from there.
posted by rhythm and booze at 9:31 PM on June 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

Are there any groups/online forums you could join, either for partners of people with disabilities or for people whose parents come from your parents' culture? I think you are justifiably angry at your parents. Finding a group of understanding folks might help you get some of this frustration out in a safe space.
posted by chaiminda at 3:10 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is coming from somebody who uses a wheelchair, so YMMV:

The next time they express something negative about his physical disability, I would tell them that they are a) being unkind and b) it's your life, so you'll date who you want and c) You find their comments hateful and they need to cease.

It's one thing to be all *honey are you okay you're not sleeping because of your bf's illness* it's another thing to slag off disabled people

And all this yelling stuff -- that's abusive shit.

If they are happily promoting your sister's boyfriend because he is physically okay I wouldn't know what to do with that except to find some peace with the fact that your parents are narrow--minded, hateful people.
posted by angrycat at 4:38 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

My parents are strange. I love them, and I know they love me, but they're strange. I have three siblings. My two brothers, like me, pretty much accept that our parents are weird and there's not much that can be done about it. My sister doesn't. She ties herself in knots over things they do or don't do. I've had lots of conversations with her about them and it's clear that she can't accept that they are the way they are and no amount of emotional outbursts will change that. (To be fair, I did my share of that when I was younger too. For me, time and living on the other side of the world from them really helped.)

Last Nov I went to visit them with one of my brothers. They were strange. When my brother and I were back in the car, we looked at each other and said, ok, that was weird, right? Didn't exactly make it not hurt, but it was less hurtful than if I'd just carried it all myself.

My point is, yes, talk to your sister. The solidarity of knowing it's not just you, and sharing the pain of it with someone who knows your parents like you do is not to be underestimated.

But ultimately, you have to make your own peace with the fact that, much as you love them, your parents are not who you want them to be all the time. That they can hurt you, a lot. That you need to develop your own balance between the love and the hurt. But there's a lot of healing in sharing those experiences with others.

Good luck. Remember, there are plenty of us out there in similar situations and you're not alone!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:02 AM on June 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

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