Ellie: Family pressures add to relationship strain

Question: My boyfriend of more than two years and I met as students. Soon, his school demands limited our time together. I was working part-time, paying rent and bills, supporting my sister (my parents are experiencing a financial crisis) and studying. I needed his support and felt terribly alone.

But he didn’t have the time and patience to listen. I tried to break up but he insisted he’d prioritize our relationship more.

Though his parents pressured him to attend specialist school elsewhere, he decided to stay closer to me.

Now, he’s finally working full-time but lives two hours away from my parents’ home (they’re conservative). He’s complaining about the cost of hotels when he visits. His parents are extremely controlling and wanted me to become a housewife and take care of him!

I cannot just move for him and lose my career. They called my parents saying I’m not right for their son. Now we can’t even talk on the phone without worrying about his parents walking into his room.

I love him and he wants to propose soon. But I don’t think it’s a good idea. When he speaks to his parents or friends, he changes his mind about “what’s better for our relationship.”

We tried couples therapy together, but it didn’t work. I’ve realized how much I really love him and am willing to do for him (relocating, living with him, etc.). But nothing’s enough. I don’t know what to do.

Getting Depressed

Answer: Take a break. You’ve both faced much personal pressure and growing responsibilities. Life’s normal challenges plus interfering people have muddied the picture. Six months apart will give you breathing space and time for reflection about the essentials for which you’re willing to compromise.

If you reconnect, get engaged immediately, stand up to critics, and end your own inconsistencies. Either you’re willing to relocate, or not. And he needs to stop listening to others about your relationship.

Question: My husband’s father passed away five years ago. My mother-in-law, who I love, is still young. She recently confessed that a male we’d met as her “friend” is really her boyfriend. He moved in with her immediately after leaving his wife.

My husband refuses to talk to her about how upset he feels. I understand where both parties are coming from. How do I get both people past the hurt, and to move on with our lives?

Caught Between

Answer: Listen to your husband’s feelings — he needs to vent as part of his grief and letting go of the past. It’s not uncommon for events years later to bring back the hurt of a loss. But sometime, without pressure, ask some gentle questions: How did he think his mother would live out her life? Would he want to be alone for years on end? Does he want to always be responsible for her?

Listen, too, to your mother-in-law and support her right to have a partner. But here, too, gentle questions are in order. You want to help her examine whether this man is there for the long-term or was “escaping” from an unhappy union through moving in with her when she was vulnerable.

Tell her to give her son time, andto assure him that her life with his father was all that he remembers.


When the complications are overwhelming, a break can clear your mind.

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