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Advice for the Modern Man: Family Ties

Sad Couple

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(Question has been modified for clarity and space.)

I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for five years. We started off as teenage sweethearts, so our outlook on life was pretty simple. Responsibility was not a concern.

As our relationship developed, I began noticing his close bond with his family. This didn’t alarm me at first, but over time, I started feeling as though he was placing more priority in helping his family, especially his mum, rather than making an effort to spend time with me.

This has slowly frustrated me and has made me question whether our relationship is going anywhere. He seems more interested in taking this role of being the “Head of his household” rather than thinking about our future together.

Am I being unreasonable by getting upset, or are his priorities messed up? Do I continue to stick it out, or should I break it off?
–Miss Clueless; United Kingdom

The old saying goes that when you marry someone, you marry their family, too.

I realize the two of you are still dating, but you’ve been together for five years, and I’m assuming you’re asking this question because you’re trying to determine if your boyfriend is husband material. So I’m skipping ahead a few pages.

While I concede there’s truth in the aforementioned adage, I don’t buy it wholeheartedly. Yes, you have to consider and evaluate your boyfriend’s relationship with his family.

But what’s far more important is his relationship with you. How do the two of you get along? How do you communicate? How do you treat one another?

In the most basic sense, a person’s family is no different from any other outside entity — career, friends, college football season — that requires time/energy/attention. What matters is how a couple prioritizes those peripheral demands and prioritizes each other.

Right now, your boyfriend’s priorities are out of whack. Not because he’s doing something wrong by tending to his family, but because his priorities are not aligned with yours.

The two of you are not on the same page. That’s the issue here, and resolving that has to be your focus.

Obviously, getting him to be less involved with his family is not going to be easy. It wasn’t easy for me.

I’m as close to my family as anyone, especially my parents. I have lunch with my father every Friday, and I play golf with him every Sunday.

And while I don’t sit on her lap or have her spoon-feed me oatmeal, I consider myself a mama’s boy (in the most positive way possible).

My entire life, the two of them have been my confidants. They are who I called when I got a new job, or had my heart broken, or was in need of counseling. Picking up the phone wasn’t something I thought about; it was reflexive, like opening Twitter when I need to procrastinate.

They were also who I called when I decided I was ready to propose to my now-wife, Emily.

Ironically, it was that last call that set in motion a shift in my priorities. Once I made the decision to marry Emily, I knew I had to reorganize my hierarchy.

Actually, I knew well before that. I knew early on in our relationship that if Emily and I were going to achieve the intimacy we’d need to one day be husband and wife, I couldn’t hold back from her. While I could still turn to my parents, I had to turn to her first. She had to become my person.

This transformation was a slow process full of minor adjustments, like making sure she was the first person with whom I shared good/bad news or a funny story from the office. But little by little, the shift was completed.

It helped that I had the support of my parents, who had taught me that once you get married, your spouse must be your No. 1. Everything else in your world trickles down from the foundation of that relationship.

You and your boyfriend aren’t married yet, which means that if he’s willing, now’s the time for him to start making these adjustments. The sooner he can start, the better.

Going through that evolution, separating from his family of origin, is something he likely has to go through in order to reach a place where he’s ready for marriage. It’s what I had to do.

But in his defense, he has to know this is an issue for you. It’s likely he’s unaware he’s doing anything wrong, because 1) it’s what he’s always done, and 2) how could doing something for his mother be wrong?

So talk to him about it — what’s bothering you, what you’re feeling and what you need of him to make the relationship work.

Reading your question, it feels like you’ve been holding onto these concerns for a while, and if you don’t let yourself be heard, you’re eventually going to explode. Having a conversation is the only way the two of you can find a balance that works for both sides.

It’s possible he won’t be willing to budge, at which point you’ll have to decide if you can be OK with him devoting himself this much to his family. Nobody would blame you if you can’t.

That said, being with someone who is this close to his family doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. In fact, it actually can be a positive.

I’m guessing your boyfriend’s father is not around, and that’s why he’s taken on the role of head of household. Isn’t that admirable? Couldn’t that be a preview of how he’d one day take care of a family of his own?

Not only that, there are few better indicators of how a guy treats women than how he treats his mother. Your boyfriend treats his with love, care and respect.

What more could you ask for in a husband?


This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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