Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend’s Family Loves His Wife Too Much to Accept Me”

My boyfriend, “Levi,” and I got together fairly quickly after his separation, but his marriage was over years ago – he actually stayed as long as he did because he has a large family and they were all close with his ex. He finally realized he couldn’t stay in a bad marriage for his family, and he left. He kept telling me that his family is warm and loving and to give them some time to accept me. It’s been ten months and they still refuse to support our relationship. I’ve met Levi’s kids and they love me. But Levi’s family refuses to even meet me for coffee, or acknowledge I exist, because they need “time to grieve” and it’s “too painful for his sisters and parents to see him with someone else.”

I understand it’s hard – his ex was a big part of their lives – but she still is. She still attends their family parties, etc. His sister just posted about his ex publicly on social media, saying “sisters forever – family for life”. And I would never expect them to exclude her, but I had hoped that with it almost being a year they would at least be open to meeting me or acknowledging I exist, too. His sister is openly hostile towards me, and though Levi sticks up for me, the very next day he’ll go to her house for a play date with the kids, which really bothers me. He says he can’t NOT go to her house – she’s his sister.

The negativity towards us and refusal to support our relationship is hurting me and I try to just focus on him and us, but when he’s hanging out with his family all the time – like everything is fine, it upsets me. Am I wrong for feeling upset? — Tired of Waiting for Acceptance

Hmm, you say that you and Levi got together “fairly quickly” after his separation, and I’m really curious how quickly. Like, minutes after separation? Days? Did you two express interest in each other before he separated? When he suddenly realized he could no longer stay in his marriage, did that decision coincide at all with meeting and/or hooking up with you? Is it possible that his family thinks it does? Because, look, even though you say his marriage was “over years ago,” it wasn’t. Is he even divorced now? You don’t say that he is. I’m guessing he’s still legally married, and that until he separated from his wife, his family (including his kids), didn’t think his marriage was over.

So, yeah, I can see where, ten months into his separation, his family, who is very close to his wife, is still upset about the sudden demise of his marriage. I can see how they might even think you are part of the reason for the separation. I can see how they might not be super eager to meet, let alone embrace just yet, the person they probably think of as the “other woman,” who wrecked a marriage and family they loved.

There is something I’m confused about though – you say that Levi’s sister is “openly hostile” to you, but you’re also upset that no one in his family is willing to meet you? How is the sister hostile to you if you’ve never met? Is she calling you? Emailing you? What? What does “open hostility” with a stranger you’ve never met look like? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist — I’ve been the recipient of enough online hostility to know it does — but it would be helpful to have some examples since you seem to think her behavior warrants her brother ending his relationship with her or at least not bringing his kids over to her house to play with her kids, which, I’m sorry, is super fucked up. You waltz into this man’s life immediately after (or before?) his separation, expect his family to warmly embrace you, and when they don’t, you want him to keep his kids away from their cousins? Gee, I can’t understand why this family might not be so interested in giving you a chance.

You want to stay in this man’s life and potentially have a future with him? Then back off on the criticism of his family, and don’t screw with his kids’ well-being (including their relationships with their cousins). I know people who have zero drama and don’t introduce their significant others to their family as fast as you’ve wanted to be introduced to the family of a man who is still married to someone else. The fact that you’ve already met his kids after only a few months should suffice for now. You’re upset by the negativity you think is directed toward you and that Levi’s sister posts supportive things to/about his estranged wife? So what! You know what else is upsetting? Getting divorced, dealing with child custody arrangements, and watching your soon-to-be ex move on to some broad who thinks her feelings are more important than anyone else’s in this scenario. You aren’t the victim here. Other people are hurting more than you are. Give everyone some space and realize that your happiness with your new boyfriend is not dependent right now on his family openly embracing you immediately. And if it is, and they don’t? Then he’s not the guy for you.

I’ve been in a lesbian relationship with “Irene” for seven years and we’ve had trouble with family accepting us. In regards to my family members who were disrespectful to us, her, or me, I cut those people off. Irene has not done the same. Her mother acts as if I’m a friend or roommate. Her sisters are both rude to me. Irene has never put her foot down about our relationship with any of them. My mom, who adores Irene and vice-versa, came to visit so we invited Irene’s mom to a BBQ we were putting together. Irene’s mother called me to ask me why my mom wanted to “speak” to her. I replied that she wanted to meet her since, after all, it’s been seven years that their daughters have been dating. Her mother started laughing, telling me that she was just “gonna lay low” because the 4th of July isn’t a holiday in her eyes. I was upset because it reaffirmed what I’m always feeling, which is that our relationship, because we are both females, isn’t legitimate.Am I wrong to have ill feelings toward my girlfriend because she won’t stand up to her mom? I made hard decisions in the beginning of our relationships to get the results I have today. Irene says she wants marriage and kids with me, but if her family can’t accept our relationship, how will they accept our kids? Marriage and kids are forever, and I want to look at this individual every day wholeheartedly knowing I made the right decision. Would you stay or go? — Not Accepted

 
I don’t think you’re wrong to be upset that Irene hasn’t taken a firmer stance with her family in regards to your relationship, but I do think you need to be very clear what you think that stance should be and what the “results” are that you’re looking for — the results you say you got from taking a firm stance with your own family. In your eyes, is the only appropriate stance with family who won’t accept your relationship to cut them off? And is the goal result to have only family in your life who will embrace your relationship and love your partner? That’s fine if that’s the case, of course, but you need to be clear about that with your girlfriend. If those are your expectations, she needs to know, and if she isn’t prepared to meet them — to cut off her family because they won’t openly embrace you and accept your relationship — then you have to decide if that’s a deal-breaker for you.

If Irene is unwilling to cut off her family, and you are unwilling to break up with her because of that less-than-firm stance, then you both need to find some middle ground. What other stance, in your eyes, would be appropriate? What sort of boundaries would you like to see in place? And how do you, together, plan to navigate relationships with family if you have children?

I, myself, would be very leery about allowing into my children’s lives family who did not accept my relationship with their other parent. And I would think very hard about becoming a parent with someone whose family did not accept me, if my partner planned to allow said family into our kids’ lives. Those are very blurry boundaries that I would be uncomfortable with. I suspect you feel similarly, and you need to make that very clear to Irene. Maybe the firm stance she needs to take is to tell her family that she plans to have children with you and if they want to be part of the kids’ lives, they better start treating you with the respect and kindness that they’d want any partner of theirs to be treated with. The problem with that is that they may not take the talk of kids seriously until kids are actually in the picture. Are you willing to wait that long? Are you willing to take such a serious step with Irene and make the commitment of joint parenthood with someone who hasn’t yet proven that your feelings and your future kids’ feelings are more important than the dysfunctional relationship she has with her family? Only you can decide that. But since you asked what I would do in your situation, I don’t think I would stay in a relationship where I didn’t feel legitimate in the eyes of people my partner kept close ties with. I don’t know how I could.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

19 comments… add one
  • avatar

    SpaceySteph July 27, 2017, 9:05 am

    Dear current and future LWs: You aren’t fooling anyone. We see your “separated” and read “still married.” And we see your “his marriage was really over years ago” and read “I’m the other woman.”

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    • avatar

      bondgirl July 27, 2017, 9:43 am

      Yup. You hit the nail on the head.

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    • Cleopatra Jones

      Cleopatra Jones July 27, 2017, 10:10 am

      Right, this is what happens when side chicks don’t know how to stay in their lane. I don’t condone extramarital affairs but damn if you start out being the side chick, recognize and understand what you’ve gotten yourself into. It almost never works that the side chick becomes wife #2, and if it does, wife #3 isn’t probably too far on the horizon.
      .
      LW, stop trying to use his family as validation for your relationship. 10 months is really way too soon to start dreaming of your perfect life with this guy. Honestly, by month 12 he may decide he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you (or anyone) or that he’s going to give his marriage another shot.
      .
      Girl, M .TF. OA!
      .
      You’re setting yourself up for heartbreak with this dude because he has no interest in quelling any of this drama. In fact, it may add to the illicitness of his relationship with you. And at the end, you’ll be the one putting yourself back together while he has moved onto someone else or back to his wife.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom July 27, 2017, 10:28 am

        The only time I’ve seen it work, where the guy replaces the woman before separation, is when the guy is so afraid of being alone that he lines up the replacement before the marriage ends. The one time I’ve seen this happen the wife had already filed for divorce and refused to go to any more marriage counseling. While she was making arrangements to move herself and the kids out he was finding the replacement woman. He’s still married to woman #2. He is so afraid of being alone that the only way his second marriage will end is if she leaves him.

        Much more likely the LW is an affair partner and he will cheat on her just like he cheated with her.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros July 27, 2017, 10:23 am

      Especially the “was over years ago.” When someone is still married but says their marriage is over, that usually means “I’m not interested in that person anymore but they don’t know it.” If it were truly over for both of them, they wouldn’t be married.

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      • avatar

        va-in-ny July 27, 2017, 12:13 pm

        Even if it’s true that the marriage was over YEARS ago, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the family has known that this had been coming for years. I’m sure they still showed up together to holiday celebrations, weddings, birthday parties, etc. Hell, I bet no one even knew that they were having issues!

        So when the marriage ends and people are upset (“We loved her!”) and then new-lady shows up wanting to be a part of the family, I’m not a bit surprised that they’re being cold toward her. I’m sure they want to be cold toward the boyfriend too, but alas, he’s their brother.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant July 27, 2017, 11:42 am

      Yeah, the “his marriage was really over years ago, he only stayed for the kids” line really grinds my gears, particularly as it was something my father tried to use as an explanation him shacking up with a new woman immediately after leaving my mother.

      Just because someone is unhappy and mentally checked out of a relationship does not mean it “is over”. It’s only over when both partners acknowledge it’s over. When there is an official, public separation.

      If you’re just staying together for the kids, you’re still together. Albeit perhaps miserable. When you finally leave, you don’t get to revise the past to cast yourself as a good guy and claim the marriage had “been over” for a long time just because you mentally were checked out a long time ago. That’s not how that works.

      You could claim that is was dysfunctional and unhappy for a long time, and that the break-up was not caused by an outside party, but you don’t get to say it was over.

      My mom knew they were unhappy for a long time, but she very much thought she was still in a marriage. And certainly my siblings and I didn’t know the marriage was “over”.

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  • avatar

    artsygirl July 27, 2017, 9:40 am

    LW1- You need to slow down. Your BF seems supportive, has introduced you to his kids, and is showing that he wants you in his life. It has been less than a year and his family have known and loved his ex for a long time, she has a history. While you say the marriage was over years ago – I doubt if the family truly knew how bad it was. Your BF and his wife likely hid the cracks and put on a happy face. The fact that he then turned around and started dating immediately, would have been a further shock on top of the divorce. Give the family time and be supportive to your BF. Remember that if this works out, you will have decades with his family so what does a few more months matter?

    LW2- You are lucky that your mother is so supportive of your relationship and while it is healthy that you cut out the family members who were not, it sounds like Irene is having a hard time, after all this is not extended family, but rather her closest relatives. It is possible she is hoping her mother would come around but after seven years, I think it is unlikely. You need to sit down with Irene and talk this out. Also, regarding the whole 4th of July thing, it sounds like Irene’s mother was aware that your mother was going to try to speak to her on her beliefs. You, your mother, and even Irene are not going to be able to change her mind and she avoided what would have likely been an awkward, pressure filled situation.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros July 27, 2017, 10:07 am

    LW1: It’s odd to me that the boyfriend was so scared of his family’s disapproval that he wouldn’t let on that the marriage was ending, but didn’t think it would matter if he moved on to a new woman quickly. I think you just have to wait it out for a while. Trying to force people to like you who don’t like that you are in their life is going to make it worse. I think the fact that the kids like you helps a lot.

    LW2: It’s not wrong to be upset. You’ve got to decide what you can tolerate and what you can’t. You can’t make her handle her family in a way she doesn’t want to. If you’re not OK with being with a person who doesn’t shun their family, then you need to find someone else.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom July 27, 2017, 10:19 am

    LW1 Part of the downside of jumping into a relationship with a man who has just separated from his wife is that you will be seen as the woman who broke up the marriage. Everyone is going to assume that the two of you were involved before the separation and that the marriage was destroyed by an affair. Just like his family, we are left to think or suspect that the two of you were at least emotionally involved before he separated from his wife. You will have trouble changing his family’s point of view. They don’t like you. They immediately disliked you because they saw you as the cause of the pain in their family. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to make them like you.

    He may say that the marriage was over for years but was it? They gave the appearance to his family of being happily married. You can hide some cracks but people can see who is interacting in a good way and who seems to be avoiding each other or not getting along or making negative comments about each other. If none of that was happening then they were doing good as far as his family was concerned and maybe as far as his wife was concerned. His wife may have been happy.

    It is appropriate for them to reach out to his ex and emotionally support her. She is a member of their family, even if the two of them get divorced. They love her and she is the mother of their grandchildren/nieces/nephews. It would be cruel to keep his kids away from their cousins because you are unhappy. That would be punishing his kids over their dad’s choices with you. His kids should have their extended family in their lives. At this time the extended family provides his kids more stability than he does. They need that. If you want to insure that his family despises you forever just talk your boyfriend into keeping the kids away from their cousins just for you.

    I think you need to realize that this relationship is probably doomed by the way it started and move on.

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  • avatar

    Fyodor July 27, 2017, 10:26 am

    I think that you need to acknowledge that even if you get together with someone spontaneously immediately after they separated that no one is going to believe that it was so. They’re going to assume that you were the other woman or at the very least you were cultivating the relationship beforehand. Separation is also not divorce, so people might (correctly) believe that if you hadn’t come along they might have reconciled. This is among the many many reasons that it’s not a good idea to leap into a new relationship with someone newly separated.

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  • avatar

    csp July 27, 2017, 10:51 am

    LW1 – I feel for you. Look, you want legitimacy and your choice of guy won’t give that to you. When you date a man who is going through a divorce with small children, there is some extra time and sensitivity needed. There will also be a stigma that will follow you even if it isn’t deserved. Think about if this relationship is worth it to you. The other thing to think about is this, when it comes to remarrying, that will also be delayed. Divorces can take years and if you want to be married and have a family of your own, you might be waiting for that too.

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  • avatar

    Sarah July 27, 2017, 10:57 am

    “…his marriage was over years ago”
    -Said every mistress ever, to justify the affair.

    “When he suddenly realized he could no longer stay in his marriage, did that decision coincide at all with meeting and/or hooking up with you? ”

    Bingo!!

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom July 27, 2017, 11:08 am

      Isn’t it remarkable that his marriage was over for years but suddenly, years into it being over, he suddenly realizes he can’t stay.

      “…his marriage was over years ago”
      -Said every mistress ever, to justify the affair.

      Because she is repeating what her cheating boyfriend is telling her. Cheaters try to make themselves look better by saying that the marriage is over but they are staying together for the kids. They are being noble rather than being a lying, sneaking cheat. They are being self-sacrificing rather than self-absorbed.

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  • avatar

    csp July 27, 2017, 11:00 am

    LW2 – I do not mean to make promises, but I know many couples whose parents weren’t thrilled with a relationship that marriage and kids helped bring the family together. Some were because of interracial things and others, like mine, was just that my MIL didn’t care for me. If you plan a wedding, it will force the issue and you will see if the family attends. If they don’t then you know where you stand.

    My mother in law sobbed at our rehearsal dinner and thought she would never see her son again. To this day, she still brings up the woman she “wished her son had married”. However, she is the most loving grandparent you could see. And we see them all the time. Honestly, My MIL and I basically decided that we both love the same people and make the relationship work. I am not saying that it is the same situation, but the first 8 years of marriage were tough with them and the last two have been great. My son is what changed things.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom July 27, 2017, 11:04 am

    LW1 The fact that his kids like you means that his family is careful to not talk about you with the kids around. If the kids were hearing what his family thinks they wouldn’t like you. His family is being careful around the kids because they love those kids and want to protect them. Even if you don’t love the kids you need to protect them and that means leave them out of your battle with his family. They need their extended family. Your boyfriend will take his kids to see his family for Thanksgiving and Christmas or whatever holidays they celebrate. He will be taking them for birthdays and anniversaries. You need to accept that even if you aren’t invited. They need their family more than you need to be invited to join them.

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    • avatar

      csp July 27, 2017, 1:30 pm

      Great point!

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  • avatar

    Ron July 27, 2017, 11:43 am

    LW #1 —
    You are going to have to be more precise/specific, because this reads like B.S.:
    “My boyfriend, “Levi,” and I got together fairly quickly after his separation, but his marriage was over years ago ”

    What EXACTLY does ‘got together’ mean. Met for the first time? Flirted for the first time? Dated for the first time? Had sex for the first time? Or, as I suspect, moved in together?

    What exactly is ‘fairly quickly’? Six months? Six weeks? Six days? He moved out of the marital home into your house/apartment?

    Since Levi and his wife were still living together, what does ‘his marriage was over years ago’ mean? They had separate bedrooms? They weren’t having sex? They weren’t talking to each other,unless kids/family were present? He was already dating you for these years, but his wife didn’t know it?

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  • avatar

    Morecoffeeplease July 28, 2017, 8:54 am

    LW1 do you read these comments? Reading between the lines…here is my take on your problem. Your guy told you his marriage was over years ago. To me that means he was unhappy with his marriage, but I would bet that he did not talk to his wife about it and she did not feel the same way. I bet she had no idea he was that checked out. I have a feeling he met you while he was still married and even if you were not together yet and didn’t have sex yet (but perhaps you did?) you started an emotional affair. He became attached to you before legally divorced. The correct thing for him to do would have been to go to therapy with his wife to try to make it work, if not working to separate, then to legally divorce. After setting up custody and all the work of divorcing and getting his kids used to this new arrangement (say a year later) and them going to his new residence in a shared custody agreement, then after all that he starts talking to other women and entering the dating scene. After dating someone say a good 6 months or so and feeling like he is serious about her then he slowly introduces her to his kids. Perhaps he then looks at getting married say a year later. It sounds to me like he was into you before he was divorced and his entire family sees you as the other woman, the home-wrecker, and they double up on their loyalty to his ex-wife who has been a close and loved family member for YEARS. I am super close to my SILs…they are best friends in life and I love them like sisters. You are screwed.

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