I am also a first-generation American, but my relationship with my family is such that I feel comfortable telling them that I plan to move in with my boyfriend and am able to separate their opinions from my own. We’ve talked about ways he could separate his parents’ reactions from his choices but he usually says “it’s different in my family, you don’t understand.” We both want to live together, but I don’t want to sneak around or lie about it for his parents’ sake. What do we do?
Dear Move-In Mess: Your boyfriend has different values from his parents, so making choices he knows they won’t agree with can be incredibly difficult. For most people in this situation, the road of least resistance involves finding ways to protect their privacy while maintaining a relationship with their parents. This can involve omitting the whole truth as a form of survival.
As adults, these folks hit crossroads where they have to make a decision: Either continue to live separated and disconnected lives to make their parents happy or choose authenticity and hope their parents’ love for them is stronger than their beliefs.
Your boyfriend is at this crossroad, and while I can empathize with his concerns, there is potentially a bigger issue here that impacts you. Your boyfriend is scared to disappoint his parents. You’ll want to reflect on how comfortable you are with this, and consider how this may play out in your relationship — now and in the long-term. What else is your boyfriend willing to do to avoid disappointing his parents? What compromises or behaviors would that require from you?
Your boyfriend’s fear of disappointment has resulted in learned conflict avoidance, and I can’t help but wonder: Is this behavior a part of a larger pattern where he puts his parents’ feelings before yours?
I am also curious about his family. If moving in together is a step toward making a bigger commitment, you will have a relationship with his parents for years to come. Do they know about you, and are they generally supportive of your relationship? Is there anything else at play — like, does your boyfriend feel indebted to his parents? Are there other parts of his lifestyle that he hides from his parents?
When we withhold parts of ourselves from others, we don’t just keep them from knowing and loving who we really are; we also do a disservice to ourselves. That’s your boyfriend’s prerogative, but now he is asking and expecting you to do the same.
Separating others’ opinions from yours requires knowing where you and your sense of self end and where the other person begins. This can be really painful for first-generation Americans whose parents exerted a lot of control over them and sometimes have unrealistically high expectations.
Your boyfriend currently may not have the ability to accept the consequences or have the tools to emotionally regulate after setting boundaries. He also seems to struggle with the reality that disappointing people is inevitable. You seem to be on a different page about being honest and handling the repercussions.
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You can’t make your boyfriend do anything he doesn’t want to, but you do get to decide what you are okay with. Is living together before marriage nonnegotiable to you? Are you okay with waiting to live together if you and your boyfriend have an understanding of how he’ll work toward addressing this issue with his parents? Or are you disappointed by this, but ultimately okay with moving forward and lying to his parents?
It may be uncomfortable to advocate for yourself, but as your boyfriend considers his next move, it’s imperative that he knows your feelings — especially as this decision impacts you. No matter what, remember that you can support him but you can’t do the work for him. In cases like this, individual and couple’s therapy can be useful.
One way or another, this issue is inescapable. You either build a life around it, or you address it head on.