I have been dating a wonderful man for the past 5 years. We share many common interests and are very active. We get along well together. I am the eldest of 9 children and have 2 grown children, both doing well. We lost my Dad last year and my mother is in a nursing facility nearby. We are all close and I am also very close to my 2 children. My significant other does not share that closeness with his 3 children as they do not get along with each other. My boyfriend seems to resent my family and my children and gets stressed and angry when we have a family get-to-gether or a sibling or one of my children is struggling with something. He seems to be supportive and then gets angry and frustrated, packs his bags and leaves. He has done this 4 times since we have been together. He tells friends and family an me that he loves me, but says my family is too much for him to bear. I have tried to include his family in outings and such, but it never seems to go right. He gave me a ring and a marriage proposal this past Christmas, and has just left again this past week. Any insights?
A: I think your boyfriend does love you but doesn’t know how to cope with the activity and complications that come with a large extended family. On top of that, the closeness of your family is a painful reminder of the lack of it in his own family. My guess is that he may question himself as a father since his kids can’t seem to get along (and there are only 3 of them!) compared to your big gang. But his strategy of leaving when it gets too much for him isn’t working as a solution since he ends up angry and you end up feeling abandoned.
It’s way past time for a clear talk about the fact that marrying each other means marrying into each other’s family. You thoroughly enjoy your family and you’re not going to say “no” if someone needs you. He may not enjoy his kids as much but he still is connected to them. If you two want to be with each other, you need to work together to find ways to reduce the stress for him. This isn’t about a contest for your affection. When people get together as adults, they have pasts and connections. Part of becoming a successful couple is learning how to incorporate both families (yes, both — his kids too) into your new life together. I suggest you see a couples counselor to help you good people solve this practical problem.
I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Jul 2011
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). My significant other leaves the home we share when there is conflict. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/07/25/my-significant-other-leaves-the-home-we-share-when-there-is-conflict/