My family’s demands mean less time with my fiancé

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Dear Meredith,

I’m dealing with a struggle that I know I’m not alone in, yet I feel so alone when it comes to finding the answer. I recently became engaged to an absolutely wonderful man. He’s 31, I am 28, and he balances me out perfectly, and he has truly become my best friend. I live about an hour and a half away from my family. I come from a family that is very involved and that frequently has events going on. Since I am currently not working (this is a temporary situation of unemployment), I have been driving the hour and a half to do things with my family, mostly since lately it’s been events that have needed to be done (such as going through a late family member's belongings, etc.).

My fiancé is so understanding, but he has admitted that he feels like I’m gone a lot lately, and that it even makes him a little sad. My problem is that I don’t know the best way to go about balancing the two. I deal with a lot of anxious thoughts, and I struggle greatly with the fear of hurting loved ones feelings. I’ve tried to start saying no to some family events, but my family can’t understand why I wouldn’t be there when I’m not even “working” right now, and I’ve even found my mother and sister to have judgy undertones when I try to say no to events.

It’s as if they’re suspecting him of trying to be controlling, which isn’t the case at all. It’s causing me a great deal of stress, and just saying no to every other event isn’t seeming to help. I just want to find a way to stop getting so stressed by trying to keep everyone happy and make a healthy balance for them, and myself.

– Loved, but stressed

I'm having trouble figuring out what you want to do.

If your fiancé wasn't sad at all about your absence, would you want to say no to these family events? If your family didn't care as much about your attendance, would you decline more of these invitations?

That’s the first thing to figure out. I say this as a fellow people pleaser (part-time, at least ... I'm better about it than I used to be): take a moment to ask yourself, "Where do I want to be?" Because it sounds like you're trying to figure out how to satisfy one person or another, but maybe not yourself.

It does sound like you need to be clear with your family about why you might say no to an activity – and the fact that you can be tired without a job. It's OK if you're not up to driving. It's more than OK to say hey, "after the last trip, I just need to watch TV and go to bed early for a week." If they bring up your fiancé, let them know this about you, not him. Leave it at that.

This might change a bit when you have work. "I can't do three hours in the car today" is an acceptable reason to say no to anything, but it'll be hard to argue with once you have yet another person (or company) to please.

But really, spend some time thinking about where your gut would tell you to be if it didn't matter to anyone. It can be so hard to figure out what you want to do with your time, but that's one trick to getting out of this cycle. Once you know, you tell people. Don't blame it on anyone else. It can be that simple.

- Meredith

Readers? Do you get a sense of where the letter writer would like to be? How can the LW find the right balance?