Ten years later, my parents still despise him

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Dear Meredith,

Let me start by saying my parents were good parents when I was I kid. They gave me support in all my endeavors, and they gave me choices. I do love them and value their company and wisdom. I want them in my life.

I met my boyfriend in college 10 years ago. He's perfect for me; loving, sweet, supportive, smart, exciting, creative, and dynamic. He makes art with me and understands me better than anyone I know. We both love each other deeply and want to be together. I love him so much ... but my parents hate him. They've always hated him. My own relationship with my parents was a little rocky right around the time I met my boyfriend. I was being secretive and defensive and wasn't calling them often enough. I was far from the perfect daughter. Well, in that climate, I brought my new boyfriend (he's my first and only) home to meet my parents. We were young and disrespectful and had sex in the house, and it was pretty obvious to my parents. He also didn't talk to them enough (no one really talked that much), he slept too long after his long plane ride, he wandered around the house one night looking for a glass of water, and, in their eyes, he didn't pay enough attention to me while I doted on him. They kicked him out of our house early. He actually broke up with me that day because he didn't want to come between me and my parents.

The breakup didn't help. Because even though I wasn't with my boyfriend anymore, my parents still yelled at me for picking him. Meanwhile, I still loved him and he still loved me, so after a painful year and a half of separation, my boyfriend and I got back together. They met him again that Thanksgiving. They used the opportunity to ruthlessly interrogate him and further condemn him. They told me to break up with him. I didn't. I kept dating him despite the constant tirades from my folks, and when I finished college, I moved with him. I didn't call or visit my parents for a couple years because I needed some time away.

Since then, they've thankfully stopped yelling at me about him. They’ve only met him in person twice, and both times were negative experiences. I've finally gotten my parents and boyfriend to talk civilly with each other over the phone as of this year, which feels like a GREAT step ... but they still hate him, and he's terrified of them! How is this ever going to get better? I want to marry this man. I want to have kids with him. I want my parents to someday play with their grandkids. I also want my parents and I to feel comfortable around each other again, something we haven't been able to do fully ever since this drama with my boyfriend went down a decade ago.

How do we heal? I want my parents' impression of my boyfriend of 10 years to improve.

– Ten Years

Family therapy has its name for a reason. Grown kids and parents can see a professional together.

I don't know if your parents would be open to that, but it's worth asking. You could do something on Zoom – and I mean just the three of you, not the boyfriend. Maybe they'd be into the idea because they'd think it could lead to a breakup. Even if their intentions don't match yours, it could be fruitful. You can explain that you want to do this because you want to be closer to them. If they say no, at least you tried.

But let's hope for a yes. I think you'd learn a ton in that setting, and it could be all about making things better, as opposed to rehashing the time that your boyfriend was 20 and couldn't find a water glass. Really, this has to be about more than that.

No matter what happens with therapy, it would be good to get to a place where you no longer have fantasies about everyone getting along, perfect weddings, everyone holdings hands, etc. You have no power to make that happen, so your best bet is to set your own boundaries and explain them to others. Take things visit by visit, call by call.

Don't make assumptions about what might happen with grandkids. Your parents could be great when that happens, and at that point your priority will be to protect the children from everyone else's issues.

Focus on now. Before any big communication or visit, figure out what it would take for you to feel good and comfortable, and ask others (including your boyfriend) what they need on their end. Keeping things micro can help. It's the best way to prioritize your own happiness.

– Meredith

Readers? How can the LW manage this without hurting the romantic relationship? Any tips based on your own experiences? Therapy?