Ask Amy: Engaged woman worries about bullies

Dear Amy: I have been with my fiancé for four years. Throughout our relationship, a major source of upset, stress and contention for us is the strong need I feel for him to impress and get along with my family members (who can be quite judgmental). They are all difficult and don’t get along well with one another, let alone me, but they love me, consider us “close,” and have tried to be supportive of me throughout my life.

They have bad-mouthed him, questioned our relationship, and put him down to his face (and behind his back).

I have talked this through with them and was hoping things were improving. However, the day we got engaged, a friend posted the news on Facebook before I could call them.

Once I realized this I called and left messages, sent texts, etc. I was devastated, and the fallout has nearly destroyed my fiancé, our relationship and our relationship with my family. They were furious and mean, and now want us to get over it.

The truth is, my fiancé called my mother to ask for my hand a few days prior to asking me, so they knew his plans.

How do we move on from this? How do I get them to see the hurt that they caused us?

Amy says: The way you portray this dynamic, your family members are bullies and you are the frightened child cowering in the corner, apologizing for their destructive behavior and begging them to forgive you and treat you well. This is how they “love” you.

There are two effective ways to respond to bullies: Stand up, or avoid. I suggest you do both.

You stand up by drafting a statement, which you should keep on hand for the day when you’ll have to use it (soon, I’m guessing). You say a version of, “I’m tired of tolerating this treatment. I’m done with it.” And then you quietly exit.

If your family members behave well, they will be rewarded for good behavior. If they behave poorly, you should avoid them.

You can change this dynamic, but it requires your willingness to put your own life (and your marriage) at the center of your world. People who are respectful and kind get to share your world with you. Everybody else can take a seat.

Put on hold

Dear Amy: Last spring, I met the man of my dreams. I’m truly in love. However, only two months into our relationship, his mother passed away. He decided to move home (an hour and a half away) to help care for his father and sister, both of whom have health concerns.

As much as I love my boyfriend, the distance has been hard on me. He tells me it’s not forever (the distance), and I know he means it, but it already feels like it’s been forever.

I want to be there for him, but sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the situation that I feel like I’m more of a distraction and just one more thing on his plate. Everyone in his family seems to be going on with their lives except him. Do you have any advice?

Amy says: You should set a loose deadline with him — say, six months from now — to revisit this issue to arrive at some kind of decision about your relationship. He may ultimately choose to stay with his family; you should prepare yourself for this possibility and understand that this is not a referendum on you.

For now, do your best to be supportive and generous.

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