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Dear Christine, Not Fighting in Novi

| January 13, 2019

Dear Christine, 

I moved to my girlfriends home last year. We plan to get married in spring. She has 2 nephews she’s raising because their mom was a drunk. 

The boys can be sweet sometimes but often lie and when that happens she defends them. Last week the older one broke his brothers toy on purpose. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The house went nuts with kids crying and mom screaming and when I told her he did do it on purpose she believed him when he told her it was on accident.

I’m not sure how to deal with all this and wondering if I should run for my life. I get it that the kids suffered a lot but She ain’t doing them any favors by babying them so much. 

It’d be hard to leave cause I love her a lot. When I say something we fight. I think the kids need a therapist. How can I convince her without a fight?

Thank you,

Not Fighting in Novi

Dear Not Fighting,

I would encourage you and your girlfriend to consider postponing the wedding!  I don’t know how old these nephews are, but as long as they live in your girlfriend’s house, and she only wants to hear their side of events/squabbles between them, you and she will have fights.  She has a different relationship to them than you, and it sounds like she is being lenient because their mom is drunk.  That may not be what those kids need, and you seem to have a more balanced view of their behavior and may be on to how they manipulate your girlfriend to go easy on them.  Of course, they don’t want consequences, they each want whatever it is they want.  And they are able to get that from her. 

You are not a parent and you have no status as a parent, or aunt, or anything.  You are an adult with no legal connection to these boys.  Your girlfriend is not including you in the parenting equation, and she doesn’t have to.  But there may be consequences from her decision to not listen to your perspective.  One consequence is that she may lose her relationship with you.  She is trying to protect these kids who were damaged by their alcoholic mother, but she may end up doing them harm too, by not getting to the truth of their behaviors.  I think therapy sounds like a good idea, but again, you don’t have any legal sway over that.  Even after a marriage, you still won’t have any legal responsibility over those boys, and will not be able to facilitate their getting some therapy. 

So, if you really don’t want arguments and fights with your girlfriend, wait on marriage.  Maybe the two of you can come to some understanding about these nephews on your own, or maybe the help of a therapist might get you two on the same parenting page.  The boys probably need a therapist sooner or later due to having an alcoholic mother.  That environment causes all kinds of emotional, behavioral and trust issues in children, which you are seeing playing out. 

Keep in mind that you cannot change someone’s mind.  You cannot convince someone else that you are right and they are wrong.  Usually, arguing about it only causes both of you to become even more deeply entrenched in your own opinion and more angry at any other opinion.  Case in point:  the United States these days.  I encourage you to state your opinion and ask her to hear you.  If she doesn’t agree, then decide what your limits are.  Can you really live with and marry someone who has opposing parenting ideas from you?  Can you live with some children that you have no legal or emotional authority over?  Can you live with your girlfriend’s parenting mode?  If her way is going to cause fights and ulcers, think again about taking the legal step of marriage.  That is harder and more expensive to undo.  Right now, you two can talk, negotiate and try to find common ground.  If you don’t find that common ground, you can walk away with a bruised heart, but all your finances and belongings intact.  Divorce is expensive and not fun to go through. 

Good luck to both of you.
Christine C. Cantrell, PhD

Fully Licensed Psychologist

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