Dear Christine, Abandoned in Ann Arbor

Dear Christine,

Hi…My gf and I have been in a committed lesbian relationship for about 4 years. Circumstances (her cats, my dogs) prevent us from living together. Her parents are older, and very needy. They expect way too much from her( IMO). They refuse to respect that she is in a relationship, and they expect her to “be on call” for them at all times. They are miserable and get angry if they need something and she has plans with me. Anyways, she refuses to stand up for our relationship, and always puts them first. My question is——-Do you think that your partner and your relationship should be a higher priority than your parents????

Additional Details

here’s the deal.. I am not making her chose between me and them. I am the one who suggested that we see each other only on weekends so that she can spend her weeknights with them. We only see each other maybe 8 hours on the weekends because of her responsibility to them. I don’t think a little more time for us on the weekends is asking too much. Besides her job, she has 3 main priorities in her life.

1. Her parents

2. her cats

3. Me

in that order. And I am not saying she should dis her other responsibilities. I just feel one’s partner should at least have equal ranking. And my mother had dementia and I know all too well how tough dealing with aging parents can be.

Abandoned in Ann Arbor

Dear Abandoned,

What a hard situation you both are in! Many people feel a huge commitment toward their parents, and it looks like your gf does too, as you did. Some people are willing to put their life on hold to care for aging parents. Is that your gf? I’m not clear on whether or not her parents need her to function in their home as the aging process has made them more dependent, or whether they are just emotionally needy. Do they acknowledge your relationship with your gf? If not, their neediness may be a ploy to keep their daughter to themselves or keep her from being in a gay relationship.

You need to talk to your gf and let her know of your complaints and find out if she is just catering to her parents’ every whim, or whether they truly need assistance at this point in their lives. If they are dependent on her, it is important for them to honor her needs to have a loving relationship in her life, as that will nurture her so that she is more able to give to them, ultimately. Her parents could live and decline for a long time, so it’s important to pace yourselves. If you need more time together, could you find a way to resolve the cat/dog issues so you would only have one household and at least see each other at night. If the dog/cat issues are more important than living together, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the relationship. It is not uncommon for an adult child to put aging parents first, but if this is unacceptable to you, then you must let her know that. If this is a time limited situation, you’re sacrificing and not insisting on being first in your gf’s life before her parents are gone may be the best gift you could give her and the relationship. However, perhaps the timing is off for this relationship. You love each other, but a variety of things are not in alignment, and keep you both from truly committing to a relationship first.

One of the basics of relationships is that you must take care of yourself, as an adult. So, if your need is to be first in your partner’s life, that needs to be communicated as a nonnegotiable early on in the relationship, and you need to find a partner who has no children or parents or other family that may take time away from you. Likewise, it is your partner’s responsibility to take care of her needs, and if that means to her that she needs to put her parents first, not you, then you need her to tell you that. Try not to issue ultimatums, but start a discussion, exploring what each of you is feeling and what needs are being met and which ones are being lost. When a family crisis hits, it takes a toll on everyone involved. My own partner moved back in with her parents across the country to take care of her dad the last 3 months of his life. I missed her terribly but knew this was something she needed to give to her dad, and I fully supported her being there with him, away from me. In fact, those 3 months apart made me realize how much I love her and love the life we have created. It was a hard time for each of us for different reasons, and we both had to sacrifice to keep the relationship going through the emotional turmoil and the distance. She now has the peace of mind that she gave her dad the most comfort possible in his last days and they had some very healing conversations which allow her to be freer emotionally with me and others. For that, I’m grateful.

Let me know how it goes for you,

Christine C. Cantrell, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Prism of Possibilities Psychotherapy
3926 Royal Avenue, #A
Berkley, Michigan 48072
[email protected]

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