Dear Mitch, I am having trouble with family, but not my own. My girlfriend and I have been together now for 3 1/2 years, and we have a great relationship. Yet getting to know her extended family has been such a pain.
The biggest challenge is my girlfriend’s aunt. She (call her Dawn) thinks the world of her aunt, as they’ve been very close for 25 years. Ever since she was a child, her aunt has “been there”, taking care of Dawn when she was very ill, consoling her during hard times, etc.. My girlfriend’s parents and brothers all accept me, and we get along great. Her aunt isn’t receptive at all, even though I’ve made effort by going with Dawn whenever she visits, and by trying to talk with this aunt. According to Dawn and her family, “she’s just like that.. You’ve gotta be the one to come to her”, and make all of the effort basically. However, I’m not willing to do this.
My feeling is that relationships take effort from both sides, but her family insists I need to work harder “to make her feel important”. I’m stuck between feeling like I’m overextending for a woman who seems to have no interest in reciprocating, and giving up!
What should I do?
Olive Branch Rejected
Hey Olive Branch,
…And family is SUPPOSED to be a haven in the harsh world! Ironically, I help a lot of people find their way by identifying their goals.. That’s particularly rough here, isn’t it? As in: What IS your goal in such a tough scenario?!
The first place I’d take you is right back to YOU! What are you committed to in your primary relationship with Dawn?..
● Is there ANY chance this aunt is actually picking up on something incongruous about you? Maybe Dawn’s aunt is attuned to something even very intuitive that seems “wrong” to her. And YOU may not even be aware of this “wrong” element, even if it IS real..
● I can’t totally accept sans scrutiny your representation – Only because ALL descriptions of “reality” are subjective, and based on our interpretations and meanings. Thus, I’m challenging you to take a solid look at any potential areas for your own growth and contribution to this situation. A GREAT place to start… …With your girlfriend!…
● If your girlfriend’s so close to both you and her aunt, what is she saying about this whole scenario? Is SHE suggesting you need to “work harder”?.. If Dawn IS saying this, you need to look at whether she has a good point… Or perhaps she doesn’t know how to deal with a family dynamic that’s been around long before she was born.. Or, maybe she’s a player in a truly dysfunctional family system, and you have the opportunity to discern if you want to “play along”, or move along…
Now if Dawn ISN’T saying you need to make more effort, has she advocated for you with the family? Who is actually on your “side” here.. Are you still the outsider? This can be characteristic of homeostatic dysfunctional family systems – Families that have found relative balance & serenity by accepting everything EXCEPT newcomers! You may have heard, “When you marry, you marry the family”… While this isn’t true in all cases, your presentation suggests that Dawn is very close to her family.
PERHAPS she isn’t as close as I perceive.. MAYBE as you and your girlfriend gain intimacy, she MAY break some of the ties to this aunt… MAYBE. 25 years of “closeness” is pretty hard to break. Frankly, the tenor of your letter doesn’t leave me sensing that you and your girlfriend are totally on the same page.
◆ Intimacy is the foundation on which to build your relationship, and on which you and Dawn should be able to rely for all challenges and decisions.
◆ Intimacy is only accessed via raw honesty, and full acceptance of each other.
◆ Intimacy is built through communication: Verbal, Touch, Silent, Action Communication.. Relationships most powerful aspects..
My friend, it seems that Dawn’s aunt isn’t comfortable with “family”-level intimacy with you.. Perhaps that is “her personality”. Maybe she needs time to trust and let others in, or perhaps others aren’t EVER truly “in”! Focus on development of honest intimacy with Dawn, and challenges like relationship with this aunt become much more manageable..
Sometimes, the best way to love another is to leave them outside your Inner Circle of Closeness, or even…To let them go..
~ (( ~~~~~ ~~