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Some Background

  • My boyfriend (bf) is 21, living at home.
  • He is the youngest of three boys (his brothers are 29 and 23 respectively, neither of them are at home much).
  • His parents are 54 (mom) and 65 (dad).
  • I am 21 and living alone (renting)

Apologies for the mini novel, just wanted to give as much background as I could. TL;DR at the bottom, I would advise reading that first then read the novel to fill in any blanks if needed.

I was in the middle of a conversation with my bf last night (via IM) when he disappeared for the majority of two hours - I assumed he was just really caught up in a game (he was telling me he was going to be playing Overcooked with his brother who was visiting) or that he'd fallen asleep after the busy weekend we had and was just wiped out. No big deal or anything - up until the point that I was about to go to bed myself (this was around 23:30). I sent him a message to say goodnight and that I'd talk to him soon and I had just put my phone down when a message came in from him. I checked it, thinking it would be a goodnight text, but instead I was greeted with the message

I need to get out of here.

I wasn't really sure what to make of this and was sort of worried by it so I replied asking him what was up. He told me he had spent the guts of the past two hours arguing with his mom. I sat up with him to talk about what had happened for about an hour and just let him rant about his mom and his dad and get it out of his system, all the while trying to keep a fair view and give helpful answers to his questions/statements.

I know it's a normal thing to have fights with parents on occasion but my bf is almost always butting heads with either his mom or his dad or both of them. It's getting to the stage where he doesn't want to be at home because of how badly they get on. I can understand where he's coming from, I used to not get on all that well with my mom but when I moved out, things changed, and now we get along like a house on fire.

My bf's parents are very much results oriented, i.e., no matter what it is that my bf does they need to see good results from it in order for them to think of it as being worthwhile, be it in exams, work life etc.. If they can't see any results for themselves then whatever it was was a waste of time as far as they are concerned. They tend to pick on him about things even though he could have just completed a really hard task in work or got accepted into some course he really wanted and worked hard to get into - if they can't immediately see results from something he does it gets shot down on him. It's like they need a piece of paper with a grade on it to show them what he did was worthwhile.

I want to support my bf and I want him to know that I'm always there for him but at the same time I don't exactly want to get dragged into this in such a way that it puts my relationship with his parents in a bad place. They're great people, I personally get along very well with them and I know they like me, but I think because he is the youngest in the family, they just don't see him as a capable, independent adult and that may be the main problem.

The last thing I want is for anything to come between him and his parents in such a way that it ruins their relationship permanently. I'm not looking for a solution to this problem (though if anyone has got one, I am all ears), I'm mainly just wondering if anybody has any advice on dealing with this kind of situation that I could impart onto my bf to help him out. He is living at home at the minute as he is trying to save money for college next year so moving out isn't on the cards. He also knows he can stay with me any time he wants no questions asked but that's not always feasible due to prior commitments either of us have made.

TL;DR

My bf is constantly fighting with his parents and I want to help him and support him without ending up in his parents bad books. I currently lend an ear to him and offer advice/a shoulder to lean on when he comes to me about a fight with his parents - there is nothing wrong with this and it works really well, I'm just wondering if there is more that I could do.

He is living at home to save money for college so moving out isn't an option. Both his brothers are moved out but visit every now and again so for the most part it's just him and his parents in the house. I am living alone (renting) and he is welcome to stay with me anytime, but that's not always possible due to prior commitments either/both of us have made. Any advice on how to offer more support to him? I'm not looking for solutions to his problem, he's the only one that can do that realistically, just looking for other peoples experiences with this kind of situation and what they did to help.

If any more info is needed, please don't hesitate to ask and I will edit as needed.

closed as unclear what you're asking by The Wraith, Alina Cretu, Spagirl, Anoplexian, DVK Jul 25 '18 at 18:12

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  • Is delaying college for a year not an option? – Pharap Jul 25 '18 at 3:53
  • @Chilly other than age, did his brothers leave for the same reasons ? – bigbadmouse Jul 25 '18 at 8:06
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    @nick012000 he does stay with me every now and again but due to us both being in work at different hours it makes it kind of awkward for us unfortunately :/ and to be honest, if he was permanently living with me yes I would be asking him to pay rent if not split it 50/50 with me, fair is fair. – Chilly Jul 25 '18 at 13:24
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    Out of curiosity, why don't you want to end up in his parent's bad books? I'm sure you have a reason, but I didn't see it in this question, and it might affect which answer is the best. – Nic Hartley Jul 25 '18 at 17:42
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    @NicHartley I spend a lot of my time at his house, the last thing I need is to be in his parents bad books, it would just make visiting awkward and nobody wants or needs that. – Chilly Jul 26 '18 at 8:02
35

Some of the best support I received when I was going through tough times was an open ear. Listen to your boyfriend and be sympathetic about his current situation, and offer some kind, reassuring words to calm him down. Sometimes all people need is someone to be understanding about their situation and just listen. It's a passive approach that allows you to maintain your relationship with his parents and still support him at the same time.

I don't think there is a way to actively support your boyfriend and also not end up in his parent's "bad books" at the same time. Even standing up for your boyfriend on small issues will be remembered by his parents, and this will compound over time.

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    You're completely right, I too know from experience that an open ear is sometimes the best thing during tough times, I just feel like I'm going in circles though because it's all I ever seem to be able to do for him. Maybe I should just relax and stop worrying that I'm not doing enough when I'm actually doing all that I can.. – Chilly Jul 24 '18 at 11:44
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    @Chilly Just remember that your boyfriend can solve problems by himself and unless it's getting really serious then I would take a step back. Don't overly stress yourself out for no reason, and good luck with this situation. – TheRealLester Jul 24 '18 at 11:46
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    Haha yes, he's big enough and ugly enough to solve problems himself, I'll keep on the current path I think and just lend an ear when it's needed. Thank you, I really appreciate it :) – Chilly Jul 24 '18 at 11:49
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Parents who are overly-demanding and controlling are not really fully-developed as people themselves. It is well recognised in psychology, and known to be damaging to children, even grown children like your bf. As you say, it doesn't mean they are bad people - they probably see it as caring, or an expression of their love. They want the best for their son; the problem is they want what they dogmatically believe is the best and do not consider what he may want out of life. They think they know better than he does.

It is confusing because your bf is an adult. True, you're both young adults so you're still developing as people yourself to a degree. The smartest people are those who acknowledge they can always learn and develop. But the way his parents are behaving is frustrating to an adult because (a) they are still treating him like a child, and (b) in a way they are behaving like children themselves and your bf is under pressure to respond to their demands in much the same way that a parent has to respond to a crying baby. We all want to please our parents, and when they make that impossible it is highly upsetting and frustrating.

First rule: don't speak negatively about his parents. No matter what they say or do, or how much they drive him crazy, he will still love them. He will defend them if you attack them, and instead of you being a support to him you will become the perpetrator.

A psychology model I personally find very helpful to understand is the Karpman Drama Triangle. Basically, the idea is that in every conflict there are three roles: a victim, a persecutor, and a rescuer. But the main idea is that these roles shift. Right now your bf's parents are causing him difficulties, so they are the persecutor, he is the victim, and you are the one wanting to rescue him. But a wrong word against his parents could force you into the persecutor role, his parents the victims, and he will rush to the rescue of his parents.

"Supporting" means helping him to do what he wants to do, so the most helpful thing you can do in support of him is talk to him using a method similar to how a counsellor would. Listen carefully to his problems, and then draw him out with questions to help him reach his own conclusions and his own answer to the problem. Ask him why he thinks his parents are like this. This will help both of you have empathy for them. Then perhaps ask him whether or not he thinks trying to please them will actually make anybody happy - them, or him. The answer, if it comes honestly from him, is almost certainly no. If they are always like this, they are never happy, and nor is he.

The answer that hopefully you can guide him to is that he needs to:

  1. Stop worrying about pleasing his parents.
  2. Stop trying to please them.
  3. Live his life.

I believe his parents, if they are the good people you say they are, will never abandon their son. So he wants to waste a little time playing Overcooked (it is a great game, I met the developers and played a beta of this about 5 years ago!), some parents worry that their kids are wasting their life with recreation instead of studying or working, but it isn't the sort of thing that makes parents disown their kids and write them out of their will. They really need to get over this.

See if he is willing to trial some new behaviour. He should try telling his parents what he is doing, with a smile, and then when they explode just keep smiling and don't take the bait. Let them get frustrated, but he mustn't get angry yourself. Your bf needs to learn that his own happiness does not hinge on trying to please his parents. Everybody in this drama is responsible for their own happiness. Likewise his parents need to learn to let go and stop controlling, and a change in behaviour from their son might force them to accept that.

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    The last paragraph is a big deal. I don't how much his parents' attitudes are affecting him, but they are likely having at least a small effect on what makes him feel successful, if he can make that change, it can be a big step in him feeling successful regardless of external approval or disapproval. – ZAD-Man Jul 24 '18 at 20:12
  • @ZAD-Man Good point, and I thought over the course of the answer I'd made it clear they both have to adjust, but it did need to come together in the final paragraph so I have made an edit. – Astralbee Jul 25 '18 at 8:07
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Based on my own experience with a father who was loving but didn't appreciate what I did as a software developer (I think he thought I was a keypunch operator) I'd take a two pronged approach.

First, as you are doing, let your boyfriend blow off steam to you, and as he is doing so, give him some validation that he's not getting from his parents. Remind him that yes, he has accomplished something. This is really important, because no matter what his rational mind says, if his parents are telling him what he's doing isn't worthwhile, he's absorbing that message. He needs that counter-message.

Second, you can support your boyfriend with his parents without getting into an argument with them. Bring up his accomplishments when there isn't an argument going on. In other words, you aren't defending him or disagreeing with them, you are giving them "news" like "wow, he managed to do X!". Hearing this as an accomplishment from a third party (you) is going to give it some validation in their eyes.

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    That second point is very helpful, I never thought of that! My boyfriend is also a software developer and his parents don't really understand what he does either, as far as they're concerned he just sits behind a screen all day. I may try this the next time I'm at the house and see how it goes, I won't push it though. Thanks for your answer! – Chilly Jul 24 '18 at 14:25
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    I think I'd go a little easy on using second point. I'm not saying it's bad, but it could backfire: First, you show impression by something the parents obviously don't, and that could lead them to think you're naive and easy to impress. Second, you're biased towards your boyfriend, and they know it. They will value your support of his accomplishment with this in mind. Best solution would be to have someone from outside (employer, colleague, friend, etc.) bringing a successful accomplishment up at some convenient point (if possible). – Mads Aggerholm Jul 25 '18 at 17:22
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Others have given good advice, so instead I'm going to take a step back and offer what is hopefully some insight into what I think is really going on. This might come off as a little tough, but as an older person who's had to deal with a similar situation, yet who (believe it or not) can still clearly recall what it was like to be in my early twenties, it doesn't seem all that unusual a situation.

First: Your boyfriend's parents are older people who have an "adult" son who is living at home. They sound like the sort of people who are willing to give him their support, but since he is an adult, they think he should understand that he can no longer expect to get this for free. Their largess comes with conditions and expectations.

Imagine you have a friend who comes to you and says

Hey, can I crash at your apartment until I feel like moving out? I'm not going to help pay rent, and I expect you to go to work every day and make money to buy us food and pay all the utility bills. Meanwhile I'm just going to take my money and save up for something personal I plan to do. That's cool, right?

No, I don't think that would be cool at all, and it sounds like that's not really cool with your boyfriend's parents either. They're willing to give him a break because he's their son, but in return they want him to achieve a measurable result. Objectively, that doesn't sound too unreasonable.

Anyway. Second, from your boyfriend's perspective: He's a young, working adult who is trying to put together some money to go to school to improve his employment prospects. This is a mature and commendable decision, and I'm sure he feels his parents should be proud of and respect his ambitions.

Meanwhile, he's growing up and wants to feel independent, yet he's frustrated because this good, long-term decision forces him to remain subject to short-term authority. This creates perfectly reasonable friction when he tried to assert his right to control his life, and inevitably butts heads with his parents who can't quite let go.

I'll be frank with you -- your parents never really stop telling you what to do with your life. My mother still voices her opinions about my life choices, and it still occasionally gets on my nerves. I just try to keep in mind that I'm lucky I have parents who care about me.

A friend once told me something that stuck with me:

Your parents start out as your parents, and they make your decisions for you. As you get older, they become your friends, and you can choose when to give them control.

But, as you get even older, they become your children, and you have to make decisions for them.

That's the cycle. Appreciate being a child for as long as you can, because, sadly, it's over all too soon.

It's as old as time, this friction between the parents, who want their children to stay young forever, and the children, who can't wait to grow up. It would be really nice if people understood these deep desires and fears that motivate their behavior, and sit down and talk them through, so both sides really understand each other ... but that rarely happens even in those of us who are old enough to know better.

I agree with the others that you should lend your boyfriend your ear and your attention and give him emotional support. I don't think it's your place to get involved in taking sides between him and his parents. That's his conflict to resolve, hopefully with maturity and patience.

But you might want to show him this answer, and see if it gives him any insight and understanding of where his parents are coming from.

8

I have been in a situation in the recent past that did not go well with my parents. I am also from a family of 3 boys, me being the middle one. It was hard to get my views across to my parents. At the time, it was my older brother who came to my rescue. He understood my point of view of what I did. So, he spoke with them to make them understand. Based on how your BF's relationship is with his brothers, I would suggest that you talk to your BF and ask him to talk to his brothers about it. If they have been through the same thing and they care for their brother, they can step in. This way, you are still the caring GF. Since the brother's are taking care of it, your reputation with your BF's parents is not affected. Plus, since one of them is about 29, by which time, I guess he is in a better of place life and career wise, his support for his brother might have some value even if he says the same thing that your BF says. Considering he is the youngest in the family and given the nature of the family, I doubt this would change easily. But they have to keep at it. And your BF needs to keep doing his best in everything so that when results do come, his parents can see it for themselves.

Worst case scenario, he may have to move out, even if not now, after a while, and things might change for him. And seeing how he takes care of himself, maybe his parents also grow softer. But throughout this, your BF needs to stay strong and not give up and not do anything crazy.

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    I never thought to suggest he bring his brothers in to this, I may tell him to try that the next time something happens. He only moved home in May to save money for college again in September - the joys of student life in Ireland, nowhere is affordable for the summer months - so he'll be moving out again the start of September which will help everyone but at the same time he has to make it to that point. I'll definitely suggest he utilize his brother(s) though, thank you for your answer! – Chilly Jul 24 '18 at 15:59
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Although culture differs, most parents want the success of their children as this in a way bring glory to them. (This sometimes have two effects: too concerned or over-protective without enough information which have negative consequence(s) or 2) trying to repeat / force an old experience that worked in the past in their son's life) Moreover having had much experience in life and also of their son, sometimes they may have a bigger picture of what is going on which your BF may not have disclosed either by virtue of 'ignorance' or he may not just think such facts are necessary to be disclosed to you. Ensure your own parents (if possible) become friends with his parents because there may be nothing you do to encourage your friend that will not be misinterpreted in the long run as long as they know you are his best friend. (Your parents may know a better way of getting information across better than any advice you receive through the web) In fact, some parent may even think his once-in-a-while mistakes, if he does, are the responses you thought him. Result is the end of all arguments, therefore, help, encourage and pray that your friend becomes successful.

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