Re­ject­ing mom’s boyfriend is a no-win sit­u­a­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - GARY DIRENFELD Have a parenting or re­la­tion­ship ques­tion? Send it in a brief email to ques­tion@your­so­cial­worker.com. Due to the vol­ume of mail, not all ques­tions will re­ceive a re­ply.

Q: I’m 27 and my par­ents sep­a­rated when I was 14.

Both had af­fairs. Dad re­mar­ried and I don’t see him.

My mom is on her third boyfriend. Ev­ery time she gets a new boyfriend, she still ex­pects me to love him. Her pre­vi­ous boyfriends were all abu­sive. I don’t think I should have to love, let alone like, some­one just be­cause she calls him her boyfriend. Am I right?

A: In the be­gin­ning of her jour­ney with men, there is a like­li­hood that you took to them hop­ing to be liked and loved as well. As your mother’s re­la­tion­ships with these men ended, you even­tu­ally learned they were fleet­ing and so in­vest­ing in them your­self only cre­ated dis­ap­point­ment.

The back­sto­ries to sit­u­a­tions like these of­ten in­volve a mother who, while grow­ing up, didn’t re­ceive the kind of parenting that left her feel­ing se­cure in her­self or able to dis­cern de­cent men from abu­sive ones.

It’s likely she is quite emo­tion­ally needy as a re­sult and un­able to meet your emo­tional needs.

It’s as if she needs you to love and ac­cept her choices over con­cen­trat­ing on your needs. She is un­able to see the im­pact of her de­ci­sions on you.

If you with­draw from her or her choices, she prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­ences this as re­jec­tion and gets an­gry.

Your de­ci­sion not to ac­cept her boyfriend is also felt as a re­jec­tion.

As she gets an­gry, you fear los­ing your re­la­tion­ship with her, hop­ing to still re­ceive her love and at­ten­tion. Hence you get frus­trated, not able to con­nect to her boyfriends yet not want­ing to lose your con­nec­tion with her.

The real chal­lenge for you is to come to terms with your mother’s emo­tional un­avail­abil­ity and find a way to sep­a­rate emo­tion­ally from her yet still feel se­cure in your­self. We call this set­ting bound­aries. It can be quite a chal­lenge when our emo­tional needs haven’t been well met and we are still caught up in re­la­tion­ships with those who are emo­tion­ally in­se­cure.

Sit­u­a­tions such as the one you de­scribe here can also make you vul­ner­a­ble to non­ful­fill­ing and even abu­sive in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships.

That emo­tional need­i­ness can get in the way of as­sess­ing peo­ple’s qual­i­ties and is­sues.

So, no, you don’t have to like or love your mother’s boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean she will be ca­pa­ble of ac­cept­ing or un­der­stand­ing your de­ci­sion.

To gain more per­spec­tive, I sug­gest you seek coun­selling so you can un­pack the sit­u­a­tion, ex­am­ine your up­bring­ing more fully and work on tak­ing care of your own emo­tional needs with­out feel­ing be­holden to your mother.

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