I’m getting married to my incredible fiancé (they/them) in 2023. We’ve spent a lot of time with each other’s families and my family fucking loves my partner. My sister gave a little toast at our engagement brunch about how happy she is to welcome my partner into our family. Cute shit. My partner’s family is …reticent. They’re pretty religious and didn’t have the best reaction when my partner came out — years ago and before I was in the picture. Since our engagement, my partner’s family has invited me to Christmas, given me gifts, and included me in family photos. Then last night, their mom said she wasn’t sure she was going to come to our wedding, but was “leaning towards yes.” I’m super proud of how my fiancé reacted — enumerating the reasons that was painful to hear and outlining the very real consequences for their mom — especially with regards to our future kids and the family we’re building — if she chose not to attend.
And I’m sort of at a loss for to do next. My fiancé has gotten in touch with their mom’s sister, who is unquestionably supportive of us, and their brother (who came into the room and said “hi sisters!” to us on Christmas), but my fiancé is really hurting. What next steps can I recommend to them besides “let’s find you a therapist”? How can I support them in maintaining a relationship with their family, while also setting healthy boundaries? How much can I express how hurt I feel about this? What questions am I not asking?
Listen, I know no one wants to hear another boat metaphor, and especially not one about the Titanic, but, truly, I have no choice. Navigating the way someone else navigates their family — especially someone you love, especially someone you’re tethering yourself to for life — is like watching that glorious beast of a boat making a trans-Atlantic voyage, all life and music and dancing and the promise of a bright and wealthy future. Until: KABLAM! But the crashing and sinking isn’t the metaphor; it’s the fact that the iceberg looks so manageable way up here on top of the water, but it’s always that three-quarters of the iceberg is underwater. That’s what gets ya.
And that’s what gets everyone who has a complicated relationship with their family, which is practically every queer and trans person on earth. Up top it’s like, you know, icy. It’s a little cold maybe. But nothing turbulent. Below that, though, it’s attachment issues and abandonment issues and negative body image and an inability to trust or be intimate and how you manage money and how you express fear and desire and coping mechanisms and emotional regulation and self-esteem and the resourcefulness to dream and even the ability to fully relax. So I guess I’m tackling the last part first: What questions am I not asking? So many. So many that you don’t even know to ask, and wouldn’t know how to ask if you knew what they were. Half of your partner’s iceberg is underwater, and the fact that they were able to articulate the consequences of their mom saying they might not attend your wedding — and in real-time! — is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever heard.
That ability, the one you’re rightly proud of, is the thing I think you have to trust right now. If your partner can speak to their mom — someone who said right out loud that she was maybe going to make a decision that would hurt her child for the rest of their life — about their feelings, how much more can they share their truth with you? I’m guessing way more! You’re gonna be their spouse! They’re trusting you with their whole life! And so I think the best way you can support them is to ask how you can support them, and to go into that conversation without a preconceived idea of what you think they should do, how you think they should feel, and what you think the outcome should be of their decision. And I think it’s also important to let them know how fully you support their need to feel all the ways they need to feel about it, however those feelings might change from day-to-day, over the course of time, for — well, forever.
It sounds a little like you already have an idea of what they should do: Maintain a relationship with their family, and also have healthy boundaries. But I think you should maybe scrap the desire for that outcome — or any outcome — right now, as you allow your partner to work through all the stuff that’s on both sides of the water. If you try to push them toward what you think is best, you might push them away, and the last thing they need right now is to feel even more isolated. (Although it does sound like y’all have awesome support from other members of their family, which is wonderful!)
And that brings me to the trickiest part of your question. How do you express how hurt YOU feel about this? First of all, I think it’s really both wise and very mature that you are looking outside of your relationship for that answer. You seem to innately know that centering your own feelings here is not the move, but that it’s also not a good idea to bottle them up and ignore them. It is very fair and very valid that you’re hurt. Your relationship is being rejected, your partner is being rejected, you are being rejected. It is a cruelty I will never understand when people do this to their kids, and I am so sorry it happened to your partner and to you. And it also probably feels a little bit like gaslighting, right? Like the way their mom said it so casually, it seems like she’s trying to convince you it’s no big deal. But it is a big deal! It’s a huge deal! You both deserve so much better than this, so much more. And I hold out hope that your partner’s mom will swerve and make this right.
I think it would be a good idea for you to talk to a therapist! You mention one for your partner, but you’re really hurt here too, and it would not be a bad idea to work out all the whys of your pain with someone who isn’t also going through the pain, and in a more acute way because this is their parents. There’s maybe even a chance what’s under your water is informing some of your own feelings. If that’s a no-go, a trusted friend is a great option, someone who can really focus on your needs and feelings around this, in a way that your partner probably isn’t equipped to do right now. I’m not saying to hide this hurt from them, but I am saying that your hurt can’t add to their own pain right now ’cause that’s going to make navigating this situation even harder for them. It is just not as simple as feeling sad that their mom might not come to your wedding. It’s more than that in ways they probably don’t even fully realize yet. I have a friend whose mom refused to come to her gay wedding, and she ultimately realized her mom had caused her to internalize a huge amount of homophobia that was prohibiting her from following her career dreams AND keeping her from enjoying sex with her wife! Icebergs!
It’s obvious you love your fiancé very much, and want to protect them from any agony the world wants to hurl at them. Unfortunately, you mostly can’t, especially when it comes to their own family, but what you can do is be their safest place, where they can feel the fullness of their feelings without fear of judgment or repercussion, where they can work out what they want to actually do, and where they can be empowered to prioritize their own needs. And hopefully they are that for you too!
I hope your wedding is everything you want it to be and more.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.