Family meetings need ground rules

I'm in a new relationship and everything was going well until my boyfriend's ex of four years came back to town

My boyfriend and I are living together and although this is a new relationship for us, everything was going well until his ex of four years came back to town. They met up and he got closure and although I would have preferred they didn’t see each other, it wasn’t too much of a problem. He has assured me that he isn’t interested in her and won’t have any further contact with her.

The bigger problem is that his family seems to like her a lot. They have all been hanging out with her and it seems like they prefer her and see me as just the one who’s here because it didn’t work out between them.

I am hurt by his family’s acceptance of her over me and feel intimidated by her presence. What can I do to convey my feelings and move past this?

Even though you are feeling hurt and intimidated, your question indicates an expectation that you will be able to deal with your feelings and move past this. This is a really helpful attitude for resolving your problem.

First, it is important to note that your feelings are quite normal. Lots of people would have similar feelings given a similar situation. Talking about feelings is often a good way to deal with them and is also really crucial in close relationships. Writing this question is a good first step in talking about your feelings in this matter. Talking to your boyfriend might be the next step you take.

Telling him what is troubling you. How you feel about it will lay the foundation for resolution. You have said that your relationship is going well so I will assume that you are quite satisfied with the way you communicate together.

If my assumption is correct, then he should be able to listen, to understand your perspective and be open to taking steps to resolve the problem. Even if resolution is not possible, you will feel better for having been understood.

Together, you and your boyfriend could talk about how to deal with the problem of his family’s relationship with his previous girlfriend. One possibility is that he may be able to offer you some insight into his family or their relationship with her that leaves you feeling less intimidated and hurt by their contact with her.

Another possibility is that you plan a way to talk to his family about the impact of their actions on you. They may be unaware that you are feeling hurt and intimidated.

There are many reasons for their contact with her and you might be mistaken in your thought that they see you as “just the one who’s here because it didn’t work out between them. Talking to them may clear this up for you.

Keep in mind that good problem resolution requires good communication and good communication requires good listening and good speaking.

A word of advice for you if you speak to his family — speak about yourself. Talk about what you feel and what you think. I-messages are a great tool for this (the format for I-messages is this….I feel______ when_____because______.)

Avoid blaming statements, stay calm while you speak, and be prepared to listen well when it’s their turn to talk. It may be more appropriate for your boyfriend to speak to his family on your behalf and these communication tips will serve him well also.

Even if you (or he) handle(s) your end of the conversation well, there is no guarantee that it will go well on the other end. We have absolutely no control over how other people behave, think and feel. In the event that talking to family doesn’t result in resolution, a third possibility is that you and your boyfriend can discuss and define the boundaries of relationships — with each other and with his family.

If his family chooses to continue having a relationship with her you can set some boundaries that will protect you and your relationship with your boyfriend. Some useful boundaries might be: asking the family not to share information about you or your boyfriend with her; asking them not to invite her to functions you are attending; asking them either to or not to inform you about contact with her.

Regardless of how you choose to address your feelings in this matter, in the long term a good course of action will be to build a relationship with your boyfriend’s family.

Since this is a new relationship for you likely you don’t know them (or they you) well, whereas the ex-girlfriend may have known them quite well and even considered them friends. Don’t let this incident get in the way of building a good relationship with your boyfriend or with his family.

If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells and Andrew Lochhead at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Friday in the Record.

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