Negotiating boundaries in relationships

You and your girlfriend have different ideas about where the boundaries should be when it comes to her mother

My girlfriend and I are having an argument about privacy and her mother. She and her mother have always been quite close and she tells her mother things about us and about me that I think should be private. I have let her know that I don’t want her to talk to her mother about our private information but she says that it would be rude to start shutting her mom out of her life just because we are together. This is becoming a big problem between us and I wonder if you could help?

It sounds like your girlfriend and her mother are in close contact and have a history of confiding in each other. This relationship is obviously very important to your girlfriend and she is reluctant to do anything that her mother might experience as rude, or perhaps hurtful. At the same time you and your girlfriend have a relationship that I assume is important to both of you, and you would like some aspects of your life together to be kept private.

Negotiating boundaries in relationships is important and sometimes difficult work. You and your girlfriend have different ideas about where the boundaries should be when it comes to her mother. While I cannot tell you exactly what should and should not be kept private, I can suggest a couple of questions for both of you to think about.

One question is about who “owns” the information that your girlfriend is considering sharing. Most people are uncomfortable with confidences being passed on without their permission, and it sounds like this is happening in your relationship. In the long run trust is eroded when one partner does not respect the confidential nature of thoughts and feelings that the other one shares with them. You and your girlfriend might want to consider the issue of “ownership” of information as you work on this problem.

Another question to think about is the place of extended family in your lives. Two people in a relationship will likely have somewhat different views on the role of family members.

Considering the bigger picture and talking together about how each of you relates to your extended families may help you understand your girlfriend’s concerns about shutting her mother out of her life. It may also allow the two of you to consider solutions to your problem that take into account her need to be close with her mom and your need for privacy.

As long as you and your girlfriend continue to talk about this problem and try to understand each other’s point of view I think that you will be able to work it out in a way that satisfies both of you.

If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at info@pacifictherapy.ca. 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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