My boyfriend is going to leave me at home to spend Christmas with his parents, yet again.
Neil and I have been together for five years and I’ve never even been invited to meet his parents. They live in a nearby suburb but don’t know I exist.
Otherwise Neil is a great boyfriend. He’s loving and very attentive to me. We always have a lot to talk about and are interested in each others’ lives and work. He knows how to soothe me when I’m sad. Because he is with me, I feel safe in the world, I think for the first time in my life. That’s saying a lot because I am in my 50s.
But when Neil goes to his parents for Christmas without me, I feel so lonely. I don’t have many friends and my own family turned their backs on me long ago because I am trans.
Neil is worried that his parents, older and not open-minded, would kick us both out of the house if I showed up (I think they’d clock me), and then stop talking to him.
His parents are both in their late 80s, practically homebound with many health problems. He says they need his help and he wants to spend their last Christmases with them.
I’m not sure how to talk to Neil about this without crying or getting angry.
I’m wondering if I should tell Neil he has to choose. That feels mean but it also feels mean that he is leaving me every Christmas. I don’t mind that he goes over every Saturday for a few hours to take care of them, but being left alone each year on Christmas is hard.
I’m sorry, I know it is painful to be treated as “less than” because you are different.
You could tell Neil he must choose you or lose you, but threatening consequences unless your partner does your bidding is a dangerous move. Once you introduce this dynamic into a relationship, it’s difficult to stop.
Instead, I suggest that you back off the precipice by having a conversation or series of conversations that might bring you and Neil closer.
How? Start by acknowledging how hard it is to talk when you have two different positions on such an important matter. This move alone might soften the mood between you. Keeping in mind what you love about each other as you speak could help you keep relatively calm. Striving to listen with empathy, rather than focusing on your rebuttal, would likely make it easier for each of you to understand your partner’s position.
Regarding Neil’s fears of parental rejection: I would encourage him to get clarity about whether he is keeping you secret out of fear or based on where his parents might actually stand. Perhaps they are more open-minded than he thinks, or would be willing to stretch to accept the two of you rather than lose their son’s support. Perhaps not.
If Neil won’t shift, you will have decide whether you’re willing to live with him as he is: a guy who loves you, soothes you, makes you feel safe and leaves you alone for Christmas to visit his ill, possibly closed-minded parents.
Working as a couples therapist for the past two decades, I’ve learned that at some points, all of us are bound to be gravely disappointed by our significant other. That just comes with being in a relationship: two people sometimes want very different things. We do best when we strive to be resilient at those times.
If you decide to stay, how might you find a way to be more at peace with Neil’s choice?
You might consider seeing Neil’s devotion to his parents in a positive light. While it’s painful to have him choose them over you on Christmas, he is generous in his willingness to love his parents, care for them and keep them company on the holiday, even if they may be putting conditions on their acceptance of him.
You might consider working to deepen your existing friendships and perhaps build some new ones, given how lonely you are when Neil is gone. We’re all better off when we don’t rely too much on just one other person for companionship. You might have a lovely Christmas if you had a few close friends to celebrate with even if Neil celebrates elsewhere.
And of course, you and Neil could have an early or late Christmas celebration just for the two of you, even if this were not exactly how you would like it to be.
You could also end this relationship because you don’t want to accept Neil’s behavior toward you at Christmastime. As you note, you’d be giving up a lot of good and you would certainly be heartbroken. But you would be proving a point.
The question is, would proving that point be worth all that you would lose?
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.