It’s his choice: His mother or his fiancee

8892b9a7-3fe0-417c-bd64-1d578e04bb69.fileGot this in yesterday:

Hi John,

May I first of all just say how much I appreciate and love your page? For me, it is smothered by the teachings of grace and upholding the real meaning of God’s love, as opposed to this hateful portrayal that so many Christians are putting forward every day.

I would like to write to you about an issue that I am having with my partner’s parents. My partner and I, who are both in our early thirties, have only just moved in together. We are extremely happy, in love, and have plans to get married.

His parents are homophobic extremists and very strong Christians. He has not told them that we are living together, because he knows that she would try to make us repent for being so unholy. (She has already cried and asked that we both repent, because she knows that he has stayed over.)

My brother is gay and happily living with his partner, to whom he recently proposed. My partner has warned me that his mother will most likely either pull me aside or email me in regards to my “sinful” brother, and will push the idea that my brother needs to repent. She even said to my partner, “Don’t you feel awkward around them [meaning my brother and his partner]?”

I’m extremely supportive of my brother and gay rights, and if she were to contact me I’m concerned that I’ll say something that will potentially cause a lot of damage in my relationship with her. (I wouldn’t say anything too awful, but only the truth of what’s on my heart.) Also, I’m already feeling the effects of being bullied by her; she recently described me as a “backslider.”

I don’t define myself as a Christian any longer. But I have a close personal relationship with God that is no one else’s business.

I guess my question is, how do I deal with this feeling of violation and anger/anxiety of knowing that any day now she is going to discuss my brother’s immoral sinful behaviour with me? How do I not let this play on my mind and hurt me? How do I be the bigger person?

First, thanks for the kind words about my work. I really appreciate it.

So, to my mind, your problem isn’t with your would-be mother-in-law. Your problem is that you’ve got a partner who’s over thirty and so afraid of his mother that he’d rather lie to her than tell her the truth about the love he has for you. It’s that instead of warning his mother not to insult your brother to your face, he only warns you that she is certain to do that. Your problem is that (as I’m going to guess) he hasn’t insisted that his mother apologize to you for insulting you.

You know what I mean? I don’t think your problem is that your future mom-in-law is a You Know What. I think your real problem is that you’re planning to marry a man who puts his fear of his mother above his love for you.

That’s a problem you need to discuss with your fiancé ASAP. He needs to understand that you expect him to be loyal to you, to defend you against anyone who insults or hurts you, including his mother. Too many men, when caught between their wives and their intrusive, inappropriate mothers, shrug their arms and say to them, “But gosh, what can I do? I love you both.”

Screw that noise. He’s yours, not hers. Get him to understand that, and to act accordingly. If he can’t do that—if he can’t actually and truly change his core understanding of what his relationship with his mother is and needs to be—then … well, then either think very hard about whether or not he’s really the right guy for you, or start practicing the heck out of your fake smile and phony compliments, because you’re going to be employing both for a very long time to come.

If his mother says “Jump!” and your spouse asks “How high?”, it’s time for a talk with your big little guy. [Tweet this.]

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.mamasemptynest.com Theresa DePaepe

    “Too many men, when caught between their wives and their intrusive, inappropriate mothers, shrug their arms and say to them, ‘But gosh, what can I do? I love you both.’”

    Change “men” to people and “wives” to spouses / partners and “mothers” to relatives / friends and you have an excuse often used by loved ones to not defend or protect or stand up for those that they should. Another form of this is, “I don’t want to be in the middle.”

    In the cases of spouses (or those in committed relationships), this is inexcusable behavior. In the case of children not being protected (we have this situation in my family where the mother is “protecting” her son from charges of child abuse), it is also inexcusable. What is it that we think about the abusive person before we think about the person being victimized?

    It’s called being a coward.

    • FishFinger

      Homophobia and whatnot aside, what if mother really does know best? It happens. My aunt had disregarded her family’s warnings about her fiancée and she now regrets that greatly. Following your heart is not always the best idea.

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        Ye gods. I understand what you’re saying but it seems misplaced. They’re not talking about career choices here.

        The mom isn’t judging the quality of character of her children’s partners of choice. She’s simply judging what she believes to be sin and flexing her mom-persuasion skills to try and force them to believe and behave as she does. They’re not kids anymore. They can make their own moral judgements about their lives.

        • FishFinger

          “The mom isn’t judging the quality of character of her children’s partners of choice. She’s simply judging what she believes to be sin”

          I do not see a key difference. Both would be saying “you are making a terrible life choice and I strongly disapprove; I will be angry with you if you don’t reconsider”. Respecting adult independence is great and all, but I wonder if that is what you would do if your children were doing something that you perceive as immoral as the woman in question perceives homosexuality.

          I am certainly not saying mothers always know best – far from it – but I do denounce the commenters here who seem to imply that not playing Romeo and “picking mommy” is categorically treason and cowardice. That’s not always the case.

          • Daniel

            Being adult and making your own decisions sometimes meaning making bad decisions. Mom still needs to let go.

          • Elizabeth Niederer

            I am SO GLAD I did not reproduce. I would have sucked at this.

          • http://unfinishedxtian.wordpress.com James

            “I will be angry with you if you don’t reconsider” is a bright, red, flashing indicator of a non-adult in the conversation.

          • Christy

            Bingo.

          • FishFinger

            That’s pretty easy to say when you’re not in such a position. As it’s been said, we’re not talking about career choices here.

            Imagine raising and loving your child for over 18 years only to find out one day that they’re doing something you consider terribly, terribly immoral. How would you react? I don’t know if “letting go” would be the correct choice, but it certainly wouldn’t be an easy one.

          • Marty

            But mom is not advising her son. First of all, telling someone they’re going to hell is not advising. And second of all, she’s not talking about her adult son, or even her adult son’s adult girlfriend. She’s talking about her adult son’s adult girlfriend’s adult brother! Seriously? Who thinks that’s appropriate?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            *comment score*

          • DR

            Who cares? Why are you indulging abuse? This is *abusive beliefs and behavior* that the mother is choosing and continues to choose because it serves her. If we don’t start treating it that way, there won’t be accountable to it. Loss and anger are often two of the most powerful activating agents of change that exist.

          • Christy

            What if the tables were turned?

            What if it was instead an ideological, liberal-minded fiance’ with a gay brother who had an agenda of setting the conservative Christian M-I-L straight in her wrong-headed views of gays? And the boyfriend/son warned his mother that his fiance’ may approach her to talk to her about her incorrect beliefs? It’s the focus of energy of being “on a mission to change the other” that is the problem.

            For me this is a boundary and communication issue that should be built on respecting healthy boundaries. Mom sounds like she doesn’t have healthy boundaries nor healthy communication skills. The fiance’ recognizes this and is asking for how to keep peace in the family while being true to herself and her brother.

            Too often we’ve been told to smile and take it when people who lack self-awarenesss assault us with their lack of insight. If rare with strangers, this can be a good approach. But in a long term relationship with family members with whom one anticipates repeat and intimate contact, this serves nothing. There is no honesty and no growth without being honest about behaviors that are unhealthy. It can be done with compassion and aplomb. The son clearly isn’t ready to have difficult conversations with his parents as evidenced by his avoidance of the truth with them about his living arrangements. This can be avoidance. It can also be out of respect for not hurting his parent’s feelings – anticipating that they will not understand and no amount of explaining or reasoning will make it be ok.

            I think the letter writer has to be true to herself and set boundaries that are healthy for her and her relationship. Simply because Mom’s beliefs are strong and long-held does not mean the finace’ has to smile and nod and take it. Being an adult means having adult conversations with emotional intelligence and self-awareness. If one party has made it this far into adulthood without developing those skills (as, sadly, so very many people have), my hope is it’s never too late to learn. But learning can’t happen if no one ever challenges the status quo.

          • Lymis

            I’ll agree that the reverse would be as wrong in the relationship, and the answer would be the same – telling an anti-Christian activist brother to back off would be just as much the answer.

            Your parallel isn’t quite right, though. The mother in law isn’t setting out to get to the brother to convert him, but rather, insulting him in front of his sister. The parallel would be the gay brother harassing her husband about his mother’s views.

      • Jill

        Because God created all mothers to be smarter than their adult children? Ye gods! is right, if that’s true.

        With great respect to your aunt, one piece of anecdotal evidence does not your case make.

        • Elizabeth

          FishFinger intones with the gravitas of Charlton Heston. This place wouldn’t be the same without him.

          • Jill

            He doth protest too much, methinks. Definitely a conversation starter at any rate.

      • Elizabeth Niederer

        Um, well, I sort of agree with you about the (potential) wisdom of age and experience, and about the unreliability of the “heart.” But the letter was about “homophobia and whatnot.” So….I don’t know if this is a good place for those thoughts. It might be too much thread drift, IYKWIM.

  • Anonymous

    I’m dating a man and not another woman, but my mom took a prejudiced and irrational dislike to my boyfriend and took it all out on me. I responded by not talking about him to her any more, making sure he never visited her, and calling her far less than I used to. When she makes one of her irrational and prejudiced comments, though, I find that I can’t stand up to her….it’s like it just knocks the breath out of me. I just wait out the situation, and pull away a little more. Did I do OK? I like the idea of standing up to her, but what she says is so underhanded and comes so far out of left field, it just catches me completely unprepared. What do I do?

    • Jill

      Anon, I’m gonna guess that if a total stranger behaved this way toward you–underhanded and blind-siding– you’d have a different reaction. What would you do if was someone you weren’t invested in?

      Because obviously we’re all adults, even if our parents choose not to see us that way. And we have the right to demand respectful treatment. From everyone, including parents.

      And frankly, if you prepare yourself to be disrespected, maligned (or expect your boyfriend to be maligned), and rejected by your mother’s behavior, you won’t be caught off guard anymore. But really if you are prepared for that, how much time do you want to spend with such people?

    • Elizabeth Niederer

      Hi Anon. I’m making an assumption here, so I apologize in advance if I’m wrong. You sound like you’re still pretty young and beginning to make your way in life and love. Am I right?

      It’s tough to navigate that space between teen/school/postsecondary school/ and, pardon the term, “Real Adulthood.” The trappings of Real Adulthood come in varying order for everyone: parenthood, degrees of financial responsibility for survival, relationships….. It can be quite a jumble. I wouldn’t want my 20′s back for anything. It was freaking HARD.

      Well, I think it’s tough for parents, too. (Can’t say from experience because I’m not a parent.) Worse, too many parents don’t notice that they aren’t navigating this time well/at all. Sounds like your mom is in that category. Did she ever say stuff like, “I brought you into this world and I can take you OUT”?

      Some parents feel like they own their kids FOREVER. Very difficult stuff.

      All of that to say this: You can always learn and grow and change. You wrote this and that tells me that you’re thinking about it and wanting to try on new ideas and ways of doing things. Good for you! And if you are as young as I’m assuming you are, it’s totally normal to have some conflict, and totally essential for you to learn to assert yourself.

      Sometimes pulling away is the best first step in learning how to set and defend boundaries. Another thing to do while you’re doing that is to educate yourself in the appropriate facts/evidence (I like to use the term “peer reviewed evidence” because I’m studying psychology) for your situation. Gender and sexuality issues are kind of “obvious” for this because there is a nice big pile of recent research available to talk about this whole area from lots of directions, from biology to psychology to anthropology, etc.

      In your situation, I don’t know what would fit, but maybe you can just keep reading and learning and discovering how “small” your mom’s worldview is compared to all the other options out there. It doesn’t have to apply directly to your boyfriend. It can be more general. This will give you perspective and help you to see a bigger picture.

      You don’t indicate how serious you and your boyfriend are. If he’s a guy with whom you are not sure/convinced you’d spend your life, the degree of confrontation/boundary setting with your mom might be a little different than if he’s the clear all-but-legal equivalent of your husband.

      I’m glad you’re reading stuff like John’s blog. He’s a smart guy and has a lot of smart readers, self only partly included *g*. (Because my smarts are not always reliable! They tend to disappear at inconvenient times.) We have to work at life. It’s complicated. Good for you for embracing the complexity.

  • Tommy

    So, in the end this is the kind of guy that given an ultimatum, would choose his mommy. Personally, I’m not a tongue-biter. It would be impossible Therefore, he would have to choose. That would be allowing me to never be around her unless I had to be. Like at a funeral. I have no desire to be around hateful, fake, judgmental Christians.

  • Laurie White McNeece

    Nailed it.

  • Diane Roshelle

    “Toxic Inlaws,” by Susan Forward is a great resource to help partners navigate that yucky space.

  • Eva Smith

    The wife has to come first. And any mother who doesn’t understand that, prepare to lose your son. That is my belief right now…my son is still single. Check back with me later.

  • Gina Cirelli

    Yep. Big ol’ red flag right there.

  • Denise Ashworth

    John Shore just explained why I’m in the midst of a divorce. I got tired of having to take a back seat to my controlling mother-in-law, over the course of two decades. My husband couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just accept “that’s how Mom is, she doesn’t mean any harm” every time she shredded my housekeeping, my parenting, my appearance, you name it–it was all fair game.

    He chose her happiness over mine; I chose to be single

    I’m much happier these days!

  • http://www.susanirenefox.com Susan Irene Fox

    John,

    To the person who wrote to you yesterday:

    I’m female; I’m straight; I’m Christian. I must tell you that “homophobic extremists and very strong Christians” is an oxymoron.

    Christians means Christ followers. If one is a follower of Jesus, that means that you follow His two commands – to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength; and love (respect, honor and dignify) your neighbor as yourself.

    Anyone who is an extremist, who hates, who puts rules and regulations before compassion and humanity, is not a Christian. They may call themselves Christian, but that is an external label. They do not follow the commands of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

    Jesus told us to love, not to judge. He told us we are all sinners, but to strive to abide in Him, and to allow the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our lives. If we are not doing this, we are not following Him.

    • MamaChristy

      Excellently well put!

      • Anne

        I was just wondering if it has occurred to anyone else (as it has just occurred to me in reading all the various comments) that maybe these situations and people come into our lives / experience, in order that we “grow”, perhaps for no other reason than to see what our reaction will be, what form that our compassion and love will take when confronted with these diverse, problematic issues ?

  • kathleen

    I’ve been married for 22 years. My mother-in-law began to be intrusive during engagement. My husband had expected it, talked to me about it, and made it clear he was committed to his relationship with his wife over his relationship with his mother. He didn’t put up with her attempts to manipulate us, and so she went to work on me. It’s been difficult, to make a long story short. Even with my husband 100% committed to me over his mother, if a person in the family wants to make life hard for you, they can find ways. People like this can be amazingly creative. What I want to tell you is that even with a spouse completely backing you up like mine does, a mother-in-law who wants to can cause alot of pain. (And yes, she thinks it has all been for my own good, that all she tries to do is help people, and why does everyone in her life keep cutting her off? Cue violins.)

    Without your husband on your side, don’t even try it.

    • Lynn

      Amen.

  • Susan

    I think that you’re a bit hard-nosed here, John. I think it’s important that she gives herself permission to be dirt honest with her mother-in-law without drawing such a “pick me or her” line in the sand. Peace and harmony in the family is a desirable goal, but not at the price of feeling bullied. But neither does she have to pick up her fiance’s burdens. Let him deal with the mother as he chooses, and let her say what’s on her heart. The mother-in-law will have to learn to accept her new daughter for who she is, or else choose not to interact with her. We all can respect someone who is able to kindly but firmly stand up for their opinions. She should do so with a clear conscience. Only if the fiance asks her to accept bullying should a clear line be drawn in the sand.

    • Christy

      Re: “Only if the fiance asks her to accept bullying should a clear line be drawn in the sand.” It seems he already has. She writes: “My partner has warned me that his mother will most likely either pull me aside or email me in regards to my “sinful” brother, and will push the idea that my brother needs to repent.” And he’s employing avoidance with not being open and honest with his parents about his living arrangements in order to avoid what he knows will cause disharmony and shaming. This is not healthy, adult communication. That’s John’s point.

      Instead of warning his mother not to confront his fiance’, he warned his fiance’ his mother might confront her. #epicfail

      His mother has what’s called “boundary issues” which is not something “We all can respect” when they “kindly but firmly stand up for their opinions.” We might give it a “well, bless her heart.” But it’s no less inappropriate or annoying or toxic. When a topic comes up in polite conversation about which we are sharing our opinions we can respect others’ kindly stated thoughtful opinions (that aren’t racist, sexist, etc). going out of one’s way to pull someone aside to share how concerned you are about the state of their brothers’ spiritual and sex life is being an incorrigible busybody. This falls under the “healthy communication and family dynamic etiquette clause,” which says: If you can’t say something nice – no matter how much you think the Bible says you’re supposed to point out what looks like to you to be the plank in someone else’s eye (especially since it specifically says not to do that) – it’s best to keep it to yourself.

      • Susan

        Her fiance avoiding the topic of their living together is his right and choice, even if you don’t respect it. His warning her what the mother-in-law will say is not the same as telling her not to respond. None of us likes to be controlled. She needs to be herself and state her truth. But telling her fiance what to do and upping the ante is not going to bring her closer to a goal of harmonious marriage either. Of course she’s free to reject her fiance, but if she wants to marry this man she loves, she needs to set her own boundaries early on without setting up a power struggle. Perhaps that will open the door to her fiance being more courageous, but only if he asks her to join his way of handling things does it need to become a her or me situation. A soft approach is the best starting point in most relationships.

        • Christy

          Of course it is his right and his choice. I didn’t say I didn’t respect it. I said it was indicative of an environment that does not afford healthy communication.

          • Christy

            And if that is how he communicates with his parents…how does one suppose he will deal with confrontational issues in the relationship?

          • Susan

            You’re right. It could be. Or, he may have learned to pick his battles. But she asked for help with handling her mother-in-law. She did not express concern over her fiancé’s choices. My thought is she needs to establish her own space and occupy it unapologetically and not try to control either her mother-in-law or her fiancé’s responses. If she does so consistently and kindly, she creates the best conditions for success. If not it will become clear quickly room for that she’s better off opting out.

          • Elizabeth Niederer

            Hmmm, okay. I think I can agree with this. At first I was going to insist that the writer needed to go straight to the wall and draw those lines in the sand (pardon my mixing metaphors). But you have a point. She has the opportunity to decide how she sets her boundaries, and there are many options.

            Again, I thank my lucky stars that I gained the kind of inlaws who would not dream of imposing on us in this or any other way. (And I married Mr. EN having never met any of his family. How’s that for being just about too lucky to live? lol)

    • JoAnne

      I agree with you, Susan, and think that John’s response is a bit too absolute. I say this as the lesbian daughter of very conservative Christian parents who had a great deal of difficulty coming to terms not only with my orientation when I told them, but also with my wedding to my partner a few years later — but who came to love and accept her and even (thanks to dementia, perhaps?) to seem to forget that they had had such an issue. I don’t want to minimize the distress my partner experienced in dealing with my family’s varying levels of acceptance and welcome toward her — that was hard for us both, and I struggled immensely with how to deal with my family-of-origin relationships and yet defend/honor/protect my beloved, chosen spouse and the life we shared. But if I had been made to feel that there was a line in the sand, a “choose them or me” ultimatum, honestly I don’t know if I could have even survived. My family relationships, as I imagine most family relationships are, was and is very complex. Of course I *did* choose my partner, but I also “chose” my family in some ways that I can’t fully explain. Actually, all of this is hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up in fundamentalist environments that they then left, but who wanted to stay connected with parents in those environments who had very, very loving hearts and deep-down compatible values despite some of the hurtful stuff they seemed to believe. Those of us who experience this often feel like we don’t belong in either world!

      I know my story isn’t exactly parallel to the situation under discussion here, and I apologize if I’ve gone off on my own thread. I mostly just mean to say that there are nuances and complexities and real-but-flawed human people in these situations, and a hard-nosed answer might not fit each of them.

    • DR

      And with all due respect, I think you’re not being hard-nosed enough. This would be a lovely response if this was a mother who was stepping in and trying to offer criticism on how one raises children or what one wears or does for work. This is CONDEMNATION of one’s being. And it rarely changes.

  • Mindy

    As far as I’m concerned, John’s advice is SPOT ON. That young man, as lovely as he sounds otherwise, needs to grow a pair and have a heart-to-heart with Mommy Dearest. He needs to turn the tables on her and do a little practicing for his own future parenthood. Since Mother acts like a juvenile bully, i.e., she feels comfortable threatening those she doesn’t like with eternal damnation, threats may be what she can understand best.

    Now, you shouldn’t threaten your children, of course. But what you should do is give them clear choices, and make sure they understand the consequences of their chosen actions.

    In this case: “Mother, I am an adult and have chosen my life partner. You will, from this day forward, treat me like the adult that I am and not question my decisions. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do have to treat me respectfully. You finished raising me years ago, and you may longer tell me what you think of what I do.

    “Your only choice, Mother dear, is whether you want to be a part of OUR lives, or not. My fiancee is also an adult, and the person I’ve chosen to make my decisions with. You helped me decide a lot of things over the years; now, it is my turn. Her turn. You will treat her with the utmost respect and kindness, or you will not be welcome in our home. Yes, Mother, that’s right – OUR home. No, no – you may not speak until I am finished. (Mean it, don’t let her derail the conversation with requests for cookies, whining, crossed arms and glaring, etc.)

    “You will also treat my fiancee’s family with the utmost respect and kindness, or you will not be welcome at family events, either. You will not judge them for what they do or who they are. You will not discuss their lives, because their lives are not yours. Our lives are not yours.

    “We would like for you to be a part of our lives, our special occasions, like, say, our wedding, or the birthdays of your future grandchildren – but you cannot be a part of any of it if you cannot agree to behave with respect and kindness. Should you choose not to do so, you are choosing to not be part of our lives. That will make me sad, but I will honor your choice.”

    There. You’ve outlined the choices, you’ve outlined the consequences, and all you do from there is stick to your guns. It will be hard – she will cry and wail and gnash her teeth. You will soothe her and tell her that you know it is hard to change, hard to grow up, but you love her and you can’t wait to have her over for dinner – when she is ready to act like a big girl. And then you give her a hug and walk out the door.

    Otherwise, young man, you think the fiancee/living arrangement thing is an issue – just wait til you want to plan your own wedding, name your own children . . . . Good luck – because if you don’t draw the line now, she will run you both over.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      love it. thank you, mindy.

    • Elizabeth Niederer

      Yes, this.

      Do you REALLY want to marry a guy who is still owned to ANY degree by his mother? It does not get better. It only gets worse.

      (Happily, this does not describe my marriage. My inlaws did several things wrong, but lots of things right, one of which was: Your lives are your own. We will help and advise only if asked. Bless them.)

      • Lynn

        I concur that it does NOT get better. What if this woman attends a pride rally? Wants to lead an organization? Wants to be a surro mom for her brother? She will likely lose the fight for her husband’s support…these kind of men do not change. (I have been there.) Frankly, she is underestimating the amount of hurt she will go through in this situation. It sounds like this woman is a bit narcissistic and controlling, and is using religion as a club to beat her children over the head with.

        • Lynn

          ^^ (I should clarify: the MOTHER is narcissistic and controlling. Not the woman who is wisely questioning her situation.) As an aside: TRUST YOUR GUT.

        • Lymis

          All of the studies that show a genetic or biological component of homosexuality show strong linkages with the female line. A woman with a gay brother is statistically more likely to have a gay son, especially if she has a number of sons.

          Solving this problem now may not only be the right thing for her own dignity and an expression of the love she has for her brother, it may be an investment in the health and well-being of her future children.

    • Anakin McFly

      This actually makes me uncomfortable – and so far from the comments, I seem to be alone – but it’s probably a cultural thing, because I was brought up in an Asian country where respect for (and obedience towards) one’s parents is given extremely high importance. Such that the very prospect of ever saying something like that to my parents – actually *telling them what to do*, like you would a child – greatly disturbs me, because it would feel exceedingly rude and in violation of a whole bunch of social taboos. :/

      But maybe it’s different in America?

      • Elizabeth

        Hi Anakin. It is cultural. I had/have parents who are loving and conscientious, despite the failings all of us have. I am grateful. They are also teachers and professors, with nine degrees between them. I was taught from knee-high to question and debate. That’s not disrespect in my situation. That’s honoring their belief system. That’s… probably a lot different from you.

      • Lymis

        Sometimes it’s phrasing.

        There is a significant difference between telling someone what do to and telling someone how you expect to be treated, and what the consequences of not stopping it might be.

        Essentially, the point is not, “You are not allowed to do these things and I have the authority to tell you to stop,” but rather, “If you want to be in a relationship with me, these are things I will not tolerate, and if you don’t stop, you need to understand that I may choose to cut you off and no longer see you.”

      • Mindy

        Anakin, I wrote that partially tongue-in-cheek, using similar wording to what I used with my own daughter when she was little and her behavior was making it impossible to have a civil mealtime. The mother is behaving like a child, so treat her like a child.

        That being said, I wouldn’t use those exact words were it my mother, no. And I would also add that respecting one’s elders, even though how that plays out varies across cultures, does not have to include blind obedience once the children are adults. Lymis summed it up nicely. “I’m not telling you what to do, I’m telling you what I will (and will not) tolerate in a relationship as we move forward. ”

        The mother is a bully. Period. She hides behind religion and judges and condemns and then claims innocence – it’s what the Bible says, so what can she do?! That’s the standard fundy extremist M.O. Decide who they don’t like/agree with, and figure out how to make it seem as if it’s God doing the disliking/disagreeing, and poor them are just the kind souls trying to help you find eternal happiness. Yeah, right.

        And, yes, in a patriarchal society that expects unquestioning loyalty to one’s elders, this would definitely be socially taboo, no matter how it was said. But this woman doesn’t live in a society like that, and it doesn’t sound like she’s done much to deserve anyone’s unquestioning loyalty.

    • Anne

      John and Mindy – wonderfully stated.

  • usingmyvoicewell

    Woohoo, John! You rocked this one!

  • Judith S. Loukides

    Wow. Marriage is hard enough when you *do* get along with your in-laws! I have to agree with John’s advice. The gay brother isn’t the issue. If a 30+ year old man can’t tell his mother that he’s chosen a different path from what she tried to bring him up to, and can’t accept her wrath and rejection (and I know Christian parents who have disowned their “disobedient” adult children), then he shouldn’t be getting married. It really sounds like the mother has a stranglehold on him, and he’s acting out by moving in with his girlfriend. I hope this woman can see through her love for him and see that this relationship isn’t ready for marriage.

  • Christine Engelen

    Interesting choice of words. I would classify a “homophobic extremist” a “person full of judgmental hate,” which is completely incompatible with “Christian” whatsoever, and is certainly not a Christian who is in any way “strong.”

  • Dana Hoover

    My advice is RUN…you marry into a family. Honey, RUN!!!!

    • Lymis

      I wouldn’t say “run,” but I would say, “hold off on marrying him until you are sure he’s sorted this out in a way that works for you both.”

    • Donald Rappe

      My instinct is with you, Dana. I would tend to offer the fatherly advice that there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

  • Kari Sioux Tewksbury

    Can we really decide who is Christian & who is not? Shouldn’t we just concern ourselves with our own ‘doorstep’? We are after all, all a work in progress. Perhaps, leaving the subject of her brother a subject that is just one she will not discuss with her Mother in Law. Letting her know she love’s her, respect’s her, this is her brother, & a subject they will not discuss. So, how’s your garden doing this year?

    • http://kingmaalbert@hotmail.com Al

      Sweeping things under the carpet for the sake of family peace is never the right answer. I n effect, you’re saying that she should deny her brother for the sake of a phoney, inauthentic relationship with her homophobic mother-in-law. Her brother is gay; the mother-in-law needs to know that that is accepted by, and will be defended by the daughter-in-law. Truth is worth defending and when it isn’t we leave ourselves open to abuse.

    • Lymis

      There needs to be a distinction between the subject of the brother and the subject of the brother’s sexuality.

      It should not even be considered that it is an acceptable compromise for the letter writer to agree to pretend she doesn’t have a brother, to juggle family events so that the brother and his soon-to-be husband are not welcome if the mother-in-law will be present. If her brother and his husband have kids, she should be free to discuss her nieces and nephews, and so on, especially if other extended family members and their families are open for discussion. That would include discussion of milestones like buying a house, getting a degree, major illnesses, and other things that people talk about.

      On the other hand, agreeing to disagree and never discuss gay rights, or show the cute pictures her brother sent of Rainbow Weekend at GayWorld or going to visit her brother for Pride Week is a potentially workable option, as long a Mom-in-Law agrees not to quote Leviticus, discuss her political work against gay rights, leave reparative therapy brochures lying around, or pointedly serve Chik-fil-A sandwiches when they get together.

      All too often, this sort of agreement ends up being, in practice, “You agree never to speak of it, but I am free to speak against it any time I want.”

    • DR

      “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has proven to be a destructive and dangerous position. Why would we tolerate it in our own families? Do we just evade the topic of someone who is abusing children? No, we’d react in horror.

  • Melissa Vincent Kruminas

    Wonderful advice!!!

  • Vinny Vance

    Screw her…sounds trite, I know, but to each their own…

  • Dean Young

    It that is the only choice, choose your brother……….

  • Judy McLean

    And the ‘dark ages’ continue on, Jesus said there would be problems with our own household, I now see this in such a different ‘light’. Like how you see!

  • Susan Golian

    Wasn’t I lucky? My mother-in-law and I were great pals, but the one time something came up, husband backed me up very clearly. When I later asked him why he said, “She’s my mom, she can’t help but love me. You, on the other hand…”

    • Elizabeth

      I’ll keep that answer in my back pocket. Perfect.

  • n.

    i was that guy (even though i’m a woman). my husband waited 5+yrs for me to get it (i was understanding the situation in very small very slow steps with plenty of backsliding [intentional alternate use of that word] and doubts) but i finally did. only thanks to his patience did this not ruin our marriage. also the fact that my mum died and now has very much less psychological power over me.

  • Pat

    John, you nailed it. Wish I had read something like this a little over 25 years ago. Could have saved me a lot of grief over the years. Is it worth ending a 25 year marriage over? No….not now. His mother is not welcome in my home unless specifically invited and I have not been to her house in years (and we live 10 minutes from each other). It is just the way it is. It is how I learned to survive her and many years of being told “Just deal with it. It’s the way she’s always been”. That’s how I dealt with it. She can’t push my buttons if she can’t see/reach them.

  • Caroline

    After four marriages of sons – after years of dating – with time to unravel things they actually started themselves, may I offer the following.

    1. 99.9% of parents do want their kids to be happy. This includes mothers

    2. Mothers actually do want their kids -ESPECIALLY SONS to find love and be happy with someone else. Daughters tend to be more self sufficient.

    I have met maybe 3 women in my entire 58 years as daughter, wife, mother, mother in law, colleague, boss, friend, girlfriend….. that wanted to be Mommy forever to their sons – this is actually usually more of a projection of the son who cannot imagine his mother doing anything other than falling dead from shock at his leaving much less loving anyone else. It’s a deep feeling and it’s hard to acknowledge. The stories are generally reflective of this belief. Once they get past this delusion, everything else starts to fall in place.

    3. Mother in laws are one of the last groups to be blatantly stereotyped and cast as “bad” by virtue of just what and who we are. “Pushy” “Demanding” “Unreasonable” “Difficult” “Ugly” “Mean” “Untrustworthy” “Scary”…..these are words used against virtually every minority group – including LGBT by the way

    4. RE: Gay Partner – Yes, for a fundamentalist, that would be very hard. Are you proposing she and her partner deny everything they believe or have thought for decades ? Is that fair? Just as for someone who is gay, it would be hard for their kid or parent to marry a right wing, card carrying member of the NRA/GOP/Tea Party/Pat Robertson groupie. It happens.

    It’s ok to set limits but is it possible to (a) Reality Check – is she really so extreme or are you just believing what your partner says/is projecting? Oh and don’t just check with his brother – ‘coz same problems there. (b) Find common ground – Yes, Really. – You love the same person from 2 different levels. You have that in common. At a minimum most people can be polite. Difficult situations are what manners are for. So at least do that. Acknowledge her as the mother of the person you love. As she can acknowledge you as the partner of the son she loves. You each hold some pieces and knowledge that are precious and can help the other love him more – love you more.

    Why isn’t the father bearing any responsibility in all this? Is he not involved at all? Is he not held responsible for his feelings or opinions? Why? It’s worth asking your partner. ‘Coz LGBT or not —– there are often unresolved father/son issues – and instead of dealing with them, the guys come up with the brilliant notion of putting ‘em off on the mom. Nothing gets done because the wrong people are focused upon.

    If they are a fundamentalist couple, the gay issue will likely be way harder on him than on her. So talk with him as well. So they want you to go to heaven – you’ll have someone praying real hard for you. Just because someone asks/states something does not require you to go with the choice of drama. Just as you do at work – smile, nod, say “That’s an interesting point” and lovingly go about your way. Marriage will give you time to prove yourselves as a couple – as people within that couplehood. one nice thing about marriage is decades of time to let things play out.

    One of the huge reasons to take personal responsibility for choosing to love her and him (dad) here is that otherwise you will each or both hide from really important issues behind endless discussions of “she hates me”, “she’s so mean” “she’s simply impossible” etc. It’s like when kids hide under a blanket and gripe about where they live – rather than dealing with the reality that they really should dash out and bring in their electronic toys , dog and homework filled backpacks in from the rain as soon as possible. Yes, they’ll get wet – but that’s minor compared to the consequences of not facing reality. (How many of you thought “why didn’t their mother tell them to….?” See?)

    I’ve been a daughter in law – twice. It is not easy – but there are gracious ways and not so gracious ways of handling it that have reverberations for generations. You may want to check in with parents and their own relationships with their inlaws – in order to strengthen the good and intervene with the not so good. It sounds as though your intentions are so very loving – your dreams are totally doable. God bless you and yoru partner and all the people who surround you with love – love among disagreement is nothing new – God has been in disagreement with humans (and angels) since about 30 seconds after creation – but the love goes on. Trust that. Best of luck and love. Marriage is more than I ever thought it could be. Hoping you are even 1/100th as happy as we’ve come to be.

    • Matt

      ““Pushy” “Demanding” “Unreasonable” “Difficult” “Ugly” “Mean” “Untrustworthy” “Scary”…..these are words used against virtually every minority group – including LGBT by the way.”

      The letter writer said none of these things about her mother-in-law. She described the behavior and asked for help dealing with it.

      Being called out on your inappropriate behavior is not the same as being marginalized. The letter writer’s mother-in-law is an adult. Being an adult means growing up, facing one’s fears and mistakes, and being respectful of others. Holding a belief for decades does not magically transform it into a rock-solid wall of logic, or negate its harmful impact.

      The letter writer’s brother has probably already put up with more than enough in his life. He needs his sister in his corner, and the letter writer needs her fiancé. It’s that simple.

    • DR

      It’s so bizarre to me to watch those of you trying to justify the homophobia and bigotry of this parent. Do we give abusers this kind of time and flexibility?

      • Lymis

        And would the advice be the same if the brother was in a heterosexual relationship with someone of another race? Would everyone who is so quick to say the LW should just put up with constant insults about a brother’s gay husband and all gay people be okay with her mother-in-law constantly insulting a brother’s black wife and all black people in her presence?

        • DR

          Exactly.

    • Mindy

      Wow. Just . . . wow. You are justifying this mother’s bigotry. Do you even realize that? And since when does hate have to be handled graciously? Sorry, but I don’t think this young woman should have to “handle” anything. This is something her future husband needs to deal with before they marry.

      • Anakin McFly

        Because it’s not always fuelled by hate (even though it’s easier to stereotype that way), and in some cases are due to the person’s genuine belief that that’s what God wants, even if they would rather it not be. Respect goes both ways.

        • Lymis

          That’s a comfy and convenient little idea, but the truth is that someone who actually thought that they knew what God wants and genuinely wanted to share that with someone else would be far more likely to be friendly, gracious, and eager to meet with them in such a loving, happy, caring, and non-judgemental way that the other person was inexorably drawn in to want to know more about this God person.

          Bitching to someone’s sister through your own son about how disgusting, evil, nasty and damned someone else is because of who they are is neither spiritually valid, nor is it tactically likely to be successful.

          The conviction that God has a better plan for someone else’s life may or may not be fueled by hate, but manifesting that conviction by gossip, condemnation, trying to damage your own child’s relationship, and driving wedges between other people and their family is most certainly hateful behavior.

          And yes, respect DOES go both ways. Where in this story are you getting even the tiniest hint that there is any respect in the slightest flowing from the mother-in-law?

          • vj

            Great insight, as usual :-)

  • Sue M.

    Run, run, run, honey! You do NOT want a mil who’d already decided you’re a backslider and that you and your partner need to repent of your sin. It’s not her place to judge, but she seems to have made a career out of it. If you marry him, there will be an unending series of crises…holidays, birthdays, visits, etc – and then, should there be children…get ready for battle after battle in which your hubs will expect YOU to make all the concessions. End it now while it’s less painful…or end it later when your love has been strangled by his mother’s interference.

  • Patsy-Anne

    My dad has two siblings, one close in age and one much younger. The younger one got to witness my grandmother terrorizing my mom and my married-in uncle for years. Both were fabulous people (my mom died two years ago and my uncle died two weeks ago), but neither was ever good enough for her little darlings.

    When my day’s little brother got married, he informed his mother that if she ever behaved with his wife the way that she had behaved with the other two, she would never see him again and would risk relationship with any future grandchildren. He said that she only stepped out of line once when she was visiting. My uncle immediately went into the guest room, packed her bag, and told her he was taking her to the airport. She apologized to my aunt and that was that. She stayed and they remained in relationship. I have tremendous respect for my uncle!

    • Patsy-Anne

      *dad’s* stupid iPad autocorrect!

  • LN

    I have a really great MIL whom I dearly love, and even she can be a bit manipulative with her son. Every couple has to be prepared to stand up for their unity against their parents’ desires, especially right at the beginning of the marriage. That kind of stuff is normal. However, there’s a question of degree – does this future MIL have generally great and beautiful qualities, and can you see yourself really enjoying her company in general, but once in a while she goes on a rant (based on her geniune fear for your souls)? Will she listen when you say, “I believe differently, and I’d like you to respect my beliefs even though you don’t agree,” or “Let’s agree not to discuss this because it is too upsetting”? Or is her life one big rant? This might play into the kind of boundaries you and the fiancee set up (because every couple needs boundaries against their parents anyway). And I couldn’t agree more with John – hash it out NOW – if/when you have kids it will be ten times worse.

  • http://unchainedfaith.com Amy

    I’m speaking as a person who has a great mother-in-law and who had a great mom with whom my husband got along very well (she’s no longer living), so take that as you will.

    I’m uncomfortable with the tone of both those defending the future MIL and those saying the letter-writer should make her fiance choose between them. She didn’t ask how to handle her future husband, she asked how to handle her future MIL. Making him choose isn’t healthy for anyone.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her fiance giving a heads-up. It seems silly to me to have him tell his mother, “You know that conversation you’re planning to have about my future wife’s brother? Don’t.” She hasn’t even said anything yet! What if she never actually does? This may be his own fears, possibly stemming from a restrictive upbringing.

    Here is what I would do: If MIL says something to both Letter-Writer and Fiance, he should shut it down and back LW up in shutting it down. If MIL says something to LW alone, she can choose 1 of 3 things: ignore, argue back, or tell MIL it’s totally inappropriate & she won’t engage further now or in the future (which is what I’d do). All of those are viable options and can be healthy when done in a spirit of love for LW’s fiance & her brother.

    • Lymis

      ““You know that conversation you’re planning to have about my future wife’s brother? Don’t.” She hasn’t even said anything yet!”

      My guess is that you’re wrong, and that she most definitely has said something before this, or the letter writer would not have the firm conviction that her future mother-in-law is a homophobe. She may not have explicitly had this particular conversation with her yet, but it’s vanishingly unlikely that there isn’t at least some justification for the conviction that it’s coming.

      We do know that the fiancé has said that his mother has pulled him aside to make homophobic remarks. That constitutes “saying something.” You’re right about her options, but since the mother-in-law has already opened the door to having conversations about the brother behind the letter-writer’s back, the option of saying, “Well, then, give her a quiet heads up that I won’t put up with it if she does raise the issue with me” is on the table, too.

    • DR

      Would you be more comfortable if the topic was child abuse?


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