Vail Relationships column: Does having different family values mean we shouldn’t get married?
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Dear Neil: I have been engaged for five months, but we haven’t set a date, mostly because I am afraid of moving forward. My fiance and I have been dating for more than three years. He and I come from different backgrounds and have different traditions and family values. My family celebrates birthdays, religious holidays and loves to share meals together. His family doesn’t, and when they are together, they tend to be in separate rooms and don’t interact much with one another.
He has attended most of my family gatherings because I expressed how important they are to me, but when he goes to my family events with me, his behavior tells me he really doesn’t want to be there. I don’t want him to feel obligated to do things he doesn’t want to do, but at the same time, I want him to have a good relationship with my family. I am afraid that our different family values will be a major issue in the future, especially if we have children.
Scared About the Future in Virginia
Dear Scared: It is absolutely reasonable that you would want your fiance to have a close relationship with your family, but he has to be interested in such a relationship with them, and no doubt he doesn’t feel as close to them as you do. He also may not be as interested in celebrating birthdays and all the religious holidays as you are.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that he would make a poor husband or father, it simply means that the two of you might need to negotiate the difference between what is desirable and what is important. It would be desirable for him to have a close relationship with your family and enjoy attending family functions, but is it essential that he go to most of the family gatherings you want to attend? Might you be willing to graciously allow him to opt out of many of these events? Or might it take him a long time to grow close to the people you already feel close to?
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On the one hand, I think it is vitally important that we make important to us that which is important to our partners. On the other hand, the relationship is not solely about you and your wishes. Your fiance’s values and interests count just as significantly as yours do. It appears the time has come for the two of you to lay this issue openly out on the table,and determine where you are both willing to give and compromise.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 25th year of publication. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website, http://www.heartrelationships.com. The second edition of his book, “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship,” recently hit the No. 1 best-seller list on Amazon its first day of release, both nationally and internationally.