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I'm back with my boyfriend - but my family disapproves

The question

My common-law partner and I were together about five years, until last year, when his father died. The death took a huge toll on him - and on our relationship. We ended up separating, at his initiation, a very painful and difficult experience.

However, a few months later, we decided we both wanted to rebuild our relationship and, happily, we reunited.

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The problem is my mother and sister are very vocal about their disapproval. They feel my partner should have handled his father's death better, that he let me down, and is now untrustworthy.

I understand that their concerns come from a desire to protect me, but whenever I try to sit down and talk to them about it, I'm met with total hostility. I've asked for their support, and for them to forgive my partner and trust my decision, but their attitude is basically: "Why should we?"

My partner has tried writing them letters, and he even met my sister for a meal to talk about things, but so far his attempts at reconnection have been met with skepticism at best.

The answer

Well, if this were a Three Stooges movie I would advise you to clunk your mother's and sister's heads together like Moe does to Larry and Curly.

Then, using your extended index and middle fingers, give them a double eye-fork- proink! proink!-right in the peepers and say, "Nyah, nyah, maybe that'll teach you, from now on, to mind your own business."

But (sigh) this isn't a Three Stooges movie. It's civilization, so therefore (I suppose) I have to counsel you to take a (slightly) more diplomatic tack.

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Madam: Some relatives have to be trained, to be housebroken, like pets or babies or else they'll run roughshod all over your household and your business, knocking things over, breaking things, ruining your furniture, snatching food off the counter when you're not looking, and generally sucking up all the air in the room.

Pardon me for saying so, but my impression is that you've allowed your mother and sister to become "spoiled" to the point where they feel they can pooh-pooh down on your affairs from a great height without any sort of pushback or retribution from you.

Oh, they refuse to approve of your relationship? Oh, their attitude about forgiving your partner is "why should we?" Oh, they think he should have handled his father's death better?

All this information just makes my blood boil on your behalf. It's your life! It's your relationship! Who are they to judge? Let them (to paraphrase Jesus) examine their own ocular lumber before criticizing the splinter in your eye!

Of course, I get that a patina of "concern" has been drawn around their high-handed, holier-than-thou disapproval. In my humble opinion, this species of "concern" is like the numbing agent a mosquito uses so it can stealthily insert its proboscis into your skin and begin drawing your blood.

You need to rein them in, teach them some manners and establish some boundaries.

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Since they have failed to respond to all verbal and written entreaties for respect and forgiveness, I suggest you draw an electronic moat around yourself and your partner, employing the patented Damage Control slow-chill technique I call Pouring Treacle in the Works.

Start by screening all your calls. Never answer your phone, at all, ever. Then, take longer and longer to return calls from your mother and sister. Depending on your current call-return time lapse, start by taking a few hours, then a day, then maybe a couple of days before getting back to them.

Then, when you do speak to them, don't suggest an immediate get-together. Suggest one the next week - or month. If, or maybe I should say when, they start airing their "qualms" about your partner, cut the encounter short.

If they start quacking and criticizing over the phone, well, look at the time: you've gotta go. You just remembered you've got a … thing. You've got to meet someone. The roast's burning - whatever, but get off the phone.

Thus will you begin to establish some much-needed boundaries. They may squawk about it at first. If so … you've got to go. They can address their complaints to your voicemail.

Always be pleasant and friendly, of course. Just gently, but firmly, establish in their minds which behaviours are acceptable to you (support and help) and which are not (criticism and disapproval).

As time goes on, you can adjust your Pouring Treacle in the Works™ approach, speed it up or slow it down, depending on how well they start to behave.

They should get the hint. If not, well, at least their critical quacking will have receded into the deep background where it belongs.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, will be published this spring.

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