Insane Family Dynamics and an Ultimatum?

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    Ashley Arcel

    Hello All,

    First of all, I’ve been a contributor to the forums for quite some time – both as an asker and an adviser but now I need some advice in a big way. It’s a long story but essentially it goes like this:

    My partner and I met three years ago. He is a kind, sweet, decent man who treats me very well and whom I love very much. We’ve been living together for just under two years. In the early stages of our relationship, he used to tell me about his father: how he had run out on my partner and his family before my partner turned one in order to marry his secretary. He’d told me about the absence, the memory of watching his Dad drive off in a U-Haul truck while my partner chased after him on his bike, crying. He’d told me about the messy divorce and the legal charges and the disconnect and the verbal, mental and emotional abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his Dad all his life. I knew things were tough between them but I’d only met his dad twice – once, briefly, at a graduation party within which we exchanged maybe two words and again when he passed through town and stopped to have dinner, also briefly.

    About two years ago, his Dad got a job offer in the town where we live. He came up and moved, temporarily, into my partner’s house (We were not yet living together). We had a barbecue on his first night there and invited a few college friends as well as his dad’s girlfriend and my partner’s younger brother. To make a long story somewhat shorter…he got drunk and got really, aggressively verbally inappropriate with me, at one point saying “Everything from your feet to your eyeballs is great, you’ve got a great a$$ but your brain is sh*t.” I (I was sober) replied by saying “Shame on you. That is incredibly inappropriate. I’m walking away now.” And I did. But it didn’t stop there. I think I had embarrassed him and, for the last two years (this is not an over-exaggeration – it has been constant) he has just attacked me repeatedly – although he has never again done it to my face. Since that initial incident, he chooses to go through my partner, sending the most brutal, scathing, insulting, cruel emails, text messages and phone calls I’ve ever seen – insulting everything from my character to my career and generally dis-inviting me from everything in which he is even moderately involved.

    For my partner’s part – he has historically stood up for me as best he can but the pull of, somewhere in his heart, being a little boy who has always wanted a relationship with his dad has been pretty tough for him and, most often, he ends up wavering, redacting his boundaries and apologizing to his father. This has bred alot of resentment and distrust between us. Over the years, I personally have reached out to his father, offered to speak via email or phone in an attempt to resolve differences, etc. etc. etc. He has never picked up a phone call or responded to an email I’ve sent…choosing rather to rage at my partner about me.

    To bring this into the modern day…my partner’s youngest brother is graduating from West Point in May. He and I were planning on flying out to attend the graduation. My partner’s father would be there as well. Two weeks ago, my partner’s father called him and told him that he didn’t want me to come, claiming that it would be “too awkward” and that he’s already got “too much on his plate”. I, once more, wrote him a lovely email offering to talk about whatever was bothering him and wishing him well. He replied with the most insane rage I’ve ever seen, whipping an email off to my partner that did several things:

    1) never mentioned my name, instead calling me ‘her’
    2) continually disrespected our long-term, live-in relationship by claiming that my partner has just been “sleeping with me”
    3) Called me fat
    4) Called me stupid
    5) Accused me of consciously trying to hold my partner back personally, professionally and spiritually (???)
    6) Said “she has never and will never be a part of my family”
    7) Told my partner that if he is stupid enough to get me pregnant and thus be forced to marry me, he won’t be attending the wedding
    8) Ripped my partner apart, individually, for about 1,000 perceived shortcomings and inadequacies

    Now…to back this up a bit: BEFORE I sent my partner’s father the email, he and I agreed in a very calm, very rational way that if his father responded with anything approaching “yes, let’s talk this out” we would move forward with our New York plans. If not, however, we would utilize his brother’s post-graduation time off and take him on a separate trip to celebrate, choosing to forgo the graduation all-together. When his dad responded with that vile email, my partner contacted his brother and informed him that we wouldn’t be coming. The brother was fine with it and said “I respect whatever you guys choose to do.” He was excited about the separate trip and responded favorably to the whole thing.

    Fast forward two weeks…. I’m not sure what’s happened but my partner has since wavered on this three times. Once after another cruel email from his father, once after talking to his incredibly codependent sister and once (last night) after a counseling session. He now tells me that he feels like going to the graduation is the right thing and that he needs to do it to be closer to his family.

    Here are my issues:

    1) The moment my partner got that first phone call, I knew what we were in for because we’ve been down this road before. I told him that there were two things that would be deal-breakers for me: going to NY without me and telling me things that he would later redact
    2) We agreed upon a specific plan of action that, I feel, is very sane, very healthy and serves the same purpose (bonding and celebration) without the insanity that is guaranteed by flying into this storm to attend the graduation
    3) He has done this (gone back on promises) multiple times before and I can’t handle always feeling less important than anyone else.

    That said – I’ve issued him an ultimatum: go to NY and I hit the road. The reason for this is that I feel that, by continuing to allow his father to abuse everyone but refusing to opt out of his presence, we simply allow the circle of abuse to continue. I don’t see how it is healthy or sane to simply absorb that kind of cruelty from him and then hop on his bandwagon anyway and, in the interest of my heart, mind and health, I would much rather stick to our original plan of an alternate trip. My question to you lovely people: is this fair? Can anyone offer some insight here? It’s terribly complex but I do know one thing: I can’t always, always be the piece that gets negotiated out in the end….


    Sounds like you know what you want, you know your values, and you know what you will and won’t put up with.

    It also sounds like he needs to be further away from his family, not closer to them. But he may see things differently.

    The downside of putting down an ultimatum is that if you don’t get what you demand, you’ll have to follow through. But I can see how being on your own may be preferable. If his relationship to his unreasonable, rude and abusive father is more important than his relationship to you, why be with him?


    Hi Ashley,

    I always say, “You can’t argue with crazy”. The father is crazy. Not right in the head. Has some personality disorder. Needs meds.

    If you continue to be with the boyfriend keep your world and the father’s world totally separate. Tell BF, “BF, if you get an email or phone call or face to face with father, and he says something bad about me, I don’t want to hear it or know about it.” If there is a wedding, graduation, etc. it would be better for you not to be there. I know this isn’t fair. But it would make your life simpler.

    However, if you and BF marry, that is a different story. Again, BF shouldn’t tell you anything bad the father says. If you have children, he should not see the grandchildren. And have holidays elsewhere. BUT, as his wife you SHOULD go to weddings and graduations. And hold your head up. And not speak to him. And use every buffer and social nuance not to be cornered by this abuser. And your BF, now Husband should stand up to his dad.

    You have to now make the decision for yourself. Is this the kind of guy you would want to marry? Is your BF the kind of guy you can love AND respect? Maybe you should move out so you won’t be constantly disrespected. I know he’s been through hell, but he is a weak person for letting this happen, not shielding you, and not protecting your heart.

    I know this is hard to hear, but it must be even harder to live with.

    I love your posts, website, and help. I really want you to succeed in everything! And have a relationship worthy of you!!

    All the Best,



    I’m not sure I agree being married or not makes such a huge difference. I think the time you’ve been together and the fact you live together should count for something.

    I’m reminded of a scenario that pops up often for queer people. It goes something like this:

    My lovely boyfriend/girlfriend has a homophobic family and they don’t want to know about my existence. They demand he/she goes over for all the holidays and all family dos, but I can’t come with. We’ve been together for three years now, and it sucks to be always put aside when there’s a family thing on. What do I do?

    The standing advice for these situations is this: if your partner’s family is forcing them to choose between you and the family, and they don’t choose you, you take them at their word. You pack your bags and say, let me know when you’re ready to choose me.


    Hey Ashley,

    I’ve always enjoyed your posts and I am sorry to hear about the stress that you are going through. With your bf’s father, he is someone who abandoned his kids and still be prioritised by them which really says a lot about that dynamic. Like you said, your bf is still caught in being that abandoned little boy looking for his father’s approval and it’s hard to go against something as deep seeded as that.

    To be honest it sounds like you have done all you can about this and the only decision left is to decide what you are going to do if neither your bf of his dad will change his behaviour? If you two get married and have kids, can you stand being the object of ridicule or just be excluded entirely in family gathers? More importantly, how does it make you feel when your partner doesn’t stand up for you even though he’s promised to? Does your love for him out weigh those feelings?

    My suggestion is to take a week off and remove yourself from that environment before making a final call. Go for a hike in the forest and don’t think about it to give your mind a break so that the voice of your intuition can come through. The decision you are about to make should not be based on logic alone so let your heart speak and see where it takes you.

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