Withholding mom's abusive past not fair to boyfriend
Q: I've been seeing a really great guy, "Joe." The relationship looks like it's going to gel into something more permanent. He works with my stepdad, and so knows my parents.
The problem is that my mother was abusive to my sisters and me while we were growing up.
In addition to physical abuse, she used to regularly tell us that she hated us and wished we would all die or run away so that she'd never have to look at us again. It's taken me many years and much therapy to move past this, but I will always carry the emotional scars.
Outside of her frustrated motherhood, my mom is kind and funny, and everyone loves her. I don't want "Joe" to think less of her, and yet my childhood is a huge part of what formed me.
Do I keep it from him, gloss it over, or give full disclosure and let him make his own judgment?
For what's it worth, my mother and I have a comfortable relationship, if not particularly close, and we do spend a significant amount of time together.
A: One of the most common mistakes people make when choosing a mate is to evaluate what they see in someone — values, temperament, looks — instead of what they create with someone. Often what really makes a couple hum — or sputter — along is what they bring out in each other. Since the way people draw each other out is so often unintentional, it's also difficult to predict.
Because you were so profoundly shaped by your mom, and because your ability to hum along now as an adult is, apparently, so dependent upon your ongoing peace with your upbringing, it's of vital importance that you know this about anyone you consider for lifelong companionship: Will he advance your emotional progress, or undermine it?
Whether he agrees with your approach and conclusions is less important than whether he's able to think and act in your best interests. And this is an outcome you can't predict just by knowing that, say, he's a nice guy.
You need to see for yourself how he deals with you, with your mom, with his knowledge of your family.
If you withhold or gloss over the truth, then you essentially choose not to find out this make-or-break information. And that puts your hard-won equilibrium needlessly at risk.
It's also not fair to Joe, since he's as entitled as you are to know how well you work together, which requires honesty on the big stuff. Emotional scars are big stuff.
Wanting him to see the mom who abused you as "kind and funny" is big stuff.
Any impact on the idea and fact of child-rearing is towering stuff.
This isn't just an argument for full disclosure of your past, though. You might be able to convey the relevant information in broad strokes, as you did so effectively here, and let details emerge organically.
It's really an argument for full disclosure of the more recent past — what led you to choose proximity but not intimacy with your mom, to choose forgiving but not forgetting, and to feel invested in having your mate share your complex view of your mom.
That's where you live, and that's where Joe really needs to fit in.