Dear Dr. Darcy:
This past spring I became domestically partnered to a woman I’d been with for 2 years. We are both very close to our families and see them regularly. Although I am close to her mother, my partner and my mother have always butted heads. She feels that I’m too close to my parents, and that my mother hasn’t wanted me to grow up. I didn’t think it could get any worse than it was when my partner and I were dating, but since we legally became a family the tension between the two of them has reached new levels. I don’t think my mother has changed— I think my partner has. She tells me that now that we’re family, she should come before my mother. Being in the middle of the two of them for all these years is really grating on my last nerve and I just don’t see why one has to come before the other.
I wasn’t feeling particularly passionate one way or the other until your last sentence, which essentially told me all I need to know. You managed to side-step your responsibility in this triangle for two years and now your domestic partner is holding you to task. Good for her (and for you). Sounds like you landed yourself a woman whose self-esteem is properly in place.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the purpose of domestic partnership, marriage or civil union, but from a legal perspective one of its primary intents is to redefine the hierarchy of family, i.e., your family of origin is no longer your next of kin— your partner is. That would mean that your partner does in fact come first.
I wonder what your reasons were for entering into the commitment of domestic partnership if not to elevate your partner to a new level of importance in your life. I could easily team up with your partner and focus on your mother’s missteps, but the onus lies with you to manage your mother. To the extent that her behaviors are beyond your control, your responsibility is to minimize your partner’s exposure to your mother, which means putting her first and declining invitations to visit if necessary.
Your partner isn’t on level ground with your mother. She can’t advocate for herself when she’s up against your mother. And so you must advocate for her, putting her first and demanding the respect that she is due. If you find yourself unable to support the woman with whom you have chosen to be with for life, I suggest you get yourself into counseling pronto or risk losing her.
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Dr. Darcy Smith received her Masters degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from New York University. She has been a practicing social worker for over 10 years and is in private practice in both New York City and New Jersey.
*This column is not a consultation with a mental health professional and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own therapist or counselor.