Tell Me About It

My parents think my fiancé is a work-shy layabout

Tell Me About It: I do pay most of the bills and would like him to get a steady job but I’m distraught by my parents’ attitude

PROBLEM: I am 34 years’ of age, well-educated and have a successful career and great lifestyle. Earlier this year, I took three months off work to travel with my boyfriend to several countries that were on both of our bucket lists. It was amazing and, even though we have been together for almost four years, our relationship was definitely strengthened by sharing this experience. At the end of the trip my partner proposed and I was delighted.

Both of our families met us at the airport and we shared the news of our engagement. His family appeared to be ecstatic and immediately started planning an engagement party. My parents and sisters congratulated us. However I could see a look of disappointment on the faces of both my parents.

My boyfriend left the airport with his family and I went to my family home in a different area of the country. I noted on the journey home that there was little talk of our engagement and I asked my parents why they seemed to be so reticent. My father stated that he thought my boyfriend was a work-shy layabout, who was living off my earnings.

While it is true that he does not have an established career, as an artist and musician he does earn a substantial amount of money from commissions and gigs. However, I do pay the majority of bills and occasionally subsidise him. I did pay for most of the holiday; however he did play some small music venues whilst we were abroad which allowed us to extend our holiday.

To a small extent, I do agree with my father and I would like it if he could secure a regular job and income as I do know that it would be good for his self-esteem if he had a structured routine and greater independence. I enjoy the finer things in life and my partner often but not always goes along with it – before I met him he was very content, living a much more modest lifestyle.

My mother is well-educated and had several career options but chose to be a homemaker. She never expressed any regrets at her chosen path. I have often discussed the future with my partner and he would be very happy to be a stay-at-home dad if he did not have regular work.

In protest, my parents did not attend our engagement party. I am distraught as I want this to be a happy time. I do not want my parents to dictate my choice of partner, or indeed his career.

But I do want them in my life.

ADVICE: At 34, you are a fully-fledged adult and are able to take responsibility for your decisions. It seems you are fully aware of your partner’s earning capacity and have even discussed the possibility of him being a full-time dad should that possibility arise. In these times where women have the same earning capacity and choice of career as men, this arrangement should be as normal as a woman choosing to rear her children. However, it will be challenging to an older generation where security depended on the man’s job and so your family might be using outdated measures to judge your choice of partner.

Therefore, your family will need to understand your choices and the rationale behind them if they are to support you. If you are doubtful yourself, this will come through to them and they will do their best to stop you making a mistake. The question is this: how sure are you of your choice of partner and have you been expressing this in strong enough terms? Your partner needs you to be proud of him and his approach to life, especially in front of his future in-laws.

As a couple, your job is to support the development of each individual. In this situation, it may be that your development needs to challenge the focus on the ‘finer’ things in life to what is really important to you – perhaps love and commitment?

Your partner may need you to support him in developing his self-esteem through finding an added source of income so that he is not entirely reliant on gigs. But this is a discussion and decision-making process for you both and should not be dependent on your family’s attempt to put their agenda on your relationship.

Your family need to know that you are a competent adult and that you are making your life choices based on experience and good judgement. Tell them that your fiancé deserves to be treated with dignity and his career choice needs to be given due respect – you would offer them the same support in their chosen relationship and career choices. There is a saying that ‘we teach people how to treat us’ – through your own conviction and strength of character you can teach your family to regard both your self-agency and your choice of life partner.