Complex family/girlfriend issue - need help

I apologize for how long this post is, I tried to keep it short, but I guess I failed.

I’ve found myself in a bit of a complex situation. I know there are a quite a few wise Catholics on this board who have dealt with family issues, so I thought get some third-party perspectives. I hope some of you can help me out.

First let me give some background info. I’m 30 years old, unmarried, and have 3 siblings. I grew up in a Catholic family. When I was 19, my parents got divorced (and their marriage annulled). Over time, I came to learn some of the reasons my parents divorced. Among those were my father’s habitual use of pornography, masturbation, and physical and psychological abuse of my mother. I won’t go into all the details here. Throughout the years during and after the divorce, I learned of situations in which my father abused my younger sisters (psychologically, but not sexually as far as I know). For example, my youngest sister found pornography in my father’s house around age 10. Also, my father made threats toward my sisters. On one occasion he threatened to call the police if they didn’t visit him, immediately afterwards, he gave them gifts and told them how much he loved them (there is definitely a disney-world dad mentality, even to this day).

As part of the annulment process, the Church placed an “injunction” on my father. Even though the marriage was annulled, the marriage tribunal ruled that my father was not permitted to remarry in the Church unless he received counseling and worked out some specific problems and impediments. My father isn’t one to follow the rules when they are an inconvenience. He started attending a schismatic “catholic” church and found a schismatic priest that would remarry him to his girlfriend. He has invalidly remarried outside the Church and now lives with this woman. I didn’t attend the “wedding” as I didn’t support it.

Shortly after all this, I wrote my father a letter, explaining why I didn’t attend the “wedding” and my disapproval with how we was conducting his life. That letter began a period of 5 years where I virtually never spoke to my father. During this time, my siblings dealt with the situation in their own ways also. At this time all of them are on speaking terms with my father, and really don’t talk about any of the issues.

Fast forward to 3 years ago. I felt that I needed to attempt some relationship with my father to try to let him know I love him and I still care about him. I began to attend family get-togethers, etc. and have a civil relationship. I never said I approved of his lifestyle, but I never reiterated my disapproval either. In the last 3 years, I feel like I’ve gotten lazy about the whole thing - it has just been a lot easier to ignore the issues and at least participate in family outings, etc.

Here is where the situation gets complex. 18 months ago, I began dating my current girlfriend. We have been talking about engagement. I’ve shared the whole history about my father. My girlfriend is uncomfortable being around my father, and she feels I’m not being true to myself and what is right. She feels that spending time with my father and not reiterating my disapproval to him is sending the wrong message. She feels that my father has come to believe that I’m okay with how he lives his life. To be fair, I think she has an extremely valid point, but it’s just been so “easy” to ignore the issue and go with the flow when it comes to family get-togethers. Additionally, my girlfriend is concerned about our future children spending time with my father who has deep-seeded issues, and worries about their safety around him.

My family (my father, his “wife” and my siblings) are currently vacationing about 1 hour away from my house and I’ve traveled there a couple days to visit and spend time with them. My girlfriend didn’t attend, and I’ve come to find out that she is very upset with me. She hasn’t explicitly threatened to break up with me over it, but she has said she has serious doubts about whether our relationship could ever work out if I don’t have agreement with her on this and do something about it.

She is upset because I had agreed to write an email to my father months back reiterating my disapproval and explaining that I couldn’t go on family outings (staying in the same condo, letting him pay for meals and activities, etc.) I wrote the email, but never sent it because my girlfriend had doubts. She felt I was only doing it to placate her, and she didn’t want me to do it just for that reason. I decided to just delay and do nothing, as I wasn’t fully ready to “stir up the pot” just yet.

The whole situation is complex. How can I tell my father I disapprove of his lifestyle and that I can’t in good conscience keep attending family vacations, outings, etc.? I don’t want to come across as self-righteous to my siblings who have dealt with the issue in their own way and don’t feel the same reservations about spending time with my father. I don’t want to come across as judgmental to them. I also don’t want to seem like a puppet of my girlfriend, only doing this because she has pressed the issue. I feel like I could come to all of this in my own time, but the situation with my girlfriend has hastened things a bit, creating a crisis.

I’m looking for any perspectives, reassurance, validation, suggestions etc.

Your dad does not sound like Dad of the Year by any means, and it sounds like you have expressed your position to your dad in the past and have found a way to have a relationship with him on your terms. Your girlfriend sounds a bit pushy and extreme in her demands. I would consider it a red flag.

Your father is an adult and is ultimately responsible for his own actions and his own salvation. You have expressed your position to him and presumably he understands how you feel.

At this point, the question is whether your disapproval of his choices is sufficient grounds to sever your relationship with him. That’s really a tough choice, but it’s one you can’t let your girlfriend dictate to you. From what you describe, your disapproval clearly hasn’t impacted your father’s decision making process. There’s nothing wrong with that, we all have to make our own choices. Now it’s up to you to determine how that impacts your relationship.

Surely we can maintain relationships with people who’s actions we don’t approve of. That’s all part of living in society. It becomes a matter of defining the parameters and limits of that relationship, what you’re comfortable with, and what you feel is right?

It’s no easy situation, but I don’t think there’s a black and white answer. As Catholics we are not directed to sever relationships with people in invalid marriages, particularly one’s own parents. I would think you can still maintain contact without providing any sort of implied approval, as long as your are comfortable with the relationship.

*I lean in agreement with dulcissima, but with the caveat that I think your gf is seeing her future in this, and is sort of spelling out that this isn’t how she wants to live her life–hanging out with your dad, to appease you, or go with the flow, when she feel that doing so shows approval of it, to a degree. That is where I think she’s coming from–not trying to tell you what to do, really, but what she is trying to tell you is that this isn’t what she wants for her life. As your gf, she can bypass having to go to these get togethers, as a wife, things change. It will be a hardship in your marriage, if you go to see your dad often, and your wife doesn’t come. It will be a forever thorn in your marriage’s side…

Most people understand when considering marriage with someone, that no one’s family is perfect by any stretch. There will be situations like this that arise, but it is your gf’s choice to not continue with you, if she is looking for a family who isn’t going through this. Not all dads act like yours, and perhaps she wants to be close to her future inlaws. She doesn’t respect your dad (I don’t blame her, he doesn’t warrant respect) and she envisions this being a strained relationship on her part, if she becomes your wife. That is really the problem.

I can’t say if you should or shouldn’t hang out with your dad, he’s your dad and always will be, I get that. But, I don’t think your gf wants this in her own life, and for that, I commend her for standing up for what’s right. Even if it appears judgemental, now is the time for her to voice her opinion. All too often, couples ignore these things, and then they marry, and then, the conflicts come out. I think that if she can’t deal with you hanging out with your dad and his ‘wife,’ maybe parting ways is the only way.

Tough decision. I will pray for you with this. *

I’ll give this a shot…

My parents were alchoholics. My family life growing up was not the best. When I got married and began a family of my own, I started having fears like your girlfriend is expressing. How could I trust my parents around my kids? I “confronted” my parents and begged them to get counseling. My dad told me it was his life and he’d do what he wanted to do. I kept working on my mom over the years, but it soon became clear that she was not going to change either. It was painful for me at the time, but eventually I came to realize that a lot of the hurt was due to my own pride. I’d made my objections known and I expected my parents to suddenly see the light based on my requests. I totally did not get how trapped they were in their addictions and co-dependency. Watching my mom suffer and eventually die from cancer opened my eyes to a lot of things. I had spent years telling myself “If my parents really loved me they would…”. The fact was, I expected what I didn’t and couldn’t give…perfect love. Learning to accept what they could give me helped immensely.

You’ve already told your dad how you feel. I think the important thing is to set some boundaries so he knows that you don’t condone his behavior, but love him anyway. As for your girlfriend, it’s really easy to be black and white about such complicated situations when you are not directly involved. (I was the perfect parent until I had children of my own!) It’s much easier for her to write your dad off than for you to do so. I agree with the previous poster…red flag here.


When you go away with your family, don’t let your dad pay for you, tell your girlfriend you will pay for her and you and you stay separate from dad…tell her you wouldn’t let dad babysit your future children…your girlfriend does sound a little too demanding, though…

You seem to get at the heart of my dilemma. I struggle with what boundaries to set with my father. My other siblings just go with the flow. My dad treats the family to vacations, pays for a condo for everyone to stay at, pays for activities, dinners, etc. It’s probably best not to sleep in the same condo as my father and his “wife” so they don’t assume I condone their sleeping together. But what about the other stuff like activities, meals, etc? It seems like a gray area to me. At a minimum, I feel I need to clarify to my father that I do not condone his life decisions just because I attend a family vacation.

And the dilemma is that my girlfriend has her own opinion on how to handle this on a practical level. She feels it’s wrong to let my father pay for dinner, or pay for a rafting trip, etc. I feel like refusing those gifts would be interpreted as an insult to my father. To be fair, my girlfriend is upset with me because I told her I would deal with the issue, and instead I procrastinated and did nothing about it.

This is what I struggle with:
-Do I simply stop attending any/all family vacations involving my father?
-Do I try to reiterate my disapproval and set boundaries (knowing that the boundaries may not line up exactly with how my girlfriend would set them?)
-What boundaries are appropriate? Not sleeping in the same building? Not accepting meals/activities/gifts?

I concur with dulcissima.

You don’t have to like or approve of what your father does, in fact, you’ve more than adquately expressed your disapproval, but he is your father, and if you don’t have some kind of relationship with him, you will regret it sooner or later.

*I think you have a GREAT gf, despite my opinion not being popular here. And here’s why. She is looking into the potentials and ‘what if’s’ of becoming your wife. She is not content to just say…‘I love this man, and who cares about anything else.’ As many women do–they don’t speak up when they see something that troubles them, and they think they are going to have their wedding and ride off into the sunset…nope, it doesn’t always work out that way. She loves you but doesn’t want to marry a man who can’t make strong decisions when the time comes, either. :o Dating is all part of discerning if someone is right for the next step…engagement…and then ultimately, marriage. You are no doubt, in a hard place. But, you have to start doing some what if questions to…suppose you had kids, would you drop them off with your dad? I wouldn’t. Your dad was given a directive by the Catholic Church–what a blessing! But, he decided to ignore that blessing, and instead create another immoral roadblock in his life. You may never change your dad, and I’m not saying to never see him, but Jesus was clear–His coming will divide families. What did He mean by that? This! This is what He meant…

Again, I wouldn’t cut things off with your dad, but I would definitely not place him before your gf, if you feel this is the right one for you, in marriage. Now, unless she is demanding in other arenas, I see nothing wrong with her opinions. She sees herself as your potential wife, with kids…and doesn’t want to hang around your dad.

This is how I see it. I do think you have a great gf, frankly. Your dad is the one that needs to change. We are called to be compassionate and understanding, but we are not called to turn a blind eye to sin. Jesus ate with prostitutes, but I don’t imagine He sat there watching them sin. It’s a tough spot for you, I pray that everything works out!*

Very true.

My DH is on shaky terms with his parents (they did not attend our wedding this past May and we have not had any contact with them since). The relationship has been strained for a while, and before we were married, I used to be much more outspoken about how I thought DH should handle it. I gave advice, reminded him of previous problems, told him how the situation affected ME … none of that was helpful and it only served to pull DH and I farther apart. My husband has one father. They have issues. Those issues may spill into my life because my life is joined with my husband, but they are not about me and, frankly, I don’t need to be giving advice about it unless DH asks me directly for it. My role is to support him, not to stir up trouble (although I am very good at the latter :o ).

Something to remember: you are bound to your parents until you are wed (Mark 10:7-8). After then, your wife can choose to be more/less involved in your personal relationship with your parents depending on what is best for your relationship.

*Now, if your dad gumby, say went through what the Catholic Church told him, and changed for the better. Didn’t marry out of the Church, and did seek counseling, etc and your gf STILL felt this way, then I’d change my reply. But, your dad is not interested in changing, he wants everyone around him though to pretend.

You’re an adult, you don’t have to play pretend with your dad, like I’m sure you had to growing up…pretending you had a normal family, when you knew that you didn’t. I know how it is to pretend, growing up, I don’t pretend with my family anymore. My sister was involved with a married man who left his family and wife for her…and I told her simply…you can run your life anyhow you please, but I don’t have to be a part of it. She didn’t like that, we stopped talking…and eventually she saw the light, and left the guy. (he cheated on her, that moved things along quickly too)

Bottom line is…your gf who thinks into the future and possibly sees herself as your dad’s daughter in law, doesn’t want to have to play pretend. And she has that right to think like this.

Again, I pray that things work out, and that somewhere, you won’t have to choose. *

Thanks for the advice. This rings true to me, and I have been thinking about what Jesus said. Doing the right thing sometimes divides families.

I don’t want to “play pretend” around my dad either. I guess I just got to work up the guts to stop playing pretend and accept the drama that will ensue.

*That’s right. Your dad will always be your dad. You love your dad, and no one can take that away from you. You want the best for your dad, and I’m sure it is deeply troubling to see your dad living like this–not willing to heed the advice of the Church, on top of it. But, we can’t change people…they have to want to change. Your dad refuses to do the right thing, and that can’t be your problem. I don’t think there is ANYTHING wrong with visiting your dad, but I wouldn’t spend the night, and all of that. Maybe if he sees that not everyone in the family wants to play pretend, he’ll decide to change. If everyone keeps feeding him what he wants, he won’t change. His soul is at stake, and Jesus also told us, if you go to a village, and the people don’t accept what you have to say, then shake the dust from your feet, and keep walking.

Now, I’m not saying walk away from your dad, and you should love him without conditions the way Christ loves us. But, Christ wouldn’t play pretend. That, I know.*

*Your dad hurt your mom, you and your siblings, and is now married to a woman outside of the Church, with no desire to change in sight. Why keep making him believe this is ok?

This is what your gf is trying to get across. She loves you, but she is also looking out for herself. She doesn’t want to have to go through this if/when she becomes your wife. I like your gf, she will make a wise wife. :slight_smile: I can see where others think she is demanding, but it’s not like she is keeping you away from a father who is trying hard to live a moral life. As crazy as it seems, pulling away a bit from your dad, might be what he needs to change, and get his soul right with the Lord. Playing ‘the pretend everything is rosy’ game, will only keep your dad in sin.

For whatever it’s worth, just my two cents. *

What a difficult situation. First, my prayers for you and your family.

Clearly your father has previously engaged in some very hurtful and destructive behaviors, and some of the underlying causes of this behavior seem to be what created an impediment to his marriage with your mother. He has not followed the requirements that the tribunal has set out for him to be able to marry in the church. However, I am wondering if he has, to some degree or another, changed his behaviors and addressed some of the underlying issues. Are the interactions you and your siblings have with him still toxic? Is he still psychologically abusive to you, your siblings, and/or his new wife? Or does his behavior suggest that he has in some ways started to address the things he needs to work on in his life?

In my opinion, the answer to this question may make a big difference in the kind of boundaries you decide are appropriate to set. If he is still emotionally abusive, manipulative, etc. then I think you are justified in minimizing your contact with him, and possibly ending the relationship all together. You (and your girlfriend) have a right to protect yourselves (and should she become your wife, any future children you may have) from this type of behavior. It would also be interesting to know your girlfriend’s perspective on this question from her interactions (however limited) with your father. Is she mostly concerned about behavior that he exhibits today, or what she knows about his past behavior?

On the other hand, if the relationship that you have with your father today is still strained by past wrongs, but is generally more of a positive than a negative force on your life, then I am not sure it makes sense to strain the relationship further by repeatedly reiterating your disapproval for his actions. You have clearly articluated how you feel, and presumably he is well aware of how you feel. He has to decide for himself how to live his life. All you can really do is pray for him and try to encourage him to do what is right (through both words and example). Would cutting off your relationship with him, or placing further limits upon it, be more or less likely to help him lead him towards the right thing? (And what, exactly, is the right thing for him to do in the situation he has created for himself?)

Ultimately, you have to decide what limits you think are appropriate for your relationship with your dad. You need discuss these issues carefully and honestly with your girlfriend and both listen respectfully to each other’s perspective. You should consider how both of you would want the relationship with your dad to work if/when you were married, especially as it relates to any children you might have. You both may have to give a little, but personally, I think that each spouse should give deference to the other about how to handle issues with their own family of origin. As others have said, if she is not willing to give at least some deference to your wishes in this area, that might be a red flag.

I think your girlfriend needs to let you handle your dad the way you see fit. I think she sounds rather demanding, and a bit on the controlling side in all honesty. She is basically saying she’s not sure she can be in a relationship with you if you don’t handle your family relations the way she wants you to. Will this be the case as other conflicts arise? Your father is your father and you’ve already made your feelings clear in the past. She needs to let you be a man and make your own decisions on how to handle your family. It is not her place to insist you cut off relations.

I agree with others that there is a red flag with her behavior, and would seriously look to see if this a pattern your girl friend has on how she handles conflict.

*I don’t see her as controlling at all :o…I can see the reasons as to why she chooses to not hang around his dad, but she has no right to tell gumby (OP) what to do. Now, that is true.

If this is a dealbreaker for her…then, it’s best to end it. I don’t think that we have to tolerate toxic family dynamics in order to show our significant others we love them. Now, if she were your wife, gumby, I think that it would be very tough.

I like Thomas’ advice very much. I think that you both might need to give a little, but don’t expect your gf to play pretend just because everyone in your family does. That’s all I’m saying. And she doesn’t sound controlling…unless she wants you to sever ties with your dad, and that would NOT be right. Your dad, ah, if only he’d change. This would make things so much easier. :smiley:

She needs to give a little and so do you–and hopefully, there can be a happy medium.*

The “demanding girlfriend” is now entering into the picture to defend herself since apparently she is the only one who is going to do it. Plus, I don’t think it’s fair for my side of the story to not be represented.

I have clearly stated to my boyfriend that I did not think the appropriate or even Christian thing to do was to completely cut his father off. It’s unfortunate that seems to be the message that has been put out there. I have simply said that I don’t think it is appropriate to act completely buddy buddy with him, and let him be the Disney World Dad he so desires to be.

And my boyfriend told me several months ago that he agreed with my position. The reason I brought it up so many months ago was so that I could see if we were on the same page before things progressed between us. I knew it was an issue I felt strongly about, so I tried to handle it in the best way a 23 year old can.

I think that saying I am placing unfair demands on my boyfriend, is very unjust. He told me that he agreed with the way I said I thought it should be handled. I think I should be able to have my thoughts and feelings about situations like these. Especially when it is something that is going to be a part of my every day life if I choose to marry this man.

The mother of my boyfriend has advised my boyfriend to never leave his children alone with his father, in the fears that they may be sexually abused. Does that say anything about the father having changed his life? Am I supposed to want to be intimately involved with someone who is a potential sexual abuser? I would think that anybody in their right mind wouldn’t walk into a situation knowing that, let alone bringing children into the picture.

I would appreciate it if you all would say some prayers for us.

Would you mind telling me (the girlfriend), what it is that you think I am being so pushy and extreme about?

Whatevergirl makes good points but I also need to stress that interventions into private lives of other people should be very tactful and restrained. The decision being correct or good for the other person isn’t enough - the way it’s executed matters. It’s good to offer feedback, even copious feedback at times, and offer a helping hand in solving problems. It’s also good to stand up for one’s future - it would be unreasonable not to do so. But demands made of other people with regard to matters primarily concerning themselves should be made with a lot of restraint.

I think there is some merit to what you are saying, however, I would like to explain something.

My relationship with my own immediate family has not been perfect…

I have also had to deal with a father who divorced my mom at age 5. I have a sister who is a recovering alcoholic and rejected her faith for many years. And I have another sister who is now rejecting her faith and living with her boyfriend.

While it is true that I cannot fully understand my boyfriend’s situation, I would like to say that I have had to deal with many moral issues in my own family. I have had to stand up for my faith and say and do what is right with them. And yes, it has caused a lot of grief and hardship. Just a month ago I had to tell my oldest sister that what she was doing with her boyfriend was wrong. And do you know that now we have a very strained relationship because of it? But that doesn’t mean I don’t love her or don’t talk to her.

Sometimes as a Catholic you have to stand up for what is right, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone, or that you might not have a perfect relationship with every member of your family.

Has nobody here ever heard the story of John the Baptist?

Again I want to emphasize this:
I NEVER once demanded that my boyfriend completely write his dad off. In fact, I told him I didn’t think he should. I’m sorry that he didn’t stand up for me and say that was a misguided idea. Apparently in our five or six discussions about this he never once realized that wasn’t what I was trying to do, even though I told it to him time and time again**

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