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Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

I have been engaged for a few months, and my parents disapprove of my fiancé.

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An extended-family member is very sick and will probably not live much longer. When I was talking to my parents, my mother explicitly told me that my fiancé was not welcome at the funeral, stating it should be “family only.” It is worth noting that the visitation and funeral will be published in the local paper and open to anybody.

My fiancé is incredibly hurt by this, but he respects my mother’s wishes. I will be attending the funeral, but I am unsure how to deal with tensions between my parents and my fiancé given this incredibly stressful and emotional event.

Of course I am deeply upset about this death in the first place, and I feel really overwhelmed with the vehemence of my parents’ dislike for my fiancé. I am not sure how to navigate this difficult situation.

— Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: What do your parents see as the grounds for their dislike? This is so important.

If it’s something that calls your fiancé’s character into question, then that’s something you need to face, without allowing yourself to be distracted by the details of his inclusion.

If it’s not a character issue, then it will be hard for you to avoid taking sides. You can’t outsource the decision to your fiancé, either. His choice not to go to the funeral is the right one if that’s what you asked him to do; if you decide you want his support, then he goes.

You are responsible not just for that decision, but also for standing up for your fiancé — and yourself by association — by saying to your mom: “We’re all grieving, and I want to do what I can to help the family, but Fiancé is my family now. Shutting him out means shutting me out, too.” Optional: “In this case it’s also ridiculous, because the funeral is open to the public with details published in the paper.”

Unless your parents have legitimate doubts about your fiancé based on his behavior, I don’t respect your mom’s wishes, and I don’t think you should, either.

If you’re going to make the decision to follow through with a marriage to someone your family treats as an outcast, then you have to insist on inclusion or, if they refuse, cast yourself out with him. There’s no playing this both ways.

DEAR CAROLYN: How do you judge when differences between two people make them incompatible, or are merely ones that any normal couple has to work out?

It is perhaps inevitable that the same differences that attract us to the other person are the same ones that cause friction. I understand that some work to accommodate and adjust to each other’s differences is necessary to sustain a relationship, but how do you know when it has become TOO much work?

— Work?

DEAR WORK?: When the person drains you, versus restores. It’s usually pretty clear when you start thinking about it like that.

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