Question

My boyfriend lives in Canada and has two adult daughters who still live at home. He told them they can live at home for as long as they like. Five years ago, the mother of the girls passed away and his daughters moved in with him. We’ve been dating eight months and are in a long-distance relationship since I live in the United States.

He has a nice house with three bedrooms. One daughter sleeps in the master bedroom, which has its own private bathroom. She’s got four large cages with lizards and needs the space.

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His other daughter has her own room, but she shares a small hallway bathroom together with her father. When I brought up that I feel a bit uncomfortable about this lack of privacy, he thought it was normal. The oldest daughter is 26 and not planning on leaving home anytime soon.

We are obviously still in the early stages of our relationship. However, we’ve talked about what life would be like if we were to get married and move in together. He thinks I could just move in and live with him and his daughters and share the bathroom with him and his daughter. Personally, I don’t think it would be a good idea. It’s a family dynamic that I’m not comfortable with, as there would be zero privacy for us as a couple. What is your reaction to this?

Answer

Even though you’re still in the early stages of this relationship and everything you’re concerned about hasn’t actually happened, I can understand your concern that this dynamic may never change. On the surface, your question appears to be about the logistics of sharing bathroom space with an adult child as a newlywed couple. However, I imagine your concern runs much deeper, especially if your significant other has little self-awareness of how his boundaries with his daughters impacts your relationship.  

After the death of a parent, it’s common for families to polarize into extremes of disconnection or enmeshment. In other words, some families isolate from each other by turning away to cope with their loss while some families favor intense closeness that ultimately blurs roles and boundaries. Eventually, family members have to decide if their way of coping still works for them as they move through the grieving and healing process. Sometimes it takes an outsider to disrupt these coping patterns and open up new ways of living.

As the outsider to this family system, you’re asking questions they’ve likely not had to think about. If he’s open to understanding your perspective and concerns, then this relationship will be more likely to move forward. On the other hand, if he refuses to make room for not only your perspective, but also your actual presence in the home, then this will be a difficult family to join.

Each family system has to decide how much closeness or distance they’ll have between family members. The current arrangement of having his daughters sharing his space clearly doesn’t bother him in the same way it would bother you. Instead of criticizing or judging his arrangement, simply state your preference. See if he is willing to hear and understand why these boundaries matter to you. There’s no right or wrong resolution to this situation. If you’re going to share space with his family, you simply need to be clear up front what works best for you. Then, he’ll have an opportunity to share his preferences. Over the course of discussing this, you’ll make a more informed choice about how you will live life with him and his children.

As you can probably already guess, this concern over privacy and sharing space won’t be the only area where you’ll have differing needs. Instead of expressing shock over his way of doing things, it’s healthier to first seek understanding so you can find ways to help adjust to each other’s preferences. You will both surprise each other with your ways of doing things, especially after you move in and weave your lives together. Make sure your discussions are full of kindness, patience, and curiosity.

You’re wise to begin speaking up about these preferences at this stage in your relationship. This will save you both time and heartbreak if you eventually discover that your styles are incompatible. If fact, don’t stop at discussing this one area. I encourage you to perform an Internet search for “questions to ask before getting married.” You’ll find hundreds of questions you can ask each other as you’re exploring the real possibility of sharing your lives together. This is especially true in your current long-distance arrangement.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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