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As Christmas approaches, we answer a reader question about integrating a partner into your family’s holidays traditions when there is some resistance. Have a question about faith, sexuality, or relationship from an LGBTQ perspective? Submit your own question to our Mailbag.

My partner and I have been together for almost a year and a half. We grew up pretty differently — I am very close to my family, which lives about 10 minutes from us, whereas she is not. Despite my parents being relatively conservative, they are very kind and welcoming, and my mom is really one of my best friends. We are going there for Thanksgiving, and my family is very tradition-oriented (we wake early to watch the parade while drinking cider and having Thanksgiving lunch, etc). My partner is coming and offered on her own accord to bring a dish. However, she was less than enthused (grumpy) about waking early and spending most of the day with the family. She has told me previously during a conversation about family that she has a hard time getting close to family. This is strange to me because she has admired a close friend of ours closeness to her family, which her partner is part of. I just wish we could have that too. My mom always invites her to functions. I want to be patient but this also hurts me. Any advice?

For many of us, the holidays can be stressful just facing our families on our own. Adding a partner into the mix can complicate the festivities exponentially, especially if there are members of your family who are not affirming. As the bridge between your family and your partner, it’s important to be sensitive to these dynamics.

First, I think it’s reasonable for you to want and ask that your partner take part in important traditions your family has established. If you two have chosen to attend the family festivities, then you’re electing to participate in whichever way the family celebrates. When you accept an invitation to attend a celebration, it’s polite to yield to the hosts’ plans, even when it doesn't sound fun. Otherwise, it may be better not to go at all. To participate, but only on one’s own terms, might send the wrong message. Being a good sport is especially valuable when someone is forming new relationships with a partner’s family.

Having said that, your partner will be yielding a lot to you by doing something that she doesn't want to do. Spending long periods of time with a partner’s family can feel vulnerable and scary. It’s important to recognize the sacrifice she is making and be willing to respond in kind. If she agrees to participate fully in your family’s holiday traditions (with a good attitude!), perhaps you can offer to do something she wants to do later on, either that weekend or on some other upcoming day. Or, maybe next holiday you give her the decision about what to do — maybe you two spend the day with friends or do something else together by yourselves. There may be times in the future when you need to decline your family’s important events in favor of doing what your partner wants to do. That’s what effective compromise in a relationship is all about.

More important than solving your particular holiday dilemma, however, is understanding the feelings behind your partner’s resistance. Gently ask her what her feelings are about, without trying to fix them. I doubt her real reason is that she doesn't want to get up early; it's likely something deeper than that. For example, does it feel like too much work or pressure to spend a whole day with your family? Does she feel uncomfortable or anxious around them, despite their welcoming nature? Does she have trouble knowing how to navigate and belong in a family that is close? Does she feel jealous of what you have, or feel like she doesn't belong? It sounds like she loves the idea of a close family, and her offer to bring a dish shows a basic desire to be a “good sport.” But it also sounds as if something internal is getting in the way of her working toward greater closeness. In a loving and nonjudgmental way, initiate conversation about her resistance to going — not just to solve the issue around the holiday, but in an effort to know and understand her better.

She herself may not even know what her resistance is about, so it may take some time for her to process. But if you can create a safe space for her to discover/articulate her feelings and share them with you, you may be better equipped to develop ways to mitigate that resistance. For example, perhaps spending a whole day with your family makes her anxious. As a solution, maybe you can promise that sometime during the day the two of you will take a break and go on a long walk alone. Or maybe you will promise not to leave her alone with the family, or you’ll commit to protecting her from one family member she feels especially uneasy around.

Building relationships with a partner’s family is a universally nerve-wracking experience. Give each other a lot of grace as those relationships develop. Commit to talking about family interactions, both before they happen so that you can set expectations, and afterward so that you can share feelings about how it went.


David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland. He and his husband, Constantino, are the authors of Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage, forthcoming from Westminster John Knox Press, January 2019. 

Photo by Ryan Anger, used with permission through Flickr Creative Commons.


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Modern Kinship by Constantino Khalaf - 5M ago

It’s wedding season! For engaged LGBTQ couples, it’s a time of immense joy that is often paired with a fair amount of grief. This summer we’ve been exploring challenges specific to the months leading up to marriage. For our fourth and last installment of the series, we’re talking about "Listening"—one of the habits a couple can learn during their engagement that will help them in marriage. 

 

It’s easy to look back on our engagement season with rose-colored glasses. It was, truly, a beautiful time. We grew closer to each other than either of us had ever been to anyone. We started this blog. We were celebrated by loving friends, and experienced for the first time what it means to be fully embraced by a church community. But the full truth, of course, is that they weren’t all halcyon days. We’ve mostly filtered out of our memories the bickering and headbutting leading up to that day, perhaps because during that time we developed tools to manage and mitigate it. Learning how to listen became one of our most important methods in learning how to love.

Most of the friction we experienced during that time stemmed from the different priorities we had when it came to wedding planning. We were on the same page regarding all the basics: We both wanted a small wedding, neither wanted to spend too much money, and we wanted the day to capture both our individual personalities and the values we’ve embraced as a couple. That made making all the big decisions pretty easy.

We had no trouble choosing a location—Cathedral Park in Portland, underneath the beautiful St. John’s Bridge. Picking a caterer was no problem—a Middle Eastern food truck serving gyros, hummus, and plenty of yogurt sauce. Dessert? Piece of cake! Or, actually, no cake at all—just donuts, served out of boxes we picked up that morning. We didn’t want a photographer, a DJ, and definitely not a wedding planner. And most of all, we both wanted to avoid the spotlight as much as one can on one’s wedding day. Scroll through the gallery below for some pictures of that day.


































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It’s wedding season! For engaged LGBTQ couples, it’s a time of immense joy that is often paired with a fair amount of grief, too. This summer we’re exploring challenges specific to the months leading up to marriage. This week, we’re talking about friendships who seem supportive of an LGBTQ relationship—until the couple gets engaged. One of our readers wrote into our Mailbag with the following question:

My partner and I are getting married in October, and we're faced with a lot of heartache that we didn't know existed. Particularly, friends who have been friends with us for years suddenly decided they won't be attending our wedding because they don't agree with us being "gay married." I'm wondering if you two faced this surprise heartache as well, and how you two dealt with it. There are many people we know already who will not be attending our wedding, but it's out of the blue when someone you've known for the past 10 years suddenly decide there was a limit, a glass ceiling, to our friendship; and that limit hits at marriage.

— RSVPeeved

Dear RSVPeeved, 

We’re both so sorry to hear about your friends who have surprised you by rejecting your wedding invitation and, by extension, your relationship. What a disappointment that must be, and what a betrayal that must feel like. In some ways it must be easier to accept the friends and family who rejected you upfront rather than ones who sprung this on you without any previous indication of their beliefs.

I try to put myself in their shoes to see if I can understand their choices, and if possible to give them the benefit of the doubt. I imagine that in the years leading up to your engagement, they were trying to be supportive and loving in spite of their views; to them, this meant hiding their true beliefs and trying to stay in relationship with you. At first glance this sounds like a valiant effort to preserve friendship, but relationship can't thrive on a ruse — it thrives on authenticity, even if that authenticity brings conflict.

What would have been more genuine is if your friends had expressed their reservations early on with love — if they had talked to you about their views truthfully, without trying to change you and while still actively pursuing friendship. Perhaps then you could have come to a mutual understanding, even if you never saw eye-to-eye. Perhaps this authenticity could have saved the friendship, and perhaps even grown it into something deeper and more meaningful.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, they hid their beliefs on homosexuality until your engagement forced the issue. In a situation like this, in which you were blindsided, I don’t see how you could have done anything different or better to preserve the friendship. As for the future of your friendships, it would be wonderful if you were able to have some productive conversations with them to mend the relationship; this is possible if both of you are willing to respect where the other is at, and if all of you are committed to leaning into friendship. But that’s a tall order to fill given the circumstances. A more likely outcome is that the deep and sudden hurt caused from this incident will cause distance, and that distance may cause the friendships to fade. If that happens, care for yourself and take time to grieve the friendship. The loss is real.

I can relate to your story. For most of the friends we invited to our wedding, we tried to have conversations explicit enough to know that they were supportive, or at least supportive enough to attend our wedding even if they still had some reservations. We tried not to invite anyone we weren't sure about because we wanted the day to be celebratory and didn't want specter of rejection haunting our special day.

Even so, there were a couple friends we invited who didn’t attend, and only later did we learn it was because they were unsupportive of us getting married. We felt duped by them, and we felt unsure where our friendships stood. Ultimately, it spelled the end for these friendships; we felt hurt and I think they felt guilty, and so our contact just kind of drifted apart. I feel as if our friendships might have been saved had they been more forthcoming, rather than springing their beliefs on us at such a critical moment. It was a jarring way to learn the news.

We believe community is an essential aspect of a healthy marriage, perhaps even more in the early years. Friends can help see us through a season full of changes, and they can help us thrive as we’re learning to navigate the challenges of new marriage. That makes this sudden rejection by your friends doubly painful: It’s the loss of friendships right at the moment when you’ll need them most.

Despite your heartache over these friends, try not to let it ruin your day of celebration. Lean into your future spouse, and lean on the friends who do support you. Have faith that you are working toward something big and wonderful in your life, and that even if there is pain involved as you move toward your nuptials, your marriage is worth it. Your soon-to-be husband is worth it. What you are losing is valuable, but what you are gaining is so much more.

 

David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland. He and his husband, Constantino, are the authors of Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage, forthcoming from Westminster John Knox Press, January 2019. 

 

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Modern Kinship by Constantino Khalaf - 5M ago

It’s wedding season! For engaged LGBTQ couples, it’s a time of immense joy that is often paired with a fair amount of grief, too. This summer we’re exploring challenges specific to the months leading up to marriage. This week, we’re talking about what it means for two to become one.

 

I got home about an hour later than planned recently. I was biking, and the first thing David said when he saw me was, “I was worried.” I recognized both the worry and the relief I saw in his face as we kissed hello. They’re feelings I’m all too familiar with. I worry all the time about something happening to him when he bikes. I don’t know what life would be without him. And as he said a couple nights later, he doesn’t know what his life would be without me.

Some might think this is strange, or might judge us for being too attached. But this awareness that we have come to need each other doesn’t faze either of us. In fact, we’re glad of it. We are secure enough in our own persons and our own identities. We are so different in so many ways, that it would be impossible for one of us to ever lose himself to the other. I will always be Constantino, uniquely flawed and gifted. David will always be David, practically flawless as far as I’m concerned (David vehemently disagrees with this assessment), and so very talented. But we’re also now, as our friends know us, the Khalafs. And we like being the Khalafs. The Khalafs are a unique, third entity that now seems an inextricable part of our lives.

Healthy dependence is good for a marriage, and it’s good for you as an individual. But it’s not something that just happens on its own. Learning to rely on another person can be difficult, especially if you get married later in life, when you’ve already lived years as a self-sufficient adult. The season of engagement affords couples an opportunity to start practicing dependence, to start yielding to each other and learning how to accept each other’s influence. Healthy dependence isn’t just emotional attachment to one another — it’s two people integrating into a symbiotic whole, engaging in a perpetual cycle of give and take.

“Guarding one’s independence is much easier than allowing deep connection. Walls require less engineering than bridges. And the work we put into ‘becoming one’ allows us to grow into healthier, better adjusted individuals.”

Looking back, it is clear to me that we didn’t become the Khalafs at our wedding—that was really just our naming ceremony. The Khalafs were born when we met, and they have been slowly growing since that day. Writing in our forthcoming book about the camping retreat where we met, David says, “I felt instantly comfortable with him, so much so that throughout that weekend people thought we were dating. For me, the word that kept coming to mind when I thought of Constantino was ‘teammate.’ I remember it clearly because it was such a strange word for someone I had just met, and not in the least bit romantic.” I remember thinking something very similar. That unexpected team was the embryonic form of who we are now as a couple.

Allowing that third entity to be born out of our relationship has been both the most beautiful and most challenging experience of my life. Depending on your spouse—allowing yourself to need them—is scary. Modern society places great value on autonomy, and couples are advised to differentiate—to make sure they don’t merge too much. But truth is, guarding one’s independence is much easier than allowing deep connection. Walls require less engineering than bridges. And the work we put into “becoming one” allows us to grow into healthier, better adjusted individuals.

If you’re one of the many couples heading to the proverbial altar this summer, start talking about the ways in which you find it easy to depend on each other, and the ways in which you find it challenging. Take some time, perhaps, to draft a culture covenant for your marriage, intentionally discussing who you want to be as a couple. The third entity that has already emerged from your union has its own needs, independent of each of yours. Take this season to learn how to identify what those needs are, and what each of you can do to meet them. And when the wedding comes, celebrate the fact that you’re not becoming one, but rather, have already become three.

 

Constantino Khalaf is a writer living in Portland. He and his husband, David, are the authors of Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage, forthcoming from Westminster John Knox Press, January 2019.  

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