Q: My son is getting married at a remote location and there will be 40 guests. He wants to invite my ex-husband, who emotionally and physically abused me. He also wants to invite a longtime partner of mine, a man he calls his stepfather, who cheated me out of money. I don’t want to see either of them again. My son thinks I’m being sensitive. I feel no one cares about my feelings especially considering I was a single parent for the past 17 years and paid all his expenses with no assistance from his father. At this point I would rather not go. What should I do?
A: This is a tricky situation. You want to be part of your son’s wedding while also protecting yourself. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, you should not feel obligated to put yourself in a situation where you have to be around an abuser. You’re the only person who can decide if you should go to your son’s wedding. Here are some things to think through as you weigh your options.
It seems like you’ve tried to talk about this with your son, but I think you need to talk to him about it again. How much does he know about your relationships with your ex-husband and ex-partner and why they ended? Would you feel unsafe at the wedding if your exes attended, and does your son know that? You may want to show curiosity and ask: “Given our history, it’s hard for me to understand your relationship with your fathers. Can you share more about your relationship with them over the years?”
While these men may no longer be your family, your son still seems to consider them part of his family. You are allowed to tell him how you feel about being around them, but I don’t recommend giving him an ultimatum to choose between his parents. If you decide to share more about your history with your son, be honest with yourself about why. Are you telling him this now to persuade him to choose you over them? Or do you feel like he deserves to know the whole story?
Approach this conversation using “I” language to share your feelings, rather than “you” language, which can feel accusatory. This makes it less likely that your son will feel as if you are attacking him or your exes and lets you approach this as a team rather than adversaries. This may sound like: “I don’t feel safe being around your stepfather because of the way he treated me in the past.” Or “I feel stuck between supporting you and taking care of myself.” Or “Can we talk about ways to help me feel safe at your wedding?”
This may lead to a discussion about how you can navigate the wedding, and gives you a chance to control where you sit, how much you have to engage with your exes, how others can act as a buffer, and how you can take care of yourself (as I mentioned in this previous column).
It makes sense that this is painful, but it shouldn’t take away your role in your son’s life. If it’s possible to focus on that, and that alone, it may help you get through the weekend, whether you’re there in person or not. You don’t stop being his parent just because he is an adult, or married, or making choices that upset you. You deserve to celebrate this milestone as a product of all you have done and given to get here, too.
If you feel like you can’t be around your exes, or that your son is dismissive of your feelings and experiences, not attending the wedding might be the right decision. Be honest with yourself about what that will mean for your relationship with your son. You might have to accept and grieve that your son does not want to prioritize your feelings. Or you may try to find a compromise, such as a separate celebration that you share with him and his spouse.
Your question went from being about your son’s wedding to “no one” caring about your feelings. It sounds like you are feeling generally unappreciated and unacknowledged. Are you able to find support and love in other relationships that can help you feel seen, heard and validated? Find ways to process your anger - through therapy, exercise, journaling, and nurturing other safe relationships - so it doesn’t become something you carry with you.
While forgiveness is not a prerequisite for healing, you also don’t want to be beholden to your anger - and you certainly don’t want it to supersede your love for your son.