Dear Harlan: I’m in my early 20s and have been in a relationship for a little over a year. My boyfriend has a great family. I love them more than my own family. He has a mom who showers me with affection. He has a father who is generous and very successful. My family is the opposite. My parents are both divorced. They have remarried awful people. There are two members of my extended family who have been arrested and spent time in prison. I have not introduced my boyfriend to my family. I’m scared he will not want to date me if he knows the truth. I feel ashamed of where I come from. When he asks about my family I tell him that we have a difficult relationship and let it go. He has started to ask me more questions. How can I deal with this and still maintain our relationship? I know I can’t keep this a secret forever. Any advice?
Dear Ashamed: The fact that you come from a family with so many challenges and have figured out how to be balanced, healthy and responsible should make you feel so good about yourself. Forget your family dynamics for a second. You need to figure out how to communicate better with your boyfriend. It doesn’t sound like you’ve had a lot of great examples of how to build a trusting, intimate relationship. This starts with loving yourself. It means reframing your childhood and focusing on the best parts. Work with a therapist to change your story. Find the best parts and let that define the relationship. Let this be a way for you to learn how to be honest with yourself and more vulnerable with your partner. Not only will this experience help you grow closer to your boyfriend, it will help you reexamine your family dynamics and find gratitude and love for your imperfect parents.