Dad is a Third Wheel

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Dear Hoopers,
My boyfriend (I’ll call Jeff) and I have been together for 7 years, and started dating at 18. We both live with our parents, and recently we’ve been considering getting an apartment together, but nearby just in case we break up. Our plan is to move to a different state at some point. Jeff’s dad is a widower, doesn’t have contact with much of his family and has a few friends. Jeff wants to visit his dad EVERY day when we move out. And as far as moving to a different state, Jeff wants to wait until his dad retires (maybe in five years or so) so all three of us can move together. In said different state, Jeff wants to buy a house with an in-law apartment or another cottage on the property for his dad to live in.

I’m a little stuck for a few reasons. I completely understand Jeff’s situation with his father, as I can’t imagine leaving a single parent. But, I think visiting your parents (single or not) every day is a little excessive and almost doesn’t seem like moving out or cutting the proverbial cord. I’ve wanted to leave this state since I can remember, and have said that since day one. I’ve been waiting years to move, and this has been a recent development. I feel like I’m just waiting to get my life going. His dad doesn’t have any pertinent medical issues. How are we supposed to move forward with our lives and our relationship?
-Dad is a Third Wheel

Dear Third Wheel,
Jeff’s expectations for living near/with his father do seem like a bit much to me. My parents raised me with the expectation of flying from the nest someday. Our family culture certainly encouraged interconnection, but the primary focus was independence.

It was because of this family culture and encouragement that I was excited to go off to another state for college, then even further for graduate school, and then even further (to Chicago) to settle down. I am still quite connected with my family and talk to them regularly, but know that I will only see them a few times a year because of our distance. This might change someday if there is a change in health that requires more direct support from me, but right now I feel quite comfortable living far away from my parents (and Kate does too). This focus on independence is quite typical in westernized culture and in middle to upper socioeconomic status families. Other cultures tend to focus much more on staying close to family.

The reason I describe my own experience and background, is because I don’t think that there is a right/wrong answer on this question. This is about family background, culture, and expectations for the future, and it sounds like you and Jeff have some things to figure out. While you are ready to fly the nest with Jeff to start your new life together, he can’t imagine leaving dad behind. In fact, he wants to wait until his dad retires and then have him live with you guys.

I think this will come down to a series of heart-to-heart conversations about the role of family in your future together.

-Dr. Ryan

I think this will come down to a series of heart-to-heart conversations about the role of family in your future together. Share your concerns with Jeff about how his father may hamper your future together. Hear his concerns about leaving his father behind.

Then try to see if there is a way to find a compromise that works for both of you. Perhaps you wait until dad retires to leave the state, but get your own place in the meantime. Perhaps you move right away, but agree to visit every other weekend. Relationships are always about finding the middle ground, but often that takes time and deep conversation. Start the process now and keep an open mind about what you are willing and unwilling to do for your relationship.
-Dr. Ryan

Dear Third Wheel,
The first red flag that sticks up here is your comment about getting an apartment together but close to parents “just in case we break up.” My immediate advice is please do not move in with anyone if the thought of breaking up is even a glimmer of possibility.  Save yourself the headache and trouble.

Let’s start with timeline. This is clearly a problematic part of your relationship. You wanted to move out of the state yesterday and have communicated this life goal to your partner from day one. He on the other hand would like to wait until his father retires in five years. At that point the father will continue to be an involved part of your lives with your partner’s desire for him to live on your property. How do you feel about this?

In order to move forward with your lives and relationship you have to align on common goals.


There seem to be two big discussion points here that need to take priority in communication with your partner, the commitment of moving out of state and the issue of father in the picture. In order to move forward with your lives and relationship you have to align on common goals.

In your situation that will only be plausible with sacrifice from one or both of you, as your goals right now sound very different. It may be the case that your partner’s emotional need to be physically close to his father outweighs his desire to make the sacrifice to move for you. Determine how this would work for you and communicate that clearly to your partner. Hopefully you can arrive at a decision that works for both of you. If not, realize that a move to another state may be the fresh start that works better in your life.