A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill Goldson: When issues arise over inter-racial love

I moved to NZ from South Africa three years ago and recently become engaged to Kiwi. My fiancée is Indian and my parents are Afrikaners - I worry they won't approve. My father is ill and I want to visit my family with my fiancée. How do I handle all this?
Some people are still concerned with inter-racial love, says expert Jill Goldson.
Photo / Thinkstock
Some people are still concerned with inter-racial love, says expert Jill Goldson. Photo / Thinkstock

What are the main issues behind the sense of overwhelm you are feeling in this difficult situation? Most of all a sense of divided loyalties and sadness, I would think. And perhaps an overriding feeling of being the one who has to somehow sort it all out? And how impossible sorting it out feels? But if you look at the situation bit by bit, it is really, like all the big dilemmas in life, about managing the things we can change and accepting the things we can't. There are some things you can do - and others you might have to accept you can't. And one thing none of us can change, unless they are willing, is that other person's behaviour.

Got a broken heart, relationship niggle, infuriating family member, or anything in between? Email your questions here and check back next Friday to hear Jill's wisdom.

Life is very different now from 50 years ago, in your mother's youth, when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment as an anti apartheid activist. His story of courage and determination - resulting in his becoming the first Black president of South Africa - has changed our world. Your freedom to love whom you wish is part of that triumph. As is passing that freedom of choice on to your own children. Having to deal with potential disapproval from your mother about your choice of partner because of race is heartbreaking - but if you can see it in context, it will help both you and your fiancée to have frank and strategic discussions about how to manage the inevitable difficulties.

Naturally you want to see your parents, and particularly as your father is unwell. And everyone wants their family to share in the joy of having fallen in love It may be that you have to accept that you can't force this joy. Staying true to yourself and your partner is fundamental. Keep communicating with her about what is happening and how you are feeling about it - and listen to her feelings and views as well.

You could begin by writing an email or a letter to your parents in which you tell them how much want to see them and want them to meet the woman who is to become your wife. Tell them all about her - don't hedge away from photos and information about her race and culture. Let them know that you look forward to seeing them and that she wants to meet the family of the man she loves. You love your parents as their son and they know that you want to spend time with them both, as do they with you. Tell them that their getting to meet your fiancée means a lot to you and that you would like to make plans to visit.

Give them time to read and think about your email and then perhaps follow up with a few Skype calls, if you can. If your mother is resistant to meeting your partner, remind her that her love for you and your choices in life mean a lot to you. And that a refusal to meet or respect your fiancé would be create a lot of pain for all of you. Be clear with her that you will always love her but that your love for your partner will not be affected by her views on race.

If your mother won't meet your fiancée, you obviously cannot force this issue. You and your partner will need to have a careful discussion about the way forward and how to manage a visit. The juggling act is to continue to be a son whilst also becoming a husband. And about living life with integrity and freedom. You don't say how ill your father is - but I appreciate your need to see him and not to delay. Maybe - and I hope - your greatest fears about your mother's potential behaviour won't come to pass - only you can know the details of this situation.

It sounds like the love between you and your fiancée is very strong - this dilemma will not damage your relationship as long as you can name it and understand it for what it is. My very best wishes to you

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A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill's fascination for what makes us tick stems from sheer bloody-minded curiosity and a genuine desire to see people live healthy, happy lives. Born in Manchester, the award-winning family and relationship counsellor moved to Auckland when she was nine. Being the middle child of an immigrant family she was neither the oldest nor youngest child, neither a Pom nor a Kiwi. This kicked off a lifelong fascination with how people can make sense of transitions and how uncertainty can be turned into a greater understanding of ourselves and of those who push our buttons. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, and seen her working for the Family Court; in hospitals; universities; aboriginal training programmes, inner London social work practices, and now–her own private practice in Auckland. Whether she's counselling everyday Kiwis, highly paid power couples or the children of Bengali immigrant families, Jill has an inherent ability to tease out what's really going on in people's lives, and strategise to improve the situation, whatever that may be. • Jill Goldson is a Family Dispute Resolution mediator and counsellor, and Director of The Family Matters Centre in Auckland.

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