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TODAY contributor
updated 3/19/2008 4:26:45 PM ET 2008-03-19T20:26:45

Q. My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year. We decided to finish college and then get married. We are both extremely driven and headed for law school.

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We decided to move in together this summer, before law school begins, and get engaged in the next few months. I am 21 and he is 23. I have been living on my own for four years and he will be moving out of his parents’ house.

We told this to my parents, and their response was, “What have you been waiting for!” His parents decided to bring out the Bible.

His parents directed their disappointments at me, calling me immoral and declaring that marriage comes before living together. My boyfriend and I don’t think we need to live by these set standards, but they are being unreasonable and threatening to kick him out of their house before our joint lease begins.

I am not sure how to handle them, considering our future marriage and children. I was shocked that they lashed out as if we had no idea what we are doing. His mother told his four younger brothers that we were living in sin and let them make comments toward us. How I should proceed with my relationship with his parents?

A. Currently in the U.S., less than half the population is living in a traditional marriage. More and more people are cohabiting, so you have plenty of company.

Does it bode well for your future marriage? Not necessarily. But you’re not asking whether it is a good idea to live together. You are saying you have made a decision and your boyfriend’s parents don’t like it.

Assuming you marry, this is just the beginning of a whole future of dealings with these people. As you know, there will be many decisions you make as a couple they might not agree with, from child-rearing practices to holiday celebrations to financial decisions.

Looking at the big picture, your goal is to be an independent couple and make your own decisions. If everything you do must please his parents, that will put tremendous strain on your relationship.

Still, you don’t want to antagonize them. It’s a fine line to tread. One way to assuage their anger is to let them know you hear their concerns and are not ignoring them. At the same time, you hope they will respect your decision.

If you are adult enough to move in together, then you are adult enough to figure out how to do it. You say your boyfriend’s parents are threatening to kick him out of the house before your new lease begins. Well, this is the kind of thing you must deal with as adults.

If he is reliant on his parents for interim housing, you need to rethink your strategy. It doesn’t work to stamp your foot and call his parents unreasonable. They think you are unreasonable. So the parties involved are at an impasse.

I find it odd that you have mentioned so little about your boyfriend’s stance. These are his parents you are having problems with — so in talking with them, it will probably be helpful for him to take the lead.

As for his younger brothers, he can tell them you are adults making your own decisions, and you hope someday they will be also. In the meantime, you expect to be treated respectfully, even if you don’t agree.

I also suggest you try to stand in his parents’ shoes. They feel living together is sinful, so they want to prevent you from making a mistake. Parents often want their adult children to grow up and do everything the way they did, which validates their own beliefs and parenting style.

So provide reassurance that they are great parents and instilled great values in their son. On the living-together point, however, you differ.

It sounds like your boyfriend is the eldest of many children. Unfortunately, the eldest often has to break the ice. By the time the fourth or fifth brother announces his plans to live with his girlfriend, they might be fine with it.

Meanwhile, they might also be coping with the sadness and fear that their children are growing up and away, and their son is becoming ever more independent. So let them know you don’t have any intention of being out of their lives unless they push you out.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: If a couple chooses to live together against their parents’ wishes, they must tread the line between antagonism and independence.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

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