Few things in the first months or years of a relationship are as stressful as that fateful first introduction of your partner to your parents. Usually, all parties are nervous. Your partner is looking to gain your parents’ favor, your parents are hoping you’ve made a wise choice in your partner, and you’re just hoping everyone will get along so well that your partner will feel like part of the family by the time dessert is served.
In the back of everyone’s mind, though, is the possibility that the scene won’t go quite so ideally. If your partner doesn’t like your parents, then you certainly don’t have a great situation on your hands, but your partner has to realize that you only have set of parents and you can’t change that. If your parents hate your partner, on the other hand, then they might hold out hope for an eventual breakup and even try to nudge you in that direction, subtly or not so subtly. In fact, the not-so-subtle nudging could even take the form of passive aggression, cruel jokes, direct confrontation, or even threats of changing their relationship with you.
If you find yourself in this sticky situation, caught between people that are both very important to you in different ways, try taking the following steps:
Before you do anything else, try to get an understanding of why your parents hate your partner.
Some reasons are much more valid than others. On one end of the spectrum, they might just have some small annoyance with your partner’s personality. Maybe they think your partner doesn’t have the greatest manners, or is too quiet/too loud, or doesn’t have a good sense of humor. These are all things that they absolutely can and should learn to live with if you are in a committed, loving relationship. On the other end of the spectrum, if your parents hate your partner for racist or homophobic reasons, these are unjustified and hurtful. In these extreme instances, you should not feel the need to negotiate and reach a compromise with your parents. However, there is lots of middle ground between these two ends of the spectrum, which leads us to the next piece of advice….
Consider your parents’ reasons as objectively as possible and seek perspectives from other people.
Your parents may not like your partner because they have some concern about how your partner treats you. Maybe they notice that your partner isn’t always respectful, or has no ambitions for the future, or demeans your self-esteem with offhand passive-aggressive comments. Issues like these could be things that your parents see more clearly than you, as hard as that is to admit. If your parents do give a reason like this, then it’s important to think about their comments carefully. You probably aren’t completely objective about this, and if your parents are picky about your romantic partners, then they might not be objective about this either. So take your parents’ concerns to more objective third parties, like friends who have spent time with your partner. Ask them if they have the same concerns as your parents. If so, it’s probably time for you to face the music about your partner’s flaws. If not, though, then you can rest assured that your parents are probably just being overly concerned about you. Remember, unless your parents regularly exhibit other hurtful behaviors toward you, this comes from a place of love.
Imagine that you follow the above steps and conclude that it really is just your parents; your partner is not the problem, they are just letting their hopes for you cloud their judgment and being overly critical. What now?
Avoid engaging in argument with your parents.
If you let yourself get in an argument, then you create the impression that it’s possible for them to argue you out of your relationship if they just provide compelling enough reasons. Instead, state calmly that you understand their reasons and that you’ll consider them. If you already have considered them and have talked them over with more objective people like friends, then state calmly that you understand their reasons but that no one else seems to share their concerns, and therefore you have no plans to end your relationship.
Try to help your parents get to know your partner better on your turf.
It may seem like this wouldn’t make a difference, but just being in your parents’ house can make your partner very nervous. Your partner is bound to be at least a little more natural and relaxed at your home, or the home that the two of you share together, so having get-togethers with your parents there will start your partner off at an automatic advantage.
Consider what may really be at the root of your parents’ feelings.
Is there a possibility that they’re jealous? Jealous of your relationship because their own relationship is not as happy? Jealous that your partner gets to spend so much time with you and take over the position of most important part of your life? If so, then this really has nothing to do with your partner, and you could perhaps help the situation by doing something like scheduling regular visits with your parents to ensure that they still feel important to you.
As a last resort, set up some clear boundaries.
If none of the above tactics work, then it’s time to set up some boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate. Try saying something like, “I love you, but if you are going to continually tear down the person I’m sharing my life with, I can’t be around you as often as you’d like. I will only be seeing you once a month, and during that time we will not talk about my partner or I will leave.” In most cases, your parents are going to respond to this by changing their behavior because they don’t want to lose you as a regular part of their lives.
Remember, though no one wants to admit it, there’s a possibility that your parents might just have a clearer insight about your partner than you do. If you’re sure that they don’t, though, then there are lots of things you can try other than cutting either your partner or your parents out of your life.
Are you feeling stuck between two people that you love and not sure how to move forward? You can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 15-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about how working with one of our therapists can help you improve your life.