Relationships

Is Your Relationship Doomed If You Don’t Like Your Partner’s Family?

Hardly.

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Apart from the first date, meeting your significant other's family can be one of the most anxiety-inducing moments in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’re meeting your boyfriend’s family two months into dating or meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time after a year together — it’s difficult to gauge what to wear, if bringing flowers comes across as cute or overbearing, and potential topics of conversation that feel safe for an intro visit. But meeting your partner's family pales in comparison to the feelings associated with disliking them. At least on the first meeting you can find solace in the fact that you’ve maybe yet to fully form an opinion. But what do you do when faced with the reality that you hate your boyfriend’s family?

Maybe you don’t like them because you have nothing in common. Perhaps you have so much in common that there are budding feelings of competition at every turn. Maybe they’re toxic, emotionally or physically abusive, or there’s a laundry list of family issues that have made you feel this way. Your partner could also have difficult family relationships, which in turn make your relationships complicated. Whatever the case, loving someone doesn't guarantee you'll love the people who raised them. If you're struggling to get along with, or struggling to be in the same room as, your partner's family, you’re not alone. It’s normal if you don’t like your partner’s family, and it’s completely normal to not have that Sister Sledge-style "We Are Family" moment every time you (are forced to) see and spend time together.

Family dynamics are a lot, especially when you’re dealing with a family that is not your own. You love your partner, sure, but does that mean you have to love their family? If there’s tension there, knowing how to navigate complicated relationships is the best tool you can give yourself.

Do you need to like your partner's family?

Let’s make the answer to this first question plain and simple. Experts say: No, you don’t need to like your girlfriend’s family. And beyond that — no one expects you to. "It is not a requirement of anyone to like someone else's family,” says Sarah Watson, an LPC and certified sex therapist. However, Watson does acknowledge that feeling this way can be a “tricky thing to navigate.” Because “each person is different,” Watson suggests you talk to your partner “about what family means to them.” Once you get a sense of what their expectations are in terms of spending time together, you can better understand, as Watson says, what it would mean if that family time together changes.

As you’re preparing to bring this up to your partner, both parties would do well to remember that your relationship should be the top priority, says Watson. So before you jump from point A to point B, remember that having an initial conversation with your partner about the value they place on family and on their family relationships is going to help you better understand what to do if you don’t like your boyfriend’s family.

Not getting along with your girlfriend’s parents or siblings doesn't need to be a deal breaker, though. Perhaps there's a fun uncle or cousin you’re close with who you can stick with over the holidays or on a weekend visit. If there’s no one in your immediate circle you feel comfortable spending one-on-one time with, know that you always remove yourself from the situation. Plan a few activities to keep yourself distracted, or spend the afternoon shopping or walking through downtown. If you’re traveling, identify the things you’d like to do (either on your own, or just with your partner) and make it clear to your girlfriend or boyfriend that you’re baking in some solo time for yourself or for the two of you. Knowing you’ll have that time to do your own thing is powerful and it provides natural separation from a tense situation.

What this all boils down to, as Alexis Nicole White, an author and relationship expert, previously told Elite Daily, is that you need to establish clean, clear boundaries.

How do you tell your partner how you feel about their family?

There are many ways to communicate with your partner that you don't want to spend time with their family without making them feel targeted. In doing so, it's important to be honest about your feelings, without directly attacking anyone. "If you have a fairly good line of communication with your partner, then they may already know to some degree how you feel about their family," says Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show. "You don’t need to tell your partner specifically that you don’t like their family as much as communicate why you don’t want to spend time with them."

Expressing that you don't feel relaxed or patient around your partner's family, or that you struggle to connect with them can make for a more productive conversation than just, "I hate them all" or "Your family is f*cking terrible." Direct negative statements can make your partner feel defensive, especially if they are close to their family and don't understand where you're coming from. Standing up for yourself is hard, but communicating your boundaries and your feelings is key.

Klapow says that "like vs. dislike is far too simplified to describe a relationship with your partner’s family.” Klapow’s advice may feel obvious, but it’s valuable. When you’re talking with your partner about your feelings, you need to be both honest and descriptive. What about the relationship isn’t working? Why do you feel this way? Sometimes it’s helpful to give examples of specific behaviors so your partner can understand how you’re feeling, and also so that they can be on the lookout for similar situations in the future.

Above all, you need to remember that talking about your partner’s family can be a slippery slope (in the same way that talking about your family might be for you). White previously told Elite Daily you’ve got to keep in mind not only what you’re saying but how you’re saying it — and whenever and wherever possible, avoid name calling. “Never bad mouth your partner’s family,” White advised. No matter how you feel, or how hurt you are, you have to remember these people are still your partner’s family and it’s necessary to remain “respectful."

What if you don’t feel supported by your partner in the way you feel?

If you’re feeling like your partner is choosing their family over you, you need to check in about how you're feeling, and discuss the ways in which you need to feel more supported. Your girlfriend or boyfriend also deserves an opportunity to share how they’re feeling in response.

But before you dive headfirst into the conversation, Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again, previously told Elite Daily that even though it’s “very healthy” to expect a partner to be supportive of you, you need to define “what being supportive actually means.” What does “supportive” look like in this instance? How can your partner support your feelings?

If your partner has their own issues with their family, throwing you into the mix can make things further complicated. Being transparent about where you each stand with your own families can help when attempting to navigate the tension. Susan Winter, an NYC-based relationship expert and love coach, previously told Elite Daily that having support in a relationship, regardless of whether it’s physical, emotional, or mental, “serves as a bond of closeness,” which is an important distinction. Your partner may not agree with you, but they don’t need to agree with you in order to find ways to meaningfully support you and to affirm your feelings. Talking about it, directly and openly, can help you both get there.

In order to have the conversation, Chris Armstrong, the founder of the relationship coaching company Maze of Love, previously shared with Elite Daily that you should approach it “from a place of what you are excited to see versus what they are doing wrong.” If you’re only pointing out the flaws, Armstrong said it’d be easy for your partner to “go on the defensive.” Be direct and offer “examples and not just a feeling,” he said. You also want to make it clear that you’re raising these issues to your partner about their family because you feel they are “unaware” of the challenges you’re having and they’re “willing to discuss and address” them with you.

What role does family play in a romantic relationship?

There's an old (and heteronormative) saying about the way a man treats his mother reveals how he might potentially treat his girlfriend. Family can play a large part in how we form romantic relationships and also in how we think those relationships should look. But is what you saw as a child/young adult the end-all be-all? "It varies from family to family and over time,” says Klapow. “There are no single answers or situations," Klapow says, for how these images and relationships will inform your own. However, he says there is one thing both you and your partner should be aligned on: communicating. Kaplow says it’s “critical” for the two of you to talk “about how you feel about their family” and also that you listen to how your partner is feeling in response.

So what role should your families take on? Whatever feels right to both. As Watson describes, "They have whatever role you desire them to have. They can be as involved as you would like.” White’s previous recommendation for establishing “clear boundaries” can help you set expectations for how involved they’ll be or how often they’ll visit or vice versa.

Setting healthy boundaries around your comfort levels with family involvement is a helpful tool you can use to mediate conflict. Maybe you're not into overnight stays at your girlfriend’s grandma's or you need an immediate topic change when someone brings up politics. When talking to your boyfriend, you can prioritize your own safety and wellbeing when faced with uncomfortable encounters with their relatives through communication. As long as you are both willing to enter an open and honest dialogue, you can overcome these moments together.

Can you have a successful LTR even though you don’t like your girlfriend’s family?

Your relationship isn’t doomed if you don’t get along with your partner’s parents. Will the road ahead be harder? Maybe. Can your relationship still be successful if you don’t like your boyfriend’s parents? "Absolutely,” says Watson, while adding that what success looks like will “vary from couple to couple.”

"Some people are very involved with their families, others are not,” says Watson, and in order to make sure your relationship is on equal, honest footing when it comes to your families, “you have to come up with what is going to work for both of you. You can make it work, but it will take some work and compromise."

Whether it's putting up with endless Facebook messenger memes from your girlfriend’s mom, replying "regretfully decline" to their family BBQ invite, or booking your own hotel room on a family trip, there is no one way to handle family tension. Dreading your partner’s monthly family hangout, or relative-clad summer weekend trip is perfectly normal. While some people have effortless and affectionate relationships with their partner's parents, family tension doesn't mean an impending breakup.

Relationships take effort, and if you've reached the point when you're meeting the family, you clearly care for your SO. Through compassion and communication, you can tackle anything — even an overbearing future mother-in-law.

Additional reporting by Kylie McConville

Experts:

Sarah Watson, an LPC and certified sex therapist

Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show

Diana Dorell, intuitive dating coach and author of The Dating Mirror: Trust Again, Love Again

Chris Armstrong, the founder of the relationship coaching company Maze of Love