Being in a relationship obviously means sharing many aspects of your lives — typically, goals, passions, friendships, and perhaps even a home and a future together. But there are some things that might be better served if you keep it separate from your relationship — and that's family drama. When your boo gets involved in these conflicts, it not only poses a risk to their bond with your loved ones but also to your bond with each other. That’s why keeping your partner out of your family drama and establishing boundaries can be important.
But how can you help to prevent them from getting involved, or getting too involved? After all, when someone you love sees how turmoil in your home is affecting you, they may be tempted to step in. I should know — there have been countless occasions during which my boyfriend came close to accidentally becoming a middleman between my mother and I. In fact, one night, after she lashed out at me in a particularly dramatic way, he admitted he desperately wanted to call her to scold her for the way she was treating me. Fortunately, had the self-control and respect for me to abstain from dialing her number. And while I appreciated that he cared enough to want to help, I was grateful he didn’t get involved, as I knew it could potentially stoke my mother’s resentment even further.
Here are some expert-approved strategies for making sure your SO stays out of the family drama and respects your boundaries — for the sake of protecting all your relationships.
Set Ground Rules For Communication
If your partner starts privately communicating with any of your family members who are involved in the current drama, they’re bound to get stuck in a tricky position. That’s why Nicole Richardson, a licensed marriage and family therapist, advises agreeing on a policy where your SO is not to reach out to those relatives, and should let you know if those relatives contact them directly, whether via a text, phone call, or Facebook message.
“It’s best for them to stay neutral when other people are involved and to have your back in private,” she explains to me in an interview for Elite Daily.
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a licensed counselor, psychologist, and family therapist I also spoke to for this story, agrees.
“If your toxic family is trying to put your partner in the middle, your partner needs to allow you to handle your own problems with your family members," she tells me.
Establish Firm Boundaries With Your Fam
In addition to making sure your partner isn’t contacting your family members amidst the drama behind your back, you also want to be sure that your family members aren’t touching base with them in the same manner.
“Boundaries need to be set to protect your partner from their manipulations,” says Dr. Campbell. “If these boundaries are not respected by your family members, you need to consider going no contact. If they are not respecting your partner, then they are also not respecting you. This is a huge red flag.”
This may mean politely asking that certain relatives do not communicate with your significant other. Also, you’ll need to ask your SO to keep you in the loop if they do get contacted by those family members so you can take action when the boundary is crossed.
Emphasize The Value Of Listening
When someone you love is confiding in you about a problem they’re dealing with, your instinct may be to try and come up with a solution — or ultimately, swoop in and save the day somehow. So, it makes sense why your significant other may struggle to stay out of your family drama. When they see that it’s upsetting you, or hear about how it’s having a negative impact on your wellbeing, they may be tempted to do something about it. This is why Richardson recommends letting them know that the best way they can help you is to simply listen.
“Be clear with your partner that their ear is the best and only support you need from them,” she says. “Let them know their support is important but that you want to handle your family on your terms.”
It can be helpful to remember you also have other loved ones who you can talk to about your family drama as well. So, if your boo is having a hard time just listening without stepping in, you might turn to your bestie when you simply want to vent, as they may have an easier time staying out of the drama.
Seek Out A Therapist
While your partner can surely be a solid source of support, sometimes they may not know the right thing to say or do to help you cope with your family drama. This is why you may want to consider talking to an unbiased, neutral professional who can help you to navigate all of your complex feelings as well as suggest some potential solutions for protecting your mental health amidst the turmoil.
“Getting some time with a therapist is good, especially if the family issues are big and will last a long time,” says Richardson. “It can also help your relationship by taking some of the pressure off your partner so they don’t feel as though they need to have all the answers.”
Once you feel ready, you can even invite your partner to a therapy session to hash out ideas about how they can be most helpful to you during this difficult time. And if you can find someone who serves as a family therapist as well, they can also act as a mediator if your relatives are willing to come in for a group session.
While it may feel good to have your partner stand up for you, experts agree that their involvement in family drama is too risky, and can make matters worse. “It will be a no-win situation for them,” says Dr. Campbell. “It is not your partner's job to fight battles for you.”
Also, shielding them from the drama, if that's what you choose, can ultimately have a positive effect on your relationship.
“Keeping your partner out of it can mean you have a refuge from your family drama,” adds Richardson. “Also, it can allow your partner to just be on your team because they don't have to worry about staying on the good side of your family members and having your back — they just get to have your back.”
Remember: No matter how close you and your partner are, they may not always know exactly what you need. It’s your job to tell them, or find ways to communicate what you need to them. That way, you can avoid any miscommunications and assumptions that they’re supposed to step in and save the day. And don’t forget to thank them for listening. Once they understand how helpful that act is in itself, they may feel less tempted to get more deeply involved in the drama.