How To Draw Boundaries If Your Partner's Family Is Overwhelming, According To Experts

by Christy Piña

Meeting your partner's family for the first time can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of a new relationship. But if you're lucky, once you've gotten to know them, you might feel like you have a second family. There are a million perks that come along with having more people to love, but it's normal to occasionally feel overwhelmed by bae's family. Fret not. When this happens, there are ways to draw boundaries with your partner’s family, so that your feelings towards them don't get in the way of your relationship.

You and your partner are a team, and if you feel like their family is a lot sometimes, it may be best to take it up with bae before bringing it up directly to their family. "There’s a formula for having healthy relationship discussions, in which your partner can hear you and wants to buy in," dating coach Evan Marc Katz tells Elite Daily. "You want to start with praise and appreciation for your relationship. Then, you have to state your issue, whatever the issue is, and how that issue makes you feel, so it’s not an attack. You’re not saying anybody is wrong. Once you attack your partner or your partner’s family, they’re going to either attack back or withdraw from the conversation — it’s a flight or fight mechanism," he explains. "Then you have to come up with a solution."

Once you and your partner have discussed how you feel about their family in a way that you feel like you understand each other, you can begin setting boundaries with their family, little by little. Here are four ways to do just that.

Shorten the time you spend with them.

When your partner's family begins to overwhelm you, you may feel tempted to avoid seeing them at all costs, but this can cause unnecessary problems with bae. Instead of refusing to go altogether, go for less time. "Stay for dinner but excuse yourself after dessert, or skip dinner but arrive in time for dessert and a drink," Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Elite Daily. But that also doesn't mean you have to go every single one of your partner's family events, either. "You can also say 'no' to events but talk with your partner ahead of time," she advises.

Plant the seeds with your partner’s family about what’s important to you early on.

Depending on how serious you and bae are, you may be planning to eventually have a family together and create your own traditions. "You can bring [this] up casually in conversation before you even start your own family," she says. "It lets [their family] know it’s something that’s important to you and not a slight to them and their traditions" down the line.

Be flexible and make compromises.

Every relationship requires some level of compromise from both parties. The same way you and bae have to be flexible with each other, you should be that way with their family, too. But of course, "if one or more members of your partner's family is overwhelmingly abusive, you need to draw a bright red line and say absolutely [that] you will not tolerate emotional abuse," Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily. "If that's the case, you may need to seriously limit the amount of contact you have with them."

Let your partner run interference.

After discussing how you feel with your partner, it may be best to let them take the lead when it comes to their family. Yes, you can do or say certain things yourself, but overall, "your partner's priority needs to be to keep you out of the crossfire of their family's issues," Dr. Brown says. You want to ensure that you don't come across as the "bad guy" to bae's family because that could lead to issues with them in the future, Chlipala explains.

Your partner may be taken aback at first when you tell them their family overwhelms you sometimes. But by opening the lines of communication about the boundaries you'd like to set with their family, it allows for the two of you to come to a solution together. "Two people aren’t going to agree on everything, but they can be on the same team about each other’s happiness," Katz says. "They have to respect where the other person is coming from, and validate, and shift back into something that works for everybody." That includes bae, their family, and you.