Ah, family drama. Whether your mom bought your whole family tickets to The Handmaid's Tale opera and then forced everyone to go for a "cultural experience", or your parents promised they would stop picking Christmas cards where you look like a mess but still haven't — sometimes your relatives can drive you relatively bonkers. (Or completely going-off-the-rails bonkers.) Though by now you may know the best ways to deal with your own kin's drama, knowing the best course of action for when your partner has family drama can be a whole other opera of it's own.
"Support is the term when it comes to your partner’s family drama. It is easy to get pulled in, sucked in, and frankly out ahead of where you need to be,” Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Elite Daily. “Your role is to support your partner. That doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with them on everything but it does mean to be there to help them (not their family) manage the drama."
If your partner has some major family drama going on, here are three tips on how to be supportive while staying the heck out of it.
1. Ask your partner what they need.
If you're naturally a problem solver, or you can't stand to see your partner in a bad mood, you may feel inclined to try to fix any family conflicts they may be dealing with. Though your heart is in the right place, according to the experts, it can be helpful to check in with your partner about what they need from you and how they would like to handle everything — before jumping into anything.
"Ask them what they need, don't assume you know what that is. Every family is different and has different ways of managing conflict," Shula Melamed, MA, MPH, and wellbeing coach tells Elite Daily. "Do they need you to just be there for them? Do they need a sounding board? Do they need someone to pick up certain tasks around the house in order to clear up space for dealing with the drama? Ask them what they need in the moment."
According to Melamed, asking your partner what little things they need or what support you can offer can be a great way to help them through their drama without getting too involved.
2. Listen Without Judging
Though you may have a ton of your own opinions on the family drama happening, or what your partner could be doing to end all the conflict — according to Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin MS, LCPC, Certified Imago Therapist, and co-founder of The Marriage Restoration Project, the best way to really stay out of the drama is to listen fully without sharing your feelings on the matter.
"Be a safe sounding board to listen and validate their feelings without reacting or offering your own opinion. That can help your partner calm down, as well as feel they have your support," Rabbi Slatkin says. "Be there to listen to your partner in their time of need. [If you need to get involved] that could look like helping them set healthy boundaries and sticking up for your partner."
If it's pretty clear that your partner may not be thinking super rationally about the conflict, or if they're acting out of anger or being a little childish about something, Rabbi Slatkin suggests finding a mellow time to have a safe conversation to gently share your feelings. Though just listening can limit your involvement, if the issue seems to be growing, it can be helpful to tell your partner what you're observing.
3. Set Your Own Boundaries
According to Dr. Klapow, a great way to support your partner without getting sucked into the drama is to be clear about your role in supporting them.
"Your partner needs to understand that you love them, you are supporting them, but that you do have some boundaries," Dr. Klapow says. "Tell them you are there to support them and what that means and what it doesn’t mean: 'I’m here to listen, to let you vent, and to help you figure out what to do. But I’m not going to jump in the middle of the situation. This is between you and your family.' This message has to get conveyed to your partner very clearly so that you don’t look like you are being unhelpful."
Establishing healthy boundaries may mean setting aside dedicated time to talk about your partner's family issues or clarifying your role in supporting them through the drama. Having that clarity can nip any potential resentment or confusion down the line if the drama starts to increase.
Of course, no one knows your partner better than you. Family drama can be super sensitive and draining, and navigating it can look different for everyone. Still, if your boo is going through some family conflict — there is nothing wrong with supporting from the healthily pre-distinguished sidelines.