When you’re dating someone, you learn to love and appreciate all kinds of things about them: their early-bird or night-owl tendencies, their favorite comfort foods, and the TV shows they want to marathon-watch on a Friday night. You also may encounter certain things that aren’t so pleasant, like when your partner’s mother is overbearing or super intense. Dealing with your SO’s family is a part of any relationship, but it’s tough when someone they love really stresses you out — not to mention when their mom doesn’t approve of your relationship.
Fans of The Bachelor franchise saw this family dynamic play out on live TV during Peter Weber’s season finale. His mom, Barbara Weber, had a clear favorite out of his final two contestants, and she urged him to choose Hannah Ann Sluss over Madison Prewett. Peter proposed to Hannah Ann, but then broke up with her and reconnected with Madison, and his mom had some, um, thoughts on how things would play out for them. “He’s gonna have to fail to succeed,” she told Chris Harrison at After The Final Rose. “That’s it. All his friends, his family, everyone that knows him knows that it’s not going to work. We’ve been trying to tell him.”
It was awkward, to say the least, and Madison stood up for herself when put on the spot. “This isn’t just Peter’s journey,” she said. “When you sign up to come on a show like this, you’re looking for love too … This isn’t just Peter choosing me, this is me choosing Peter.” Unfortunately, Peter and Madison announced their breakup two days later. Peter has said his mom wasn’t the reason for their split, but that chaotic family fight couldn’t have made things any easier.
Hopefully, you don’t have to deal with a situation quite as public as the Barb-Madison showdown. But if your partner’s mother makes you feel uncomfortable, clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow recommends digging into your feelings a bit more before you decide to say anything to your SO about it. “We all make compromises and concessions when it comes to our partner’s family dynamics,” he tells Elite Daily. “If your partner’s mother is overbearing, you first need to assess the degree to which it is impacting you and your relationship.” Do you simply find her behavior annoying, or is it affecting the way you and your partner interact?
If you only see her for a limited amount of time, and her behavior is irritating but not actually damaging, Klapow suggests trying to redirect your partner’s mother’s energy or engage with her in a different way. What’s something you have in common that you can connect over? How can you try to bridge the divide between you? Ideally, you can figure out a way to tolerate your partner’s mom without having to put your partner in the middle of things.
However, Klapow explains, “When it crosses the boundary from annoying to relationship destroying, it’s time to talk.” If your SO’s mom is overbearing in a way that is driving you and your partner apart, you may need to sit down with your partner and discuss the problem. “It is important to be compassionate with your partner, to respect that this is their parent, but don’t sugar coat the situation so much that you fail to convey the seriousness of it,” he says. “You’ve already decided that this is having an impact on your relationship, so your partner needs to know that.”
Be respectful and open to hearing your partner’s point of view. To minimize the chance that they’ll take this conversation badly, Klapow recommends sticking to facts rather than opinions. “What has she said or done?,” he asks. Rather than saying your partner’s mother’s actions are inherently problematic, Klapow says to highlight how you feel. “Focus on how her actions impact you and your feelings towards her, towards your partner, and towards the relationship,” he says. “Don’t assume you know how your partner feels by these actions.” It also helps to have a solution in mind, Klapow notes. What are you hoping to gain from this conversation? How would you like things to change?
Dr. Fran Walfish, family and couples’ psychotherapist, says that setting boundaries with your partner’s family can really help. “Discuss the ‘what ifs’ by role-playing situations that may come up at a family dinner or celebration,” she suggests. “How will you handle it if there is an explosive moment? Have a plan in place for handling difficult situations and include a getaway exit plan.” Setting regular family gatherings can also make things easier, because then everyone has something on the calendar to look forward to without feeling overwhelmed.
As you talk through these ideas with your partner, expect that they might not know how to respond right away. “Your partner may at first be defensive and defend their mother,” Klapow says. “Give them some time and space to process what you are saying. It may be an hour or a day or a week.” That doesn’t mean you should give up on the conversation completely. It’s one thing to empathize with their perspective, but another to let them shut down your feelings. “If they refuse on all parts to compromise, problem solve, or understand where you are coming from, then they are choosing their mom over you,” Klapow says. That’s probably a deal breaker.
One thing to avoid if at all possible? Try your hardest not to be disrespectful to your partner’s mother. This won’t do you any favors, and it might just make things worse. “Always be respectful, courteous, and kind,” Walfish says. “If you are displeased and opt to express it directly, be sure to remain respectful at all times.” This situation is best handled by a conversation between you and your partner, where you can calmly work through some coping strategies and a game plan moving forward. If needed, your partner can talk to their mother about her actions — but you should decide this long before your resentment builds and you lash out at a family gathering.
It’s never fun to have to deal with your partner’s family when you don’t get along with them. Relationships are all about compromise, and sometimes you have to put up with dynamics that are less than ideal. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should have to suffer through treatment that makes you miserable. Think through creative solutions to the situation, and talk to your partner if needed so you can come to a place of shared understanding and support.