Is It Normal If You Don't Like Your Partner's Family? Experts Weigh In
Apart from the first date, meeting your significant other's family can be one of the most anxiety-inducing moments in a relationship. It's difficult to gauge what to wear, if bringing flowers is cute or overbearing, and potential topics of conversation. Amidst the stress of wondering if they like you, it can be hard to manage to consider something equally important — do you like them? You may wonder, is it normal if you don’t like your partner’s family?
Maybe you have nothing in common. Perhaps you have so much in common that there are budding feelings of competition. 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 are not alone. It's totally normal not to have a Sister Sledge, "We Are Family" moment every time you (are forced to) see and spend time with your partner's fam.
I spoke with Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show,” and LPC and Certified Sex Therapist, Sarah Watson about the best ways to handle tension with your partner's family.
Do you need to like your partner's family?
Experts say: No. "It is not a requirement of anyone to like someone else's family. This can be a tricky thing to navigate...Each person is different, talk about what family means to them. What would it mean if family time changes? Bottom line, your relationship should be a priority" Watson shares.
Not getting along with a partner's whole family doesn't need to be a deal breaker. Perhaps there's a fun uncle or well-dressed cousin who you can stick with over the holidays. If you're feeling like your partner is choosing their family over you, however, it's important to check in about how you're feeling, and discuss the ways in which you need to feel more supported.
Klapow adds, "Like vs dislike is far too simplified to describe a relationship with your partner’s family. You don’t need to like your partner’s family to love your partner or to have a successful relationship."
If your partner has their own issues with their family, throwing you into the mix can often make things complicated. Communicating about where you each stand with your own families can help when attempting to navigate the tension. Plus, now you'll be able to tackle them together!
What role does family play in a romantic relationship?
There's an old (and heteronormative) saying about the way a man treats his mother revealing something about how he might potentially treat his girlfriend. Family can play a large part in how we form romantic relationships. But is it the end-all be-all? "It varies from family to family and over time. There are no single answers or situations," Klapow states. "However it is critical that for the success of your relationship with your partner you have an open dialogue about how you feel about their family and how they feel."
But what role does family take on? Whatever feels right. As Watson describes, "They have whatever role you desire them to have. They can be as involved as you would like."
Setting healthy boundaries around your comfort levels with family involvement can be a helpful way to mediate conflict. Maybe you're not into overnight stays at grandma's or you need an immediate topic change when someone brings up politics. When talking to your boo, you can prioritize your own safety and wellbeing when faced with uncomfy encounters with their relatives. As long as you are both willing to enter an open and honest dialogue, you can overcome these moments together.
How do you tell your partner you just can't with their fam?
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," Klapow says, "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 as always, communication is key!
Can you have a LTR with them and not like their family?
Experts say: Yes. "Absolutely. But this will vary from couple to couple," Watson mentions. "Some people are very involved with their families, others are not. 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 boo's mom, or replying "regretfully decline" to their family BBQ, there is no one way to handle family tension. Dreading your boo'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.
If you're feeling icky or uncomfortable about the time you spend with your partner's family, try talking to them about ways that you can both feel strong and supported. Relationships take effort, and if you've reached the point when you're meeting the family, you've clearly care for your SO. Through compassion and communication, you can tackle anything — even an overbearing future mother-in-law.