Should we start off by wallowing for a sec? If your family doesn't like your partner, that straight-up sucks, and I'm sorry you have to go through that. Really. It's tragic when the most important people in your life don't automatically get along, and I mean that literally — Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, one of the most famous tragedies of all time, about exactly that.
But not every pair of star-crossed lovers have to wind up like that ill-fated couple from Verona. Whether your partner and your family simply got off on the wrong foot with an awkward first introduction, or they're butting heads over a more serious issue, it's possible to fix the situation. Nothing is a lost cause just yet; instead of resigning yourself to decades of unhappiness now, there are ways to tackle the problem productively and make real change.
Elite Daily spoke to two relationship experts to learn exactly how to navigate this upsetting scenario and come out on the other side — stronger, happier, and more peaceful than ever before. Because the only thing that should cause you headaches at family dinners should be indulging just a little too much in that delicious bottle of red.
1. Stay Positive
If the problem is on the minor end, this is super fixable. Use the power of positive reinforcement — only talk up your partner's best qualities, rather than dwelling on their poorer ones.
"Be careful of what you share with your parents so you don’t reinforce negative thoughts," advises licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson. "If they already have a negative impression, don’t share anything negative about your partner."
If your mom learns that they brought you soup when you were sick last weekend, she'll be a lot friendlier than if she hears that they failed to notice your new haircut. It's not that you shouldn't vent... it's just that you should vent wisely, to your roommate who already likes the person you're dating, instead of your parents, who low-key don't.
2. Focus On What Everyone Has In Common
Why dive into an ugly fight when you can keep the conversation light, easy, and limited strictly to sharing photos of each other's beloved golden retrievers? Everyone loves golden retrievers! Talk about golden retrievers. No matter how different your family and partner may be, Richardson says, "I would try to highlight the things that we have in common, because just as people, we are generally more similar than we are different."
3. Put Your Family's Behavior Into Context
If your family is raising serious concerns about your partner — I mean, questioning your compatibility or their character, not just nitpicking about their table manners — you should take a step back to consider how legit their feelings may be. Think about how your family has supported you (or not) in the past.
"If we have a healthy family and we know that our family always has our best intentions at heart, then [their criticism] is something to pay attention to," Richardson says. "If we have a family that's a little toxic and judgmental, the family might be worried about their own interests and that might null their opinion."
4. Warn Your Partner
If you know your family isn't going to roll out the red carpet for your partner, at least give them a fair warning. After all, wouldn't you want that same courtesy? You don't want your partner sweating through a terrible meeting with your family, thinking you're on their side.
"I'd tell your partner, 'Hey, shake it off, anything they might say, I apologize in advance,'" Richardson suggests. "Say, 'It's not going to sway my feelings about you at all, and if they're ugly, we'll just leave.'"
5. Side With Your Partner
Your parents probably know you love them unconditionally. Your partner might not. "You have to side with your partner no matter what," says Anita Chlipala, founder of Chicago-based relationship therapy firm Relationship Reality 312. "Don't say, 'It's all in your head, of course they like you.' Listen to what your partner is experiencing and feeling. You don't have to agree, but oftentimes, you can make things worse by invalidating the experiences your partner is going through." So, when a conflict bubbles up, hear your partner out and stand by their side.
6. Have A Respectful Conversation With Your Family
If an argument breaks out, stay calm. "If possible, pull aside the most upset person and hear them out," Richardson says. "Don't tell them to cool off, because that always has the opposite effect, but really ask them what's upsetting them and see if there's something actionable and fair that can be done."
Some fights don't have easy fixes, though. Your partner probably won't magically change the one aspect of their personality that drives your parents absolutely nuts. Your family has a right to hold the opinions they do — but so do you, which brings us to the final step...
7. Set Boundaries — Or Don't Show Up
"It's OK to create boundaries," says Chlipala. "If you've tried to work through the issues [and there's no progress], you don't have to go over for the holidays."
If all else fails, give yourself permission to take a step back from whatever toxic situation you might find yourself in. And by the time the holidays roll around next year, maybe your family will finally see the light.
Check out the entire Gen Why series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
Check out the “Best of Elite Daily” stream in the Bustle App for more stories just like this!