When you’re involved with someone, you’d hope that they and your family get along, but in reality, that’s not always the case.
It’s a situation that is more common than not, relationship expert Shannon Tebb says, and it can leave both the romantic and family relationships strained and under a lot of stress.
“You feel like you’re fighting for both of you – for both you and your partner to gain approval,” Tebb says. “You’re going to feel stress. Your partner is going to want to feel accepted into your family, and when you marry someone, you marry into the family, so the family dynamic would eventually have to be strong.”
But it all depends on the relationship one has with their family in the first place, Tebb adds.
“Maybe you’re not very close with your parents so maybe their opinion doesn’t really matter because you’re building a new life with your partner, and they end up not being a part of that equation,” she says. “But in the majority of cases, we want our parents and family to approve because this person you’re with is going to be involved in [your life] and you don’t want the tension to rise.”
So what can one do if they find themselves playing referee between their partner and family?
Tebb offers a few tips on how to manage the iffy situation.
First impressions are important
Before your family meets your partner, brief your partner on some ideas on how to get in good with the family.
“Let them know they shouldn’t be afraid to get a little hands-on, like help with dishes or barbecuing,” Tebb suggests. “It’s about bonding. So don’t let them sit there in the corner. Remind them to take action, thank your parents, show up with a bottle of wine. Your partner should show them that they’re putting in the effort in getting to know them and becoming involved.”
Talk with your parents and partner
First, Tebb says, sit down with your parents and figure out why they’ve taken a disliking to your partner.
“Find out if their judgment is based on reasonable concern or if it’s bias,” she says. “If your partner’s aggressive or controlling, then that’s going to be red flags for your family. But get to the root of the problem and find out why they’re disapproving. What is it they don’t like about them, and ask them how your partner can win their trust.”
And while we often feel the need to defend out partner to others, in these situations, we need to trust our own judgment but still be open to feedback, Tebb says.
Also, have a conversation with your partner, Tebb advises, and let your family know that you’re discussing the situation with your partner as well, so as to show you’re not picking sides.
“Tell your partner that you’ve noticed the disconnect between them and the family,” she says. “Tell them that both [they] and your family are very important to you, and that you’d like to create an opportunity for everyone to find a common something that can bring everyone together.”
Keep relationship problems away from your family
Sometimes we just need to vent, and often people will turn to trusted family members to do that. Don’t do this, Tebb says, as it can help create the situation or make an existing one worse.
“Families do kind of judge and sometimes the less they, the better,” Tebb says. “You want to be able to show them the different side of things and let them know that this person, who is a part of your life, is helping you build a future together.”
However, if there are problems with abuse, then it is something that should be brought to your family’s attention, Tebb clarifies.
Bring everyone together
Try to find a way to bring everyone together with a fun activity, Tebb says.
Find an activity that will show everyone’s character traits and that way, your family will get to know your partner better, and vice versa.
However, refrain from forced activities and outings like brunch, for example. Everyone will just feel awkward and it won’t be a pleasant experience, says Tebb.