What to do if a family member doesn't like your significant other07/22/2021
So, you’ve fallen in love.
The person is perfect. Beautiful, funny, understanding and empathetic. You feel like you have found the other part of yourself.
Suddenly you understand the love songs, the poems, the cheesy declarations of love.
You could swear the stars have aligned for you.
Nothing else matters.
That is until you attend a family gathering in a pub and realise a member of yours doesn’t feel quite as strongly about your significant other… or at least, not in the positive sense.
Navigating family and relationships is tricky. It’s a balancing act. One side is pure flesh and blood, years of history flowing through the veins. The other is a bouquet of emotions and sex with a person you happened to swipe right for.
When you realise a family member has taken a dislike to your love, it truly hurts.
All we want from family is acceptance and for them to welcome and trust in our choices. When they don’t, it can feel like a rejection of sorts.
Family liking your partner comes as a non-negotiable, does it not?
According to senior therapist Sally Baker, the answer is no – but a baseline of respect is key.
‘Family members are not obliged to like your partner, and your partner isn’t obliged to like your family either,’ Sally tells Metro.co.uk
‘The preferred realistic outcome in this situation is that all parties are respectful and polite with each other. If either the family member or your partner is not managing to be civil with each other, then their behaviour needs addressing and who they like and dislike is irrelevant.’
Sally notes that family relationships are nuanced and complex, and a life without conflict isn’t possible. Expecting everyone to like each other isn’t feasible, but you should be able to ask for fair treatment.
‘Life is full of situations where we have to be polite to people we aren’t that keen on and family isn’t exempt,’ Sally explains. ‘It’s only the US American TV series called The Waltons where everyone liked each other. In real life, it’s complicated.’
‘Don’t set the bar too high with everyone liking each other as that may never happen. Set the bar at everyone rubbing along together as best they can. Also, it’s not your job to fix other people’s relationships, and if you’ve been trying to do that, it’s exhausting. So emotionally resign your self-appointed job. It is thankless work.’
If you wish to address the situation between your partner and family, relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan says talking about the issue openly and maturely is vital.
‘Check in with why that family member feels this way,’ she explains. ‘You don’t ever have to onboard those thoughts and opinions as your own, but you can actively listen to keep the channels of communication wide open.
‘It is possible to have these tricky conversations maturely and fluidly without placing blame and being able to see and hear all parties fully.
‘If you disagree with your family’s opinions, you have to accept that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. And, ultimately, it’s your life – life is short, fragile, and you have to do what makes you happy.’
While this is undoubtedly true, Sally notes that sometimes familial opinions come from a place of concern. Step back and see if you are being blinded by the dream of the relationship and not the reality.
‘If your partner is behaving in ways that you know are damaging to you then it is quite likely your family will want to point this behaviour out to you, even if you’re trying your best to ignore it yourself,’ she says.
‘Ask yourself: do they have real grounds not to like this person? Are they concerned about your wellbeing? But in the end, only you know if you are judging your partner accurately or are delusional.’
Suppose you trust your opinions and have had transparent and open conversations with your family and partner. In that case, the next step is dealing with unavoidable gatherings where partner and family will mix.
Sarah advises making clear boundaries with both parties before the event.
‘Be clear about what they are and aren’t willing to do to make a civil approach to coexisting in social events and gatherings,’ she says. ‘The reason being, you’ll want to manage your expectations about the situation going forward. You want to understand each person’s take on the situation so you can ensure there’s a way for you to all be mutually respectful.’
And if the situation can’t be fixed? Sarah suggests seeking professional help should it all become too overwhelming.
‘If it gets particularly tricky, you can look at seeking help from a professional to help you manage those relationships,’ she explains. ‘You can all do this together with a family therapist or counsellor if they are willing. Alternatively, you could seek it alone as situations such as this can be exhausting.’
Ultimately, your happiness is always the priority.
‘Yes, it’s a balancing act, but it doesn’t have to be if you manage your expectations from the get-go,’ says Sarah.
‘But in a nutshell, first and foremost, you do you.’
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