What to Do When You Dislike Your Partner’s Family
No matter how much you adore your significant other, it’s possible you won’t get along with their family. From opinions, beliefs, and values that don’t mesh to behavior that you can’t tolerate, there are all kinds of reasons for the dislike.
Jack and Jill Adult asked a few experts what you can do when you find yourself in this situation. Here’s what they have to say.
Ask Yourself Why You Don’t Like Them
Sometimes you know exactly what someone did to upset you; other times it’s a general feeling or “vibe.” If you’re going to talk to your partner about this, it’s important to know what’s got you upset advises psychotherapist Meredith Prescott in New York City. “Do you feel like you aren’t a priority in the relationship? Do you feel that the family is overbearing and a threat to the relationship? Are there cultural differences contributing to the issue at hand? Do you feel disrespected by their partner’s family?”
“The first thing to do is to examine the source of this dislike,” states Lesli Doares, marriage coach, relationship expert, and host of the radio program, Happily Ever After is Just the Beginning. “Is their behavior a trigger for something you don’t like about a member of your own family? It’s not uncommon to project feelings about your own experience onto someone else: ‘This person doesn’t like me because I perceive them using the same tone as my sister.’ ‘This person doesn’t like me because, every time they come to our house, they sit alone in the living room reading.’ The fact they are shy or an introvert doesn’t come into play. It must be because they don’t want to be around me. Sometimes becoming curious about the behavior, instead of judgmental, can help someone find other explanations that change the perspective of the situation.”
Unlikeable vs. Actually Harmful
“It’s important to note the difference between members of your partner’s family being unlikable versus actually harmful,” states Raffi Bilek, couples counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. “When their relatives are obnoxious – they make annoying jokes, talk too much, only think of themselves, or any number of unlikable behaviors, the best place to start is in your own tolerance level. Trying to convince your partner their relatives are as bad as you think they are is usually a losing battle. Managing difficult personalities in a family is a part of life.”
Bilek continues, “However, it’s a different situation when someone is actually harmful to you or your family. When they invade your personal boundaries, are hypercritical, abuse substances, etc. In such a case you may have to draw a line to protect your family from their harmful behavior or bad example.”
Talk to Your Partner
This is where everything gets tricky.
“Don’t give your opinion and start trying to convince them,” advises Bilek. “Rather, share your concerns, pointing to specific examples of things that worry you, then invite them to share their own perspective. Don’t argue with them; just listen and see if you can get into their shoes and see how they see the situation. Listening to rebut is much less effective in the long run than listening to understand. If you can understand your partner’s perspective about the individual in question, you will both be in a much better place to solve the problem.”
“Clearly identify the behavior in your own mind and provide examples where the behavior has occurred,” advises Doares. “When you bring it up to your partner make sure that you are using “I” statements—’When this happens (give example), I feel (sad, hurt, criticized, dismissed, etc.)’ Be prepared to hear ‘That’s just (mom, sister, grandpa). They don’t mean anything by it.’ Once you get your partner to acknowledge they see the behavior, then you can go further to talk about why it’s problematic for you.”
“I do think it’s important to express your feelings to your partner,” advises Nicole Arzt, a marriage and family therapist, serving on the advisory board for Family Enthusiast, “but avoid accusations, name-calling, or broad assumptions. It’s not helpful to say, ‘Your mom is a bitch.’ That will likely put anyone on the defense. Instead, you want to reflect on your words carefully and use I-statements like, ‘I feel frustrated when your mom criticizes our home.’”
“Boundaries are key here,” continues Arzt. “You need to let your partner know exactly what you will or won’t tolerate in their family. And you also need to identify what you intend to do if those boundaries continue to be crossed.”
“It is important to bring up [unpleasant behavior] instead of “going along” [with it],” says Doares. “It’s important to understand that your partner is used to the way their family interacts. It is normal for them and they have a role in keeping that behavior going, even if they are unaware of it. Attacking the family or family member will not be productive.”
She continues, “It’s important that you aren’t left to deal with their family on your own. Your partner is the common denominator and is the one responsible for you feeling safe and supported. If your partner refuses to do this, it is telling about where their loyalty lies. Don’t make it a choice through an ultimatum but continue to walk them through your experience while acknowledging the in-the-middle position they are in.”
Seek Professional Help
Talking to your partner about your dislike will only get you so far. Especially if they don’t see what you see, or they aren’t willing to help you have hard conversations or set boundaries. If this is a relationship you want to maintain, consider seeking outside help from a relationship therapist.
“Oftentimes, it is helpful to get guidance from a professional both to help your partner understand your position and to help the two of you navigate the situation,” advises Doares.
Only you can decide what you will and won’t tolerate in your relationship, including from your partner’s family. Talk it out, set boundaries, and be honest with yourself about the problem. And if all else fails, seek outside help, as long as you feel like the relationship is worth the effort.
Have you been with a partner in the past and didn’t like their family? How did you handle that? Feel free to share your experiences with us in the comments below!