You are in a relationship that feels healthy and good and you are happier than you have ever been. You can’t imagine a better fit and you can’t believe your luck. Everything comes easily. Every box is ticked. And then you meet his family (which is likely to happen this festive season).
His family casts disapproving glances your way and there is a coldness to their greetings. It’s subtle at first but as time goes on you realise that they simply do not approve of you.
Perhaps there are cultural, racial or class differences. Perhaps you represent a way of life or a lifestyle that is contrary to their belief systems. Perhaps they do not like the way you behave or something in your character makes them uncomfortable. Or perhaps, for reasons unknown to you, they believe that their son can do better.
How do you keep spending time with his family when the interaction leaves you feeling rejected and hurt? His family is important to him and the uncomfortable dynamic puts him under pressure to appease both sides. It inevitably places a huge strain on your relationship.
If the relationship is serious or is on its way to becoming serious, you are well aware that his family will most likely be closely intertwined in your life for many years to come- they will be there for all the milestones, celebrations, holidays, family gatherings and reunions.
You cannot avoid them or push the problem away, hoping it will magically improve on its own or disappear altogether.
While you cannot control their behavior or outlook, you can take control of the situation by ensuring that you are doing everything in your power to help improve the situation. With some subtle but important behavior shifts, you can slowly earn their respect and change the situation over time.
Here are four ways to handle the unpleasant situation, hopefully you'll only need to do it for a few days over this festive season:
1 - Stay polite and show respect
Everyone wants to feel respected. Be aware that you are an outsider entering a family’s private and sacred space which is reserved for loved ones. Show his parents respect by making eye contact, smiling and shaking their hands.
Don’t be shy with compliments and offer to help wherever possible. Even if you sense some ambivalence from them, keep showing them respect. They are older than you and they have had more life experience than you. Show respect for their traditions and their way of life.
2 - Be engaging
Show his family that you are engaged by listening carefully and contributing to the conversation. Ask questions and try to bond by using shared interests to connect.
It is so easy to put up walls and shut down emotionally when we feel rejected or hurt, but it is essential that you keep showing up by staying open and keeping the conversation going.
3 - Show how much you love and respect him
The main concern for all parents is that their child is loved and respected. They want to feel assured that your intentions are pure and that you are not going to hurt him.
According to Leonard Felder, Ph.D., author of ‘Wake Up or Break Up’, “They won't want to connect with you if they think you're not there to stay”. Do not be shy to show them that you love him in your actions and your words. They want to know that your feelings are authentic. If they can feel your love and respect for him, they will be more likely to warm up to you.
4 - Create boundaries around family and communicate
As your relationship grows it is essential that you and your partner create a unified front to tackle issues around family. You need to be on the same page and you need to agree on boundaries with each other’s families.
Marriage and family therapist Anita Chlipala believes that in order to create a united front, you need to "negotiate with your partner things such as your role in their family, expectations around social obligations, and how much influence the family has over your relationship".
If your partner is firm with his family, they will be more likely to start taking your relationship seriously and accepting their son’s choice.
If you are happy with your partner but his family dislikes you, would you stay in the relationship? Tell us here.