How to Cope When Your Parents and Partner Don't Get Along
Parents may actually see some warning signs before you see them yourself.
Posted December 14, 2018 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
A warning for parents: Before speaking ill of your child’s partner, realize that your words are more likely to tighten the bond between the couple rather than begin its unraveling.
Parents, though, may see trouble brewing before you do.
If your parents are sharing with you their less than positive perspectives on your partner, it can be a downer. Sometimes, though, others can see flaws in a partner that we aren’t yet able — or ready — to see for ourselves. Love and lust can take the sharp edges off reality.
Listen to Your Family When ...
- They are able to give specific examples of ways in which you’re being emotionally or psychologically mistreated by your partner. When you’re in that “deeply infatuated” stage with someone, your vision is totally obstructed by your intense feelings of adoration, admiration, and desire.
- They have hard data that is significantly concerning about a partner’s past that is from reliable primary sources. Romantic interests can be a lot less forthcoming in the early stages of a relationship and if your new love has some “iffy incidents” in their past, it might be wise to give some thought to information your family wants to share with you.
- They voice complaints that have to do with how you’re treated or serious concerns about your welfare. It’s worth the time to at least let them air their concerns. You don’t have to believe everything they say, but if they spot something that resonates with your own fears or concerns, it can be smart to reflect on what they’ve shared and keep your eyes open.
When Complaints About Your Partners Become a Pattern
Some parents are simply going to find fault with every partner their child brings home. Perhaps they feel that no one is good enough for their child or they may be just that picky. If they’ve never been able to appreciate what you see in your partners, you may just have to resign yourself to the fact that you will never find your parents’ “Mr. Right.” That’s not your job, anyway.
What you need to do is find the person that you know is right for you. Just because your parents don’t swoon over your partner doesn’t mean that you should judge your partners through your parents’ perspectives — unless, of course, your welfare is of concern.
Are Ultimatums Ever the Answer?
You might have to clearly state an ultimatum — they do not have to be crazy about your partner, but they do need to show your partner basic respect. If they can’t do that, then you may have to make some hard choices about where you’ll spend holidays and other special occasions.
A little gentle ribbing is one thing, but when there’s an all-out war between your parents and your partner, the best course of action may be to avoid spending time as a couple at your parents'.
We raise our kids to be mature, independent adults. Transitioning from a primary role of “daughter” to “partner” is a normal thing. If your parents are unable to accept who you’ve become and the partner you’ve chosen, then they need to know that they may risk losing time that they could be spending with you if they refuse to accept your partner.
Coping Strategies to Help You Get Through the Holidays
- Decide whether or not you feel it’s worth the stress to spend time as a couple with your parents. If it’s too much of an emotional trauma for either of you, it might be wise to avoid “mixing it up.”
- If you’re willing to bite the bullet and get together as a couple, set firm limits on how much time you’re going to spend with your parents. One dinner? One day? A weekend? Decide with your partner, inform your parents, and stick to your plans. If you know you only have to bear the situation for “48 hours,” “1 meal,” etc., it can make it a lot easier to get through.
- Let your parents know that you don’t want any drama — and remind your partner, too, that it’s not the time to take stands on any issues that he knows will be in direct opposition to those of your parents.
- Find a mantra: “Live and let live,” “We can do this,” “Breathe in peace, breath out stress,” whatever works, and keep repeating it when things get stressful.
- Remind yourself that there’s a reason “in-law jokes” were created in the first place! Keeping a sense of humor about things may help you keep the peace.
- Avoid the “Big Four Taboo Topics.” These are sex, religion, politics, and money. All of these topics seem to bring out the worst in people when they meet someone whose opinions are directly opposite their own. When a parent tries to maneuver a conversation to these four forbidden zones, refuse to go there and change the subject or suggest you and your partner “help with dinner,” “clear the table,” or “take a walk to get some fresh air.”
- Any conversation can go downhill fast if it’s a high stakes topic for one party and he feels his perspective is being challenged. Tiptoe around known hair-trigger topics and if a fuse gets lit, do whatever it takes to defuse it. Talk is just talk — agree to disagree or just let others carry the conversation and watch from the sidelines.
When You're Stuck in the Middle and Expected to “Choose a Side”
There are a few different ways to handle this and everyone has to choose the one that they find easiest to live with.
- One option is to simply “stand by your partner” and let your parents know that you’ve felt cornered into making a choice and chose the one that you felt was best.
- Another option is to accept that visits with your family need to be done solo — if there’s no way your partner and parents can reach a truce, then it might be best to keep them separated to avoid any emotional damage for you or your partner.
- Ask your parents and partner to agree to be civil to one another and to do their best to avoid negative interactions when together. If you are really committed to spending time with your parents and partner together, you might need to draw up a “gentleman’s agreement” that can be referred to when tempers start to flare or insulting remarks or behaviors appear.
These kinds of situations are never easy on the parents or their child, but sometimes pride gets in the way of the emotional bonds. There’s a lot that is lost when parents refuse to accept that their child is now an adult who has every right to choose her romantic partners.
If you’ve found the partner you think is a “long-term keeper,” but your parents just can’t cotton to him, you may need to accept that there may be some difficult times ahead, but if your partner treats you well and they see how happy you are in your relationship, there’s hope that they may come around in time.