Let's face it: It's tough when your family doesn't like your partner. As tension builds, you can feel the vision you've treasured of happy family gatherings quickly vanishing.
But with the holiday season upon us, it's likely you'll want to see your family—despite their dissatisfaction with the man or woman you've chosen. When you love him or her and they don't, what's a grown-up girl to do?
For the sake of this article, we're going to assume you're in a healthy, committed, long-term relationship and your family isn't worried about physical or emotional abuse. Given those parameters, consider these therapist-approved strategies.
Seek First to Understand
When we're in love, we tend to focus on the traits we like the most about our partner. But no one is perfect. "There may be legitimate reasons your friends and family don't think you're a good match," said Gary Watson, LMSW, family therapist at Turnabout Counseling in Ada. "Sometimes we have blinders on, so we sugar coat the negatives." It's worth sitting down with close friends or family and asking a few questions—find out what they see and what their concerns are, so you can sincerely consider and address them.
If your partner treats you with respect and supports you, your family can often overlook personality conflicts.
Reflect on the conversations you've had with family and friends about your partner. Do you only call them to complain when he or she does something irritating or hurtful? "We have a tendency to talk about a partner when something negative has happened," Watson said. "That can really color their perception of the person." Instead, be sure you share times your partner is helpful, supportive and encouraging, so they have a more accurate picture of your relationship.
Find Common Ground
"When you talk about politics, religion or NASCAR, things can go sideways in a hurry," laughed Watson, who suggests instead helping your family and partner find commonalities.
"When people have a shared hobby, there's an instant connection."
Have Your Partner's Back
"Siding with your partner doesn't mean you believe he's 100 percent right," explained Mario G. Franciscotty, MA LLPC, CEC, individual and family therapist and Executive Director at Wellspring Counseling in Grand Rapids. "It's having compassion for him, knowing that he's going into a hard situation and being sensitive to that, so he doesn't feel alone in it."
Your partner needs to know—without question—that if things escalate, he or she has your support.
If you want to be proactive before a family event, seek wise counsel from an objective individual or counselor who can help you productively navigate the situation. Franciscotty's suggestion: "See if you can bury the hatchet so that, when the holidays come, all parties can be amicable."
It's also important to consider there are two sides to every story. When tensions run high, Franciscotty notes, people tend to be anxious and guarded and feel threatened. If your parents have hurt your partner's feelings, it's likely your partner has hurt theirs, too. "Ask your partner try to step into the situation with humility and transparency, asking for forgiveness for his behavior first, and modeling the very behavior he'd like to see from them."
Sometimes, you can talk until you're blue in the face and not see progress. In that case, you and your partner need to decide what you can live with and when to say when. Keep in mind: You can't control what your family will do; you only have control over your own actions. "Setting boundaries is saying, 'If you do this, here's what I'm going to do,'" said Franciscotty.
If your family is disrespectful to your partner or crosses other boundaries you set, you have the right to not participate or leave family events until everyone can find a way to peacefully coexist.
When You Don't Like Your Partner's Family
Focus on the goal.
You want your spouse to enjoy family gatherings.
Set time limits.
You can survive family functions for two or three hours.
Book a hotel.
If your partner's family is out of town, stay in a hotel. There's more downtime for you and typically a pool or hot tub to enjoy at the end of the evening!
Kirsetin Morello is a contributing writer for West Michigan Woman.