We've all endured enough "meeting the parents" dinners to know that getting your family to accept your partner is no easy task. Sure, the initial awkwardness will often dissipate with time, but in some cases, families can be stubborn when it comes to accepting outsiders. No matter how friendly your family may be, it might take a little convincing to get them to accept your S.O. as one of their own. On top of it all, nothing is worse than being caught in the middle of all this tension.
To help you alleviate some of that bad juju, we turned to the folks who help families deal with this stuff for a living. Marriage and family therapists Caitlyn Caracciolo, Emmalee Bierly, and Jennifer Chaiken of West Chester Therapy Group gave us some tips on how to forge a bond between your partner and the people who share your genes. As Bierly tells us, everything from socioeconomic status to differences in background to a lack of boundaries can put stress on an in-law dynamic. In a perfect world, these awesome people could work through these perceived differences and instantly recognize each other's mutual awesomeness. Alas, our world is far from perfect.
But as these experts have explained to us, the perfect combination of open communication, forced fun, and one-on-one time will encourage your spouse and your partner to accept their mutual differences. Or, best case scenario, they'll find that they aren't that different after all!
1. Try To Understand Where Your Family Is Coming From
No matter how closed-minded your parents may seem to be, they're still your parents. Whether they grew up in a homogenous community, were raised in a different time, or are just exceptionally attached to you, they deserve to be understood.
Expert Advice: "People want to be heard," says Caracciolo. "This includes your family. You owe it to them and to yourself to really hear what they’re saying... even if you 100 percent disagree with them, you'll get the best response by validating their experience."
2. Arrange One-On-One Time Between Your Family & Your Partner
If family gatherings are overwhelming for you, they can be especially overwhelming for your partner. You should try to keep things small to facilitate deeper bonds and neutralize tension.
Expert Advice: "Arrange one-on-one time between your partner and one of your family members in a low-pressure environment," says Chaiken. "In this setting, your partner can feel at ease, and focus on creating a deeper connection with each of your family members." Small groups FTW!
3. Help Your Partner & Your Family Find Common Ground
Do your mom and your husband both enjoy knitting? Great! Do your dad and your girlfriend share a favorite dish of fish and chips? Call it out! Does everyone just love kittens? Talk about that!
Expert Advice: "Finding positive common ground of shared or similar experiences, personality traits, likes and dislikes, or quirks [can] help people connect," says Caracciolo, "Even if you would consider it tenuous and small, it will likely be helpful to bring [them] up."
4. Avoid Divisive Topics
Consider skipping the presidential debates on family TV night. Especially if your partner and your family are prone to disagreement, try to avoid subjects like politics, religion, or even rival sports teams, which can drive a wedge between people.
Expert Advice: "This isn't to say that anyone should be deceitful or hide who they are," says Caracciolo, "but before a real one-on-one relationship is developed, lead with similarities." So instead of talking politics, maybe talk about how everyone loves breakfast food.
5. Whip Out The Board Games
There's a reason that families love board games so much — they help us bond!
Expert Advice: Chaiken says that playing a group game like Heads Up! or Catchphrase with your family "will encourage collaboration and communication in a non-threatening environment." So break out the Cranium and let the family magic unfold.
6. Let Your Family Know That You Aren't Going Anywhere
When it comes down to it, your family may be closed-minded because they're scared of losing you. Make an effort to communicate honestly and openly that your partner makes you happy. Deep down, your family knows you're not going anywhere, but it never hurts to verbalize that.
Expert Advice: "Your parents are used to having you to themselves and so is your spouse," says Bierly. "When you combine your two worlds of your family and your partner, you’re also sharing your time and energy and focus."
This article was sponsored by Bride & Prejudice on FYI. Bride & Prejudice premieres March 15th at 9/8c on FYI.