While it's great for our parents and partners to be on comfortable terms, it's also important to be cautious about letting your parents' influences negatively affect the relationship you have with your romantic partner. Strong families are a gift, and being close with parents can increase our health, but excess parental involvement in our relationships can create tension and compel people to start picking sides.
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on creating a happy, healthy and secure family bond that will embrace blood-relatives, as well as romantic partners and their relative families. While being best friends with your significant other's siblings and parents is not necessary for a successful romantic relationship going forward, as unfortunately not everyone is able to magically "click" with one another, especially when there are tons of different personalities floating around, maintaining a level of civility is extremely important. Plus, you should never try and take your partner away from his or her family. He or she should be able to see parents, siblings and cousins as much as desired, and while you don't need to attend everything, it's best to stay on good terms with everyone when all together.
A level of separation between parent and partner is actually healthy, and as we grow older, we begin to realize that we love our parents and will always hold them close to us, but we must also focus on intimate relationships for the future that have its own category and should not be meddled with from familial influences. Here are thirteen ways to not let your relationship with parents affect that of your partners.
1. Don't Always Defend Your Parents' Behavior
If your parent didn't do something wrong, so be it. Standing up to your partner when your parent clearly didn't do anything disruptive should be allowed. However, if your parent did do something to push your partner over the edge, even if the action wasn't intentional, then that should definitely be noted, as it can ruin a romantic relationship. "One trap to definitely avoid is getting into defending your parents or trying to convince your partner that something an in-law said or did meant something other than the way it was interpreted by your partner," says licensed marriage and family counselor, Erika Fay, LMFT, over email with Bustle.
2. Don't Complain About Your In-Laws Too Much
"Often times in couples therapy people will complain about the relationship with their respective in-laws or partners' parents," says Fay. Even if your partner's mother or father is hard to deal with, it's best to keep your thoughts to yourself in most cases, as unkind words will only make everyone feel bad and it can cause these thoughts to become obsessive. Obsessive thoughts seep through a relationship and can cause built-up tension over time.
3. Don't Take It As An Attack On Yourself
"If you were not the one who had the problem, you can listen and validate your partner's feelings without taking sides," advises Fay. "An example would be a statement like, 'I can tell that you are upset by what my mother said to you. It is really difficult to feel that way,'" she adds. Instead of seeing your parent's actions as a direct attack, take a step back and validate your partner's feelings and offer that he or she speak with your parent directly.
4. Tell Them To Back Off
Our parents have always been there for us, and will continue to be, and we are utterly grateful; however, there are boundaries, and once we reach adulthood and enter into personal romantic relationships, it is not their duty to provide their opinions, meddle or ask for details about our affairs. Tell them there are boundaries, and they must leave the decision-making and planning to you and your partner, instead.
5. Understand That There's A New Immediate Family
"Once you’re in a committed relationship, especially once you’re engaged or married, it’s important to recognize that your partner has become your 'new immediate family,'" says Chicago-based therapist Chelsea Hudson, LCPC, over email with Bustle. While seeing and speaking with your blood is so important, and some families are closer than others (emotionally and proximity, wise), you also need to explain to your parents that for some situations, your new intimate family will come first, and they will need to be okay with that.
6. Don't Make Your Partner Attend Every Event
You should be able to see your family members as much as you like, but if an event doesn't work for your partner's schedule, or he or she is simply too tired to deal with a crowd on that given occasion, don't make your partner feel guilty or obligated to go. This is especially true if your partner has a hard time getting along with your parent. If your partner and mother do not mix, spare your partner the dinners and brunches when the occasion is not necessary.
7. Ask Your Partner For Advice, Not Your Parents
Unless it's on a subject matter that would be beneficial for both of you, ask your partner for advice on troubling matters and for making big decisions. "Men often report feeling disrespected when their wives consult their fathers for advice instead of or before consulting them first," says Hudson. If your mother is involved in real estate, then seeking advice on purchasing a home would be helpful; however, if you are asking her advice on where to send your kids to school, you should be discussing that with your partner instead.
8. Don't Cancel "Date Nights" & Trips For Parents
"It’s imperative that your partner feel that he is 'number one' in your life and that he is on board with the nature of your parents involvement in your relationship," advises Hudson. While seeing your parents often is a great, happy blessing, as a strong familial unit is so important, you should never cancel plans you had made with a partner for a family obligation (unless it's a special event, under different circumstances). Explain to your mom that she cannot see you on Saturday, as you are all booked up, and you don't want to cancel your day to relax with your significant other.
9. Consult Your Partner Before Making Plans
Unless it's a random lunch in the middle of the week, some other meal and trip plans can affect your significant other. When in a committed relationship, it is common to share a schedule. "It’s advisable to check with your partner before making plans with your parents," says Hudson. Usually, a dinner on a Tuesday night shouldn't be a problem, but perhaps there were a work event or movie date you had planned and had forgotten about.
10. Don't Let Them Bring Negativity Into Your Day
If your parent is pushing for a dinner, or is complaining about work and other high-stress situations, it can make the relationship draining for you and your partner. Leave drama and negativity before coming home to enjoy the evening with your significant other. Plus, if the argument was about your partner, there is no need to bring it up and appear as though you are taking sides with your parent.
11. Don't Let Them Dramatize Situations
If you have a hard time communicating with your parent, you need to try and do better. Giving constructive criticism and telling when it's not their place is really important for your future romantic relationships. If your parent blows situations out of proportion or choosing sides between her own family and that of your partner's, then you need to set things straight.
12. Don't Share Everything
Be careful with what you say to your parents. The best way to keep them less involved is to share fewer details. Also, if you have seen that when they have knowledge, they give persistent opinions and try and change your lifestyle patterns, then you know that you need to be more secretive and keep them at a distance. If you don't, your partner will start to feel overwhelmed and unsure of with whom you are in a relationship with.
13. Don't Let Them Guilt You
Many parents can be needy, always asking for more plans together, phone calls, visits and more. Unfortunately, if parents are always guilting you into prioritizing them, over your immediate family or relationship, work or solo plans, this can cause major anxiety within your relationship with your partner. A partner might feel undervalued and pressured to always be there with you, and you'll be missing out on quality time you can spend alone, outside of the "coming home from work, exhausted, eat, straight to bed" routine during the week.
While parents are critical to our wellbeing and we are always grateful for what they have done for us and the care they provide, if we let them take control over our relationships and cause problems, we might find ourselves in a failing relationship. By putting your partner first, understanding his or her feelings, and standing up to parents in order to set boundaries and protect your partner, you are more likely to find a successful intimate relationship going forward.
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