When you're in a relationship with someone, it's important to work as a team. But when your partner struggles to balance their loyalties to you and to their family, you might feel anything but united. It's common to feel hurt or betrayed if your partner doesn't back you up when their family criticizes or judges you. Not seeing eye-to-eye on how to handle family conflicts can damage your relationship with your partner, so it's important to know how to cope with this situation. You can learn to do so by communicating better with your partner, setting boundaries with your partner's family, and learning to stand up for yourself.
Method 1 of 3:Talking with Your Partner
1Choose a good time to have the talk. Discussing your partner's family is a sensitive subject, so you'll want to bring up the topic when your partner is in a receptive mood. Avoid discussing this when they are angry, tired, or stressed. Instead choose a time when you are both in a good mood and relatively relaxed.
It may even be a good idea to have the discussion when you are engaging in a mutual activity side-by-side rather than face-on to alleviate some of the tension. Consider bringing up the topic when you are driving or folding laundry. Say,"Baby, I've been wanting to talk to you about your family. Sometimes, I feel like they are very judgmental of me, and you don't seem to have my back."
Also, keep in mind that your partner may need time to process what you have to say, so you might need to break up the discussion into a few conversations over time. Try to be sensitive to your partner's needs and give them time.
2Tell your partner how their family is making you feel. Be honest about what is bothering you. Your partner may not realize how their family's behavior affects you.
Use “I” statements to express how you feel. For example, say something like, “I feel frustrated when we spend time with your family because of the things they say to me.”
Try to keep your tone neutral during this conversation, even if you're frustrated. Your partner might get defensive if you're visibly angry.
Say something like, “I know you love your mom and she means well, but it really bothers me that she always criticizes the way I'm raising our daughter. I'm starting to dread going to family events because she usually has something negative to say.”
3Tell your partner you need them to stand up for you. Often it's best for your partner to handle issues that arise with their own family. Let them know that you need support from them.
You could say, “Next time your mom starts telling me how we should raise Olivia differently, can you step in and defend the parenting decisions we've made together? Your support would mean so much to me.”
Avoid blaming them for not supporting you in the past. Try to focus on what you need from them moving forward.
4Avoid talking about anyone's character. If you make any kind of personal attacks on your partner's family, your partner may instinctively jump to their side. Keep everything strictly factual when you make your case. Refer to specific events that have happened, and avoid making character judgments.
Similarly, avoid using “always” and “never” statements. These statements are rarely true, and they often lead to an argument.
Remember that your partner loves their family, and it's natural for them to feel loyal to their family members.
5Brainstorm solutions with your partner. Your partner knows their family best, and they may have some good insights for how to handle them. Work as a team to come up with some ideas for avoiding conflict and hurt feelings at future family get-togethers.
For instance, you and your partner could sit down and evaluate what's happening and how to approach the situation based on the unique personalities of their family members. Perhaps, your partner knows a way to handle a certain family member that could help in your interactions. They might say,"Aunt Sarah is judgmental of everyone I date. It may be better if we just ignore any comments from her."
You could even try to come up with some dialogue and rehearse what each of you might say in certain situations. This may make it easier for your partner to step in when you need them.
6Practice active listening. Even the most sensitive topics can be navigated more easily when you both practice active listening. This involves listening to understand rather than listening to reply. When your partner is talking, try the following:
Making occasional eye contact
Removing distractions like your cellphone or the television
Displaying open body language (e.g. arms and legs at your side and relaxed)
Asking questions for clarification (e.g."Do you mean...?")
Summarizing their point to ensure you understand (e.g."It sounds like you're saying...")
Waiting until they have finished their message before responding
7Consider attending couples counseling. If you and your partner are struggling to reach an agreement on how to handle family conflict, couples counseling can help you understand each other better. A good counselor can teach you communication strategies and help you create solutions that work for both of you.
You might suggest,"Sweetie, I can see you are having trouble standing up to your family. I think it would be helpful if we saw a therapist who can help us figure out how to manage this situation. Does that sound good to you?"
Method 2 of 3:Setting Boundaries
1Separate your relationship from their family. You're dating or married to your partner, not their whole family. Don't let problems with your partner's family members turn into difficulties in your relationship.
If you feel like the conflict is affecting your relationship, take a moment to remember all the things you appreciate about your partner that have nothing to do with their family. Write these down and read over the list now and then.
For example, if you only see your partner's family on holidays and special occasions, you might not fret so much about any tension because you don't have to deal with it all that often."
2Discuss boundaries with your partner. Sit down with your partner and come up with some reasonable limits together. Think about what both of you can do to minimize conflict and maintain family peace.
For instance, one of your boundaries might be that your partner's family members can't stay the night when they come to visit.
Another boundary might be not allowing the family to factor in on certain couple decisions such as having babies, practicing a certain religion, or deciding where you live.
3Have your partner communicate your family's boundaries to your partner's family. Your partner's family members will need to know about the new rules you and your partner have decided on. Your partner should communicate these boundaries to their family members, and you can both enforce them as needed. Be kind and polite, but firm. However, if someone insults you over the new boundaries, then stand up for yourself.
Make sure your partner's family knows the reasoning behind your boundaries, too.
You or your partner could say something like, “We're really glad that you care about us, but we'd rather not discuss our finances anymore. Our decisions about money are personal.”
4Maintain your boundaries. You may need to remind your partner's family about your boundaries now and then. It takes time for people to learn new behaviors when they've gotten used to acting a certain way.
If your boundaries are violated, you need to reinforce them by saying,"Remember, we decided that we are not having children, Mom/mother-in-law. Can you please support our decision even if you don't like it?"
Method 3 of 3:Standing Up for Yourself
1Be confident and assertive. Remember that you're an adult, too. Dealing with older family members, such as your partner's parents, can make you feel like a child again, but it shouldn't. If you feel like you're being harassed or judged negatively, it's your right to stand up for yourself.
Being assertive doesn't have to mean being disrespectful. You can stand up for yourself while still being respectful and kind.
For instance, you can assertively say,"I know you don't understand my culture, but it's important for me and Henry to celebrate this holiday. I respect your beliefs, and I'd appreciate it if you did the same for me."
2Talk with your partner's family. If you're having trouble with a particular person, try bringing up the issue with them yourself. Taking the initiative to solve the problem will show your maturity, and they may respect you more for speaking up.
It's much better to talk through problems when they happen than to let them go unaddressed for years. Say,"When you talk over me like that Josie, it makes me feel like I don't have a voice. I'd really appreciate it if you let me finish talking before sharing your opinion."
3Deflect unwanted advice or comments. If your partner's family frequently offers you unsolicited advice or criticism, prepare a few noncommittal responses to redirect the conversation. Practice these responses before you need to use them. This will help you stay calm and collected in the moment.
If you're talking to someone older, a good way to handle unsolicited advice is to respond politely with something like, “How interesting!” or “What a neat story!” For instance, if your partner's mother tells you that you should feed your kids differently, ask her how she fed her children when they were growing up.
Other good go-to responses include “That's interesting, I'll have to try it sometime” and “Thanks for the advice, but we've decided to do it this way.”
4Consider limiting your contact with your partner's family. If you really can't resolve your conflicts with your partner's family, the best course of action might be to limit your contact with them. Skipping family events may be the best way to maintain peace and avoid straining your relationship with your partner. However, if you don't want to skip family events, then you can also set a time limit for how long you will be there.
Limiting contact is probably a good idea if your partner's family is outright abusive or disrespectful to you. People who act like this are unlikely to change their behavior.