Asking For A Friend is the series where we answer the questions that you’ve always wanted to ask.
Meeting your partner’s family for the first time can be overwhelming.
Not only do you want them to like you, and hopefully accept you as someone who could eventually be part of their unit, but you also want to like them.
But what happens if you don’t?
Small qualms about not wanting your mother-in-law to hang up your washed underwear is one thing, but genuinely disagreeing with a family member’s moral compass is another.
And what if you just simply don’t enjoy the vibe of your partner’s nearest and dearest? Do you grit your teeth and go on holiday with them, or do you let your partner know the deal?
‘In a perfect world we would all get on with our own and our partners’ families, but things are rarely that straightforward,’ Julia Kotziamani, a love, sex and relationship expert, tells Metro.co.uk.
She says that while there is a ‘mutual responsibility’ for both parties – you and your partner’s family – to make an effort with one another, it’s equally important to ‘meet your partner where they are’, when it comes to their relationship with their family.
‘For example, if your partner is very close to their family, you should try and do the same,’ she says.
‘On the flip-side, if your partner is distant, then it might be inappropriate to make a very close connection or try to build bridges.’
However, she adds: ‘If there is something about one of them that you find very challenging, you are well within your rights to keep that person at arm’s length.’
Should you tell your partner if you don’t like their family?
It’s important to note that family love is often unconditional, so bringing up any issues you have with your partner’s family is likely to cause conflict.
‘Not liking your partner’s family, or them not liking yours, can cause problems in various ways,’ says Julia.
‘It can be small things, like being slightly uncomfortable at family gatherings all the way to having to deal with ultimatums about choosing who to spend time with.’
These kinds of predicaments can be extremely painful for your partner, especially if they feel caught in the middle.
But, ultimately, it’s important to get to the bottom of things and set some boundaries so that less people get hurt, or have to put up with uncomfortable situations.
How to talk to your partner if you don’t like their family
‘As a general rule, relationships rooted in honesty are the best ones,’ says Julia.
‘That being said, discussions about someone’s close family relations can obviously be very contentious.
‘In most cases, if you have a problem with someone’s family it’s best to share it, but try and do this in a gentle and safe manner so as not to trigger a larger reaction than necessary.’
Understand the core problem
First, Julia says it’s important to whittle down what the actual problem is.
‘If the issues between people boil down to genuine differences of values (such as someone being racist or very rude etc.), then it’s worth taking check of where you stand on the issue and trying to align with your own moral compass – this can mean spending a lot less time with some people, or even severing ties altogether.’
She says that even things that are less of a deal breaker, such as a bad vibe or sense of someone not liking you, itcan still lead to making family situations uncomfortable and putting strain on your relationship.
‘None of this is much fun, so it’s vital to get to the bottom of it for yourself and really try and nail down what the issue is before airing it to your partner or their family,’ Julia adds.
Be clear and use ‘I’ statements
Once you know what the issue is, it’s important to present it in a clear yet gentle way.
‘I would advise using “I” statements,’ says Julia. One example could be saying, ‘I’m not sure your uncle is my biggest fan’ rather than ‘your uncle is very rude’.
She adds that you should really own your position on it and stand your ground.
‘This is why it’s important to have clear in your own mind what your issues are, what your core values are, and what you are unwilling to accept, before bringing them to the discussion,’ she says.
‘More general, non-specific, or “vibe-based” qualms won’t be as welcomed as something more specific and tangible.’
Don’t lay down ultimatums
Again, it’s important to remember how hard someone might find it to choose between two people they love and you need to be prepared that your partner may not take your side.
‘It’s best to avoid laying down ultimatums or insisting on someone severing ties unless the issue is so serious that you think someone is at risk, such as with addictions around children or abuse,’ says Julia.
‘Deciding what kind of relationships other people can have, and with who, can also tip over into something controlling and abusive very easily, so make sure you are open to several outcomes.’
Be prepared to compromise
Finally, as with most things in relationships, compromise is key.
‘It is perfectly possible for you and your partner to have very different relationships with the same people within a mature adult relationship,’ saus Julia.
‘Perhaps you are close to your mother, and they don’t like her for example – that can be fine as long as everyone is on board with the situation, respects each other’s positions, and tries not to hurt each other’s feelings.’
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