They say that when you marry someone, you marry his or her whole family. Well, when you’re dating, that logic still applies, especially when your significant other is close to his or her parents. So what do you do if you’re dating a person you really like, but you just can’t stand that person’s parents? Here are a few suggestions.
Keep your Partner’s Feelings in Mind
This is the first rule. We know it can be hard sometimes not to just spew out all the anger and frustration you feel, but it really is crucial that you keep something in mind: these are your partner’s parents.
When you criticize them harshly or voice all the resentment you are feeling, you run the risk of hurting the person you care about and damaging your own relationship. So work hard to remain aware of all the players in this game as well as their relationships to one another. As much as you can, keep your significant other’s feelings foremost in your mind.
Despite what we just said, it’s still vital that you and your partner discuss with each other your feelings about this issue. It’s no secret that holding all your emotions inside is an unhealthy way to deal with a difficult situation. So find a way to express your aggravation to your partner in a way that is sensitive, kind, and respectful. If this is a serious relationship, and if you two are trying to build something strong and meaningful together, then you have to open up about your own desires and emotions—including how you feel about your significant other’s parents.
Distinguish between Annoying and Evil
There may be times when you feel that your partner’s parents are some sort of cross between Bonnie and Clyde, and Frankenstein and his bride. But in your saner moments, you’ll probably admit that’s not the case. Most likely, your significant other’s parents aren’t terrible people at all. In fact, if you met them under different circumstances, you might even find them likable in certain ways. It’s just that in the role they play in your life right now, they are driving you crazy. That can be hard to take, but it doesn’t mean that they are evil or bad people. And this is an important truth to remember. The more you can keep in mind the reality that they are exasperating or annoying as opposed to evil, the more gracefully you will be able to handle this important and delicate relationship in your life.
This relates to the previous point. Often, people can be maddeningly irritating just by being themselves, even when they mean well. Good intentions don’t make the behavior any less annoying, but our awareness of good motives can completely change our perspective on the situation. So when your partner’s father tells you for the fortieth time the name of the mountain near his house, or when her mother “drops in” at an inconvenient time to leave some leftovers, remind yourself that they may be guided by the best intentions.
Give a Little, get a Lot
As often as possible, find little things you can sacrifice for the sake of your relationship. It may be agreeing to have dinner with your partner’s parents some evening when you’d rather go to a movie. Or it might be simply biting your tongue when a contentious political issue comes up. When you can forego your own desires from time to time, you will store up rewards for yourself down the road. For example, your partner will appreciate the effort you’re making, thus improving your own relationship. Also, when you need to put your foot down later on some bigger issue, you will have earned the right to do so by having given in on several minor matters along the way.
Stay True to Yourself
Even as you watch for moments when you can give in, remember that there may be times when you should not sacrifice. Keeping the peace may be a high priority, but it’s not always the highest priority or ultimate goal. Sometimes, maintaining your own sanity and establishing clear boundaries will be more important—and healthier—than giving in over and over again.
Get Some Outside Support
Going back to our first point, it’s probably not wise to voice to your partner everything you feel. Even if your partner sees all his parents’ shortcomings and irritating idiosyncrasies, he still won’t want to listen to you badmouth the people who raised him. So instead, find a friend or other family member with whom you can speak freely and to whom you can begin a sentence with the phrase “Can you believe they … ?!” That way, you can spew out as much venom as you want without it becoming personal or harmful to your relationship. As an added bonus, all that frustration won’t be building up within you to a point where it might bubble to the surface and explode in a way that would do some real damage.
Whatever you do as you interact with the parents of your significant other, keep in mind that these people may be your future in-laws and the grandparents of your children. So be respectful and work hard to bridge whatever distances and gaps emerge in your relationship with them. The rewards will definitely be worth the effort.