When you first start dating someone new, it’s natural to assume that your friends and family will love them as much as you do. After all, they care about you and want you to be happy, so it just makes sense that they’d get behind your new S.O.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way, and sometimes your friends and family can’t see what you do. Clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go?, says it’s “common-ish” for this to happen. “It’s not common for people to dislike someone else without cause, but there are sometimes reasons that many may think are ‘unfounded’ — like race, religion, social class, educational attainment, job — or lack thereof — and appearance,” she says. “Sadly, this likely occurs more often than we want to think.”
And, of course, this can be hard on you and your relationship. “For many, these kinds of struggles can create not only disruption of family relationships, but can also undermine the relationship itself,” says Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona. “It’s fair to speculate that more women than not will experience this issue to some degree — some to the extreme and others less so.”
While it’s frustrating when your loved ones can’t get behind your love life, there are a few things you can do to try to make the situation less painful.
Sure, you’re probably not going to agree with everything they say, but Cilona says it’s still a good idea to listen to their concerns and opinions. “It's an important place to start when attempting to cope strategically and effectively with the issue of your family’s attitude about them,” he explains. “Uncovering and understanding the reasons fueling their negative opinions can be very helpful in facilitating useful discussions about their concerns, and can serve as a foundation for correcting any false beliefs or misunderstandings.” Any responses you give should be limited to mirroring back what they’re saying — this makes them feel like they’re being heard — and clarifying any questions you may have to be sure you understand their perspective before moving on.
Talk up your partner’s good points
It’s possible that your friends and family just have the wrong impression of your S.O., so it’s important to state your case about why you're into them. Just don’t try to oversell your loved ones on your partner. “Be clear and firm about what you like about your partner, but don't turn it into an ad campaign,” says Durvasula. “If they aren't buying, nothing you say will change it, and it will feel even worse if you try and it doesn't work.” Instead, just be clear about why you're with your partner, and leave it at that.
Then, establish some serious boundaries
Ultimately, this is your relationship — not theirs — and it’s important to make that clear. “Boundaries should be clear and specific, and most importantly, consequences that will follow if boundaries are broken should be communicated with clarity and always backed up consistently,” says Cilona. It may be that you won’t sit and listen if your family bashes your S.O. in front of you or that you’ll leave if they’re rude to your partner. But Cilona says it’s important to think carefully about the boundaries and consequences you set and be sure that you’re willing and able to follow through with consequences every time.
Clue in your partner
It seems weird to tell the person you love that your friends and family don't feel the same way, but Durvasula says it’s unkind to leave them in the dark. That can leave them with self-doubt and make them wonder why they’re not getting a warm reception from your loved ones, she explains. Sure, your new partner may not want to deal with the drama, but Durvasula says you shouldn’t try to sugarcoat an un-sugarcoat-able situation.
That said, you should approach the conversation carefully. Cilona recommends leaving out unnecessary details or particularly harsh opinions and stick with generalities. For example, if your family thinks your partner is a liar and cheater, tell your S.O. that they have concerns about their trustworthiness when it comes to commitment.
Figure out how much you care
While it’s easy to tell yourself that you don’t care if your loved ones don’t like your S.O., you do — what’s important is how much you care. That’s why Durvasula recommends asking yourself whether you’re being rebellious or if your family is being unreasonable. And it’s also important to think about whether you're honestly willing to make the sacrifices that might be needed for your relationship, like strained ties with your family and friends. Only you know the answer, but Durvasula offers up this advice: “Your best action is calm, serene clarity — and don't wait for any miracles.”
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