Relationships are rarely simple – both with romantic partners and with family members. When your romantic relationship causes problems with your family relationships, you’ll walk a fine line between being supportive of your partner and still keeping the door open to having your family in your life. However, with some exceptions, it’s important you put your partner first if your family is being unreasonable, as long as your partner still leaves room for you to communicate with your family.
Be Adamant and Repetitive
If you receive invitations only for you and not your partner, decline to go – and explain why. Tell your family that your partner is your family and you won’t be attending holidays, birthdays, weddings, reunions, or get-togethers without an invitation extended to him. That doesn’t mean your partner has to go if he feels uncomfortable, but your family should care enough to invite him.
Stand Up for Your Partner and Decency Overall
If you are with your family and someone makes a comment about your partner – or about a minority in general, particularly if the reason they disapprove is because of race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation – don’t let it slide. Raise your objections immediately. If the family member gets defensive, try to explain how you were personally hurt by the comment. Sometimes people can better evaluate their actions and learn empathy for people different than them if they realize that it hurt someone they care about. Even if the family member is simply “making a joke,” don’t let it slide. Shut down these comments until your family knows you won’t accept it, and if they get angry about your objection, walk away. Repeat this every time it’s necessary.
Limit Your Partner’s Exposure
Some couples come to an uneasy but necessary understanding in which the wronged partner declines to visit the family but encourages her significant other to visit without her. While it’s important that your partner is always “allowed” to come with you to special family events, it’s okay to go without her on occasion, too, especially if there are only some family members who are an issue and you want to see the people who are more supportive. Don’t get into arguments and force your partner into a situation that’s uncomfortable for her. Perhaps she can meet halfway and only attend family functions once or twice a year, but it’s better that she not go at all than be forced to visit them constantly if she’s just going to be the target of emotional abuse.
Create a New “Family by Choice”
If your family can’t offer your partner the in-law relationship he deserves, and especially if he has a strained relationship with his own family, it can be beneficial to you both to create a “family by choice” of sorts amongst friends and acquaintances. Perhaps there’s an older person or couple without kids who could use someone checking in on them and can provide the warmth and support you both crave at the holidays or a few times a month. Maybe there’s a mentorship program where you can both support a child in need through fun, shared experiences. Even friends of your generation can become as close to you as siblings. Spend more time with people who support your relationship than with those who don’t. You and your loved can lead a fulfilling life even if you don’t have family support.
There are many reasons why a family could disapprove of a relationship. While it’s important you listen to what they have to say – as sometimes it’s hard to see an abusive relationship, for example, if you’re not able to view it objectively like your family – if it’s really because of stubbornness or prejudice from your family, they leave you no choice but to put your partner first. Don’t feel ashamed if you must eventually cut off ties with them, especially if they were ever abusive to you themselves, but do it with the guidance of a trained therapist. That way, you’ll have the additional analysis and foresight to make sure you’re not choosing a dangerous partner over a concerned family but rather a loving partner over a family that isn’t supportive.