Help! My Parents Hate My Partner
“Meet the Parents” and other romantic comedies ridicule parents’ disproval of their adult children’s choice of partner, but when the situation occurs in your personal life it’s no longer a laughing matter. In fact, it’s tiring, overwhelming, and can seem utterly hopeless. Parental disapproval can manifest subtly or boldly blunt and may come across as childishly passive-aggressive. Often, these actions place additional strain on the couple and, especially, their child.
Most couples who face this circumstance discover their parents disapprove based upon differences in their partner’s personality, such as political ideology, faith, and strongly held personal views. While these issues can subside with time, it is necessary to offer a space to discuss these differences openly and honestly while accepting that deeper and more divisive issues may never gain your parents’ approval. Additionally, if parents suspect an abusive partner, seeking outside consultation with a clinical expert can help maintain your connection with your parents and stabilize your relationship.
If communication has been strained between you and your parents, they may not be direct or honest with their feelings for your partner. However, the following four behaviors are good indicators of their disapproval.
1. Exclusively inviting only you to family functions. If your partner is not included in family functions, your parents are excluding your partner from the family itself.
2. Openly criticize or compare your partner to peers. If, when you talk about your partner’s positive attributes, your parents change the subject to the success or intellect of a friend’s partner and openly compare your partner to theirs, it’s a good indicator of disapproval.
3. Dismiss your significant other’s achievements with passive-aggressiveness. If your parents roll their eyes or dismiss positive conversations about your partner, that’s a passive-aggressive way of showing disproval.
4. Act cold and silent when your partner is with you. More than likely your parents don’t want to lose a relationship with you. If they are intolerant of your partner due to race or gender, they may avoid engaging in conversation or discussion of any kind. Sometimes parents worry they won’t be able to control what they say, believing it’s better to remain silent and aloof.
Do your parents disapprove of your relationship with your partner? If so, the following suggestions can help you respond to and manage the situation.
1. Plan casual, low-key get-togethers. Casual get-togethers offer your parents a chance to chat one-on-one and become acquainted with your partner. Come prepared with topics you know they can connect on is helpful. Keep reasonable expectations; relationships take time.
2. Consider your parents’ perspective. Rather than argue with your parents, hear them out by listening to their concerns. The more your parents see your partner treating you with respect and love, the more likely they will trust you with your decision. The goal is to remind your parents of your love for both them and your partner; choosing your partner doesn’t negate your love for them.
3. Respond with maturity, respect, and boundaries. If your parents are prejudiced towards or unfairly judgmental of your partner, it’s important that you respond with respect and set boundaries to protect your relationship values. Detach from parental values you don’t agree with and protect those you do. This will allow you to maintain an adult relationship with your parents while protecting your relationship.
4. Love your partner for who they are. A responsible adult learns to love people as they are rather than what they may symbolize. Dating someone strictly in rebellion against your parents’ values is selfish and hurtful to your partner - and immature.
5. Discuss your situation with a close friend or mental health professional. You cannot control others’ emotions, and sometimes parents remain unaccepting of your significant other. Talking about how your feeling helps you gain clarity and understanding of both sides. Feeling heard and emotionally supported helps you remain objective and validated in your choices.
Usually, parents soften toward their grown child’s choice of partners over time. However, if yours don’t, be clear with your parents that this is your choice - not theirs. Set strong boundaries and plan to see them without your partner in order to protect both relationships. Parents who refuse to accept their child’s choice of partners create a wall between themselves and their child, which ultimately further distances them from each other. As a parent, embracing your child’s choice of partner and offering to pay for family therapy, if needed, is a much healthier way to handle your concerns.