There are all kinds of reasons why family or friends may not initially like a significant other.
“It’s not infrequent that a couple enters therapy because their family isn’t accepting of their fiancé, maybe because of racial differences, culture differences, ethnicity, faith, socioeconomic status and even educational attainment,” said Chicago-based therapist Robyne Howard.
Perhaps the beginning of the relationship was rocky, and that’s what people remember.
“They’re not really tracking the way the relationship improved,” said Elizabeth Sloan, a marriage and family therapist in Maryland. “First impressions can actually follow the fiancé around, and that can be really hard to correct, especially when there isn’t a lot of time to get to know the fiancé.”
And when families live in different areas, fewer encounters can make it difficult for all parties to get to know each other.
Sometimes, resistance might have nothing to do with your partner in the first place. Perhaps people bonded with an ex or had something different in mind.
“The fiancé may be perfectly fine, but the other friends and family aren’t ready for a new person,” Sloan said. “Maybe they had their hearts set on a different mate.”
The therapists caution that some concerns warrant a conversation, for example, issues like alcohol abuse or disrespect toward women.
In these cases, Sloan said, “I think it is a good idea for someone to say to their friend, ‘Have you thought about what would happen if this got worse?’ Or, ‘Have you ever been bothered by it?’ And not sort of rendering your own judgment, just holding your own judgment, but asking your friend gently.”
Try opening the conversation, she suggested, with, “I respect your love for the person, and I don’t know the person as well as you do. And yet I want to ask you about it in a loving way, because I care about you.”
For a couple about to commit the rest of their lives together, grappling with family drama can intensify the already stressful season of wedding planning.
A fiancée might feel hurt that her partner’s family is so critical; the other person might feel defensive of both family and fiancée.
“For him it might be, ‘Hey, I never confronted my mother in my life. Now you’re asking me to do something I’ve never done,’ ” Howard said. “For her it could be, ‘How could you sit there and watch your mom really be so disparaging?’ ”
Howard works with couples on working together toward an ultimate goal. Envision how holidays might go, for example. The couple should discuss and decide together what their wishes are for family events, communication and traditions.
Establish common goals
“What, at the end of the day, do you both want here?” Howard said. “Oftentimes, they really want peace. They want peaceful family lives and family members involved in their lives.”
What can each partner do to be helpful in this situation?
Marriage is about being a united front. These issues will only become more complicated as couples eventually navigate holiday plans and, potentially, children.
Speak from a place of “I feel,” not, “You do,” Howard suggested. “Soften it and really think about what you want from the conversation and what’s going to really help them to be more empathetic and to understand what it’s like to be you.”
Are there specific topics that cause friction, like different political leanings? If so, Sloan suggests asking a partner, “If the topic comes up, can you diplomatically and tactfully just change the subject or make a joke?” She added, “There’s no need to antagonize anyone.”
And a fiancé needs to feel like his partner is standing up for him, Sloan said.
Kate Rose, author of “You Only Fall in Love Three Times: The Secret Search for Our Twin Flame,” said this situation requires navigating a family who loves you but might be wrestling with different expectations. Consider that you might need to stop seeking their approval.
“It’s not that we want to alienate our family,” she said. “It’s all about boundaries.”
Tell relatives or friends, “My relationship with you has nothing to do with my relationship with the person that I’m with.” Be clear that you love this person, who will be part of your life. “And then that’s it,” Rose added. “Eventually they will either deal with it, or there will be a new normal.”
Continue to create situations where all parties can spend time together. Steer conversations toward topics that will build bridges. Praise your partner in front of the others.
Do your best to understand where people were coming from and see their perspective. And try to be patient.