This photo is used for illustrative purpose.
Imagine choosing the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, introducing them to your family, only for them to be unwelcoming and cold towards your partner.
This is what happened to Shirley Baldwin Owens when she met her future in-laws for the first time. Not only did they put up a cold front, but they refused to talk to her. They all get along fine now but getting to this place was not an easy road.
Experts shared the following advice on creating communication and family cohesion when possible.
First, find out the issue
All kinds of reasons might be behind why family or friends do not initially like or get along with a significant 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 fiance may be perfectly fine, but the other friends and family aren’t ready for a new person,” says Elizabeth Sloan, a marriage and family therapist. “Maybe they had their hearts set on a different mate.”
Decide on a common goal
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 fiance might feel hurt that her partner’s family is so critical; the other person might feel defensive of both family and fiance.
“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 mum really be so disparaging?’”
Robyne Howard, a Chicago-based therapist who works with couples on coming together toward an ultimate goal, tells them to envision how holidays might go, for example. The couple should discuss and decide together what their wishes are for family events, communication and traditions.
“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.”
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Ask each other to help
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 antagonise anyone.”
And a fiance needs to feel like his partner is standing up for him, Sloan said.
Be firm with friends or family
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.
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.”
Don’t isolate yourself, and don’t give up
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.
Owens said she did not try to change her personality. She tried to understand where people were coming from and see their perspective, but mostly, she tried to be patient.
Eventually, her mother-in-law, Joanna Owens, grew to appreciate the steadiness her future daughter-in-law showed. And, she noticed her son’s happiness.
She is glad, she said, that she finally gave her daughter-in-law a chance. Her advice for others in a similar situation? “Go in with an open heart, and let people be who they are.”
Tribune News Service
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