I’ve been putting a lot of thought lately into how many relationships I’m tolerating in my life right now simply because I feel obligated to. Do you still entertain friends that you’ve been dealing with since diapers even though you have zero in common with them? Old supervisors that really aren’t helping your present career path, but you’re afraid to burn bridges? And of course there are family members whom you’d treat like the barista who always screws up your latte order if it wasn’t for the fact that you have DNA in common. Unfortunately as I grow older, I find myself in more and more situations where it’s necessary for me to deal with people that I’m not too crazy about it. Luckily those people don’t include my in-laws, at least not right now. But I can fondly remember a time when the idea of having dinner with a former boyfriend’s family filled me with dread. If you’ve ever found yourself preferring to get your hair braided by a heavy-handed stylist who’s is all too eager to grip up your edges rather than hang out with your boyfriend’s family, you can completely relate to this struggle.
In my last year of high school I completely lost my mind and fell in love with a man I met through a mutual friend who had just started as a freshman in college. It was one of those relationships that was amazing as long as we were snowed in his dorm room or spending a weekend on his couch with pizza and Pay-Per-View. But when it came to combining our very real lives and balancing a relationship with work, school and obligations to the other people in our lives, things always seem to fall apart. After dating for a few months, meeting his family didn’t seem to help things. I guess you can say we had completely different upbringings. His family lived in the suburbs of New Jersey and his parents were the types that believed that if you weren’t going to college, you must not want anything more from life than to clean the Slurpee machine at 7-11. When they learned their son’s new girlfriend was from the “mean streets of North Philly” and taking a few gap years after high school to explore her options and didn’t attend church every Sunday, I could feel a whole Yellowstone National Park of shade directed my way whenever I was in their company.
It was the type of situation where I always felt like I was doing something wrong or judged whenever his mother or sister was around. I could almost feel his mother’s eyes burning into my back whenever we went into the basement to play a video game as she probably thought, “I see he’s got that uneducated heathen in my home again.” And I think that’s the hardest thing about not getting along with your partner’s family: How hard it is to understand that you both can love the same person so much, but be completely different.
So what do you do when his family doesn’t like you? Do you mold yourself in the person they’d prefer you to be or do you just prepare yourself for a routine struggle of sharing the one you love with people you can’t stand? When it comes to getting along with your partner’s family, my opinion is that you don’t have to like each other, but admittedly it makes things a whole lot easier. It’s one thing if you’re just casually dating, but if he relationship is a little more serious, you have to consider that these are the people who you may one day be connected to for life. You’ll have to spend the holidays with them and they will probably be around for major milestones like birthdays, graduations and the birth of your children. Although you may not be ready to hug it out with them at the next family reunion, you’ll still need to interact with them in a healthy way. If you’re having trouble getting along with his family, here are a few tips that might help:
Be respectful. It’s pretty hard to be class act when someone can call you out for calling his mama out her name. Trust me, I know it can be hard stifle the clap back when your mother-in-law says something slick about the way you run your household, but try to keep in mind that she had a lot to do with the man you love, which means there has to be some common ground there somewhere, even if it’s hard to find.
Enforce boundaries. Speaking of households, I have friends that live in multi-generational households for one reason or another, and although having Grandma around while you’re raising kids can sometimes be a blessing, it can become very easy for people to overstep their boundaries. If you don’t share an address, this is easy; once you reach your limit for shenanigans you can retreat to your home where YOU make the rules. But if your mother-in-law is also your roommate, make it clear in a respectful way that you’re an adult who can live your life and raise your kids as you see fit.
Focus on family. As I mentioned above, although your partner’s family may have you reaching for the blood pressure cuff, focus on the fact that they had a lot to do with the person you fell in love with. Make an attempt to see family members you normally can’t stand through the eyes of your partner. You may find that you made a few false assumptions or you need to practice a little patience.
Humble yourself. Nobody’s perfect, but keep in mind that your partner is head over heels in love with you, which is great but they may be blinded to some of your less redeeming qualities. In-laws don’t necessarily have that same obligation which means they may be able to see room for improvement that you or your partner wouldn’t readily admit. Sometimes the most helpful criticism comes from a place of genuine concern. If you feel like his family has issues with your character or behavior, try having an honest discussion with them and consider what they have to say.
Don’t obsess over it. Remember, his family may not necessarily be people you’d be friends with outside of the relationship, and that’s OK. We can’t choose who are in-laws are. The majority of time you spend will be with your partner and that should be the main person you’re focused on building a life with. Getting along with his family might make things easier, but it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed for failure it that doesn’t happen as long as you both are focused on being a team and making one another your top priority.
How have you dealt with in-laws who work your last nerve?
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.