The subject of my family’s The Bachelor group chat during last night’s season finale was not really focused on who Pilot Pete was going to end up with but rather his mom, Barb. Specifically, how much Barb disliked the woman Peter is in a relationship with and how, um, aggressively she made that known. While most of us will probably not experience our partner’s mother digging into us on live television, there are plenty of people who deal with their own versions of Barb. But does that necessarily spell doom for your relationship? I asked three relationship experts to share their tips on what to do if your partner’s parents hate you or your parents hate your partner.
“It’s an interesting sign if your significant other’s parents don’t like you,” says relationship therapist Tammy Nelson, PhD. “Do they have a reason? Do you remind them of your partner’s ex? Do they have something against you because you are a POC or are you the same sex as your partner? Is it because of how you met? Were you married and left your spouse to be with your partner?”
Figuring out the why can help you move forward with the relationship. “If you’ve tried and it’s really not about you but about a secret or covert prejudice or something they are projecting onto you that’s not even about you, ask yourself if you can live with them not liking you,” says Dr Nelson. Things to consider: how often you’ll see them, how close they live, and if you could see them as the grandparents to your children, should you choose to have them.
Relish coach Caitlin Killoren adds that it’s not an automatic deal-breaker if the parents don’t like you, but a couple of important factors are how close your partner is to their parents, and why they dislike you. If it’s something more surface level, like you didn’t like their mom’s cooking, then you can backpedal and try to start over. “But if the differences run deeper than that, open up a dialogue with your partner about how you feel and how you want to move forward,” says Killoren. Communication is to relationships as sunscreen is to skincare.
“If a mother-in-law doesn’t like her daughter-in-law, she should try to work on the relationship rather than trying to bad-mouth her to her son,” says Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology podcast. “As an independent adult you want your son to be able to make his own marital choice and you want to support him. Short of abuse or true destructiveness, that should be doable and in the name of healthy adulthood and healthy mother and son relationships.”
All three experts agree that the most crucial thing is how your partner reacts to their parents not liking you. “Do they side with you or them? Do they try to smooth things over, or make them worse?” asks Dr. Nelson. You and your partner should be on the same page and, again, communicate. “Your partner needs to be onboard with you on that, and creating space, and the clarity that you are here to stay and they can be included with you or they can be excluded if they remain hostile,” she says. “Keep trying to include them, but also make it clear you won’t tolerate hatefulness or disrespect. Be clear you’d like to do all you can to have a great relationship, as long as you’re both willing to try.”
Finally, you might just have to accept that you won’t have an amazing relationship with your partner’s parents. “Make sure you communicate clearly with your partner that you will need extra support when you’re with them,” says Killoren. “But also be mindful of the fact that you don’t want to alienate them from their own parents.”
Need some help in the communication department? These are the top four things therapists say you should never say in a fight. Or you could just stay single forever, like this 107-year-old woman and me! (There are health benefits!)
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