When in a relationship it is important to work as a team. However, when either partner struggles to balance loyalty to family and partner, the couple can become disunited. It's normal to feel hurt when one doesn't defend the other in the face of the other family's criticisms and judgments. Not knowing how to handle this type of family conflict can damage a couple's relationship, so it's important to learn. To do this, start communicating better with your partner, setting boundaries for his family and being firm.
Method 1 of 3: Talking to Partner
Step 1. Choose a good time to have the conversation
Bringing his family into the discussion will be delicate, so don't do it until you're sure he's receptive. Don't get into the subject when he's angry, tired, or stressed. Choose a time when both are in a good mood and relaxed.
- It might even be interesting to have this discussion when you are doing some activity together, to relieve the tension of having to sit face to face. Consider talking while one of you is driving or folding clothes. Say something like, “Honey, I'd like to talk to you about your family. Sometimes I think they are very critical of me and it seems like you don't defend me.”
- Understand that he may need time to process what you've said, so don't extend the conversation too much at once. Be understanding of his feelings, giving him time to think.
Step 2. Explain your feelings
Be honest about what upsets you. Your partner may not realize the harm his family is doing to you.
- Use phrases beginning with “I” to express your feelings. For example, try saying something like, "I get really frustrated when we're with your family because of the things they tell me."
- Even if you are dismayed, try to keep your tone neutral during the conversation. He might get defensive if he hears anger in your voice.
- Say: “I know you love your mother and she doesn't mean anything, but I get really upset when she criticizes my way of taking care of our daughter. I'm starting to get scared going to family events because she always has something negative to tell me.”
Step 3. Tell him you need his support
You'd better let him sort out his family's issues. So explain that you need his help.
- You might say, “The next time your mom starts telling me how I should take care of Maria, would you step in and defend the decisions we made as parents? That would be very important to me.”
- Try not to blame him for being silent on previous episodes. Focus on what you need right now to move forward.
Step 4. Don't comment on anyone's character
If you make any personal attacks on his family, he will instinctively take their side. Keep everything strictly fact-based when making your point. Always refer to episodes that have occurred and do not make character judgments.
- Try not to use the words "always" and "never". Phrases that contain them are often not true and lead to arguments.
- Remember that he loves his family and that it's normal to want to remain loyal to his family.
Step 5. Discuss solutions with him
Since the guy knows his family better than you do, he can come up with good ideas for solving the problem. Work as a team to reach a good solution and avoid conflicts and hurt in future family gatherings.
- For example, the two of you could sit down and assess what's going on so that you can look at the situation according to the personality of each family member involved. Maybe he knows a way to deal with a certain family member. It may even be that he comes to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to ignore Aunt Ana's comments, since she has always been in the habit of condemning all his relationships.
- You could even combine a dialogue and rehearse it to apply in certain situations. This will make it easier for him to intervene in case of need.
Step 6. Practice actively listening
Even the most sensitive issues can be easily bypassed when both of you actively listen, which means listening to understand and not to respond. While your partner is talking, try:
- Make eye contact;
- Remove distractions such as TV and cell phone;
- Demonstrate open body language (arms and legs at the sides and relaxed);
- Asking questions to clarify certain points (for example: “What did you mean by…?”);
- Summarize what has been said to ensure you understand (for example: “So does it mean that…”);
- Wait until he has finished expressing himself completely before replying.
Step 7. Think about couples therapy
If you are struggling to come to terms with family conflicts, therapy can help you understand each other better. A good therapist can teach them communication skills and help them create mutually agreeable solutions.
You might suggest, “Honey, I can see you're having a hard time upsetting your family. I think it would be good for us to look for a therapist who can help us solve this problem. What do you think?"
Method 2 of 3: Setting Boundaries
Step 1. Separate your relationship from his family
You're married or dating your partner, not his entire family. Don't let problems with his family turn into difficulties within your relationship.
- If conflict is affecting your relationship, take time to remember all the good things about your partner that have nothing to do with their family. Write them down and read them from time to time.
- If you only see his family on holidays or special occasions, don't worry too much about the tensions he causes, as you won't have to deal with cases like this very often.
Step 2. Discuss the limits with him
Sit down with your partner and think of some realistic limits together. See what the two can do to minimize conflicts and keep peace between everyone.
- One of the limits, for example, might be that his family members cannot stay overnight when they come to visit.
- Another limit could be that his family cannot interfere in certain couple decisions such as having children, joining a certain religion or where to live.
Step 3. Ask him to communicate the boundaries to his family
It is important that his family members are aware of the new rules. Let him communicate them, but it will also be your responsibility to apply and enforce them politely but firmly. However, know how to have a strong pulse when insulting the limits created.
- It's also important that his family know the reasons behind creating the boundaries.
- You or your partner can explain it this way: “We are very happy with your concern for us, but we prefer not to discuss our finances with you any further. Our financial decisions must be personal."
Step 4. Keep the limits
It will be necessary to remind them of the limits from time to time. It takes time to learn new behaviors when you act the same way for a long time.
If any of the rules are violated, reinforce it: “Remember we decided not to have children, mother/in-law? Could you support our decision, even if you don't like it?”
Method 3 of 3: Having a strong pulse
Step 1. Be confident and firm
Remember you are an adult too. Talking to older people can make you look like a kid again, but it's not right. If you're feeling invaded or demoralized, it's your right to defend yourself.
- Being firm doesn't mean being rude or disrespectful. It is possible to have a strong pulse and be kind and respectful at the same time.
- You can firmly say, for example, “I know you don't understand my culture, but it's important for us as a couple to celebrate this holiday. I respect your beliefs and I would like you to respect mine too”.
Step 2. Talk to his family
If you're having problems with a particular person, try talking to them. Taking the initiative to solve the problem will show maturity and will generate respect.
It's far better to talk about problems as they happen than to cultivate them for years without a solution. Say, “When you interrupt me, Josefina, I feel like I don't have an opinion. I would feel a lot better if you could wait for me to finish my reasoning before giving your opinion.”
Step 3. Dispute unsolicited advice and comments
Prepare some good answers to redirect the conversation and rehearse them before it's time to use them. That way you'll be able to remain calm for the moment.
- If you're talking to someone older, the best way to counter unsolicited advice is to say, "How interesting!" or "What a wonderful story!" In another scenario, his mother might say that you should feed your children differently. To deflect the subject, ask her how she fed her children.
- Other good answers are: "This is very interesting, I'll try it some day!" and “Thanks for the advice, but we decided to do it this way!”.
Step 4. Consider limiting contact with family members
If problems cannot be resolved definitively, the best thing to do is to limit contact with the family that is causing them. Starting to miss family events is a good way to reduce the strain on your partner. Even if you don't want to be absent, set a time limit to stay.