In a long-term relationship, you're bound to encounter a number of hurdles, whether they be due to your individual growth and changes or external interferences that are out of your control. As for the latter, a common issue is having a mate that doesn't get along with your friends and family — or vice versa. If you're familiar with this struggle, and you find that your partner’s family is ruining your relationship, you may have wondered if you should break up with someone because of it. And while this is obviously a worst case scenario, relationship experts note that you don't want to treat this situation lightly, especially if you believe that person is the one. Before you start frantically Googling “how to break up with someone,” there are a few things to keep in mind, first.
As a psychologist and the author of Dating from the Inside Out and Facebook Dating: From 1st Date to Soulmate, Dr. Paulette Sherman has plenty of firsthand experience dealing with discord between romantic partners and one or more of their families. While you may not consider it an eminent threat to your relationship, it actually can play a huge role in your potential to go the distance as a couple. "It is important for your family and significant other to mesh well because you will be a family, and family is important," Dr. Sherman explains. "Ideally you’d like your children to know their extended families and you don’t want your spouse to have to choose between you and [his or her] family of origin. Plus, it makes holidays, vacations, and challenging situations much easier when there is goodwill, support, and mutual respect."
It may first be helpful to try to identify the cause of this friction. According to the expert, there are a few main reasons you might not be getting along with your partner's family. "Some of the most common factors [are] cultural differences, value differences, religion, protectiveness, attachment, and communication issues and boundaries," says offers. Knowing the why can be the first step to either coming to a place of understanding, or creating some healthy boundaries — so that breaking up is just a last resort.
First things first: You'll want to discuss the issue with your significant other — and do so with sensitivity. "Let [him or her] know you do not want them to sacrifice their relationship with their family, but you need to be on the same page regarding contentious issues and how to address them," says Dr. Sherman. And if you don't feel comfortable bringing the issue up on your own, the two of you may want to consider trying couple's therapy in order to have the benefit of an informed but impartial third party.
While therapy can help you navigate this conversation and potentially help you two agree on some boundaries, ultimately it's important to understand that you can only change your actions — not those of his/her family. And if their behavior is toxic and shows no sign of stopping, it could be a relationship deal breaker. "If it’s clear that your [partner] is constantly letting his or her family disrespect you, plan your wedding, pick your house, name your future baby, etc., and are unwilling to seek therapy around this or to empathize with how it adversely affects you and to deal with it, this might be a small taste of what it might be like over a lifetime," Dr. Sherman explains.
If this is a deal breaker, you've got two options, according to Dr. Sherman: Break things off, or agree on a way to limit your interactions so that both you and your mate to get what you need. And the latter is a better situation for those whose partner is open to doing their part. "A family can be toxic, but if your [partner] has done the inner work to be a team and set appropriate boundaries, that may not be a deal breaker because you [are in a relationship] with them — not the family," she says. "It may still be possible to co-create a life together and to navigate familial issues as they arise."
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